Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Principal interviewed by The New Yorker

The Principal, Canon Robin Ward, speaks to the The New Yorker about the current situation in the Church of England. Read the whole article here.

Good Friday - Lucy Gardner

Make no mistake, what we are doing here today is extraordinary. Keeping the memorial of a death is not that unusual. Every day all over the world, people are marking anniversaries of deaths, be they loving family, loyal citizens, devoted fans or even sworn enemies.

Celebrating a death is, however, more unusual. True, people often gather to celebrate the lives of those who have died, but that is very different from celebrating their deaths. Celebrating a death usually only happens when a tyrant or a villain dies: when people can feel perhaps that at last they are rid of something evil.

But we celebrate here the death of someone we love of someone who loved us. More extraordinary still, we celebrate his death in the full knowledge that we are in so many senses its cause.

How can we bear even to remember this death? How can we dare to celebrate it?

The answers to these questions must lie in understanding something of what is so extraordinary about this death. Its cruelty, violence and horror are, sadly, not special, for on the face of it this is a tragically ordinary death, just another one of so very many crimes against humanity. But here are some of the aspects of what makes this death so extraordinary. They are to be discovered in reflecting on exactly what “is finished” on the cross.

“It is finished!” Here on the cross the Messiah finishes all that he came to do. The task of the Anointed One is completed. The Christ has fulfilled all that prophecy foretold he would.

His mission – his sending from God – is accomplished. All that he came to do has been done. “It is finished!” The Son’s work is over.

“It is finished!” Here on the cross the Messiah’s life comes to its end. Here, life is sealed, as always, by its death. Christ lived his life in and as obedience to the Father. He lived his life to show us God’s love and to show us that God is love. He lived his life to save us from sin and bring us back to God. It is this particular life that is finished, and it is finished with a death that is died in complete unison with it.

Just as he lived, so did he die. He died in and as obedience to the Father. He died to show us God’s love and to show us that God is love. He died to save us from sin and bring us back to God. His life and death are a complete unity. And now, “It is finished!” The Son’s life is over.

“It is finished!” Here on the cross the Messiah’s promise from last night is fulfilled. Here his body is given and broken for his disciples. And his blood is shed for us. Here his life is offered up for the salvation of the world and we see what it costs God to love us. Here we see what human beings are capable of doing to the world and to each other; we see what we are prepared to do to God and to God’s love; and we see what God is prepared to do in response. “It is finished!” The Son has been betrayed and handed over.

“It is finished!” Here on the cross the Incarnation is complete. The Second Person of the Trinity has become pure, lifeless flesh, nothing else. This dead body is all that there is. But this is part of how the Messiah saves us; this is part of how the Christ can become bread and wine and be made available for us; this is part of how we can become part of his body. “It is finished!” God has passed over into flesh and blood, and bread and wine.

“It is finished!” Here on the cross the eternal Word of God is silenced. God’s Word has become pure, silent symbol. He has nothing left to say; there is nothing he can now say; he can no longer say anything. “It is finished!” These are indeed “last words”.

We must learn to listen to this silence of the Word, this silence in which even God is waiting, straining, to hear God’s Word. For this, of course, is perhaps the greatest mystery of all: the eternal Word of God does not cease to be God’s eternal world; the Word is not silenced on the cross for the rest of time. The story is not over. This both is and isn’t the end of a life. It is an end but it ultimately does not finish off the Son’s life.

Rather this death sits at the centre of his life. It is a chapter in a much longer story. This silence does not finish off the eternal Word of God but rather rests eternally at its core. This “it is finished” comes at the heart of the story; it is the turning point, not the conclusion, to a most extraordinary tale, which is at once the story of the life of the Word of God and the story of the life of the world.

We can bear to remember this story precisely because this particular ending is not where it ends. This death is the source of all our life, not the end of it. We can bear to remember this story and our cruelty because of what happens next, because God forgives, and because mysteriously this death is part of the means of that forgiveness.

The Son’s work and life are over; he has surrendered everything to the Father. The early Church Fathers knew that in an important sense we can understand tonight and Holy Saturday as the Son’s rest in the quiet tomb.

Now the drama is taken up by the Father’s work, and the Father reclaims this Son from death, thus confirming all that the Son said and did, and in particular that God is love.

This is the light in which all sin can be dealt with and all memories can be healed. Because of the Son’s total union with, total conversion to, sorrow and flesh and death, the Son’s death can be shared; and because the Son’s death can be shared, so too can the everlasting life to which he is raised.

We do not have to end or rest with all that is shameful and terrible. We do not have to bear eternal pain or isolation. We do not have to be held ransom to our worst fears and memories. They can be healed, and we with them, by finding their true place in this divine drama.

Importantly, though, this healing does not mean forgetting; Christ still is the Crucified One. Our pain is not simply wiped out; our wounds are not simply removed; our memories are not simply erased. Rather, all is transformed, just as Christ’s pain and wounds and death are.

Forgiveness is about seeing things in their true light, about seeing things in the light of the truth of God’s inexhaustible love. Receiving forgiveness is about understanding and accepting this fact. The Passion shows us that salvation comes through death, not as some kind of avoidance of it. Above all this story shows that even sin and death can be taken by the God who has promised to provide and be themselves transformed into the very means of our salvation.

And so, as we gather together today at the foot of the cross, at the base of the tree of life, each of us broken in many ways, we do not simply hold a memorial of another death, and we do not simply venerate some lifeless wood.

As we gather here, we are part of the putting back together - the re-membering – of the broken world in the re-membering of the broken body of Christ and the re-membering of our own lives.

We remember that the sacrifice of the cross was made for the healing of the world; and we remember that God’s work on earth is not finished yet; it requires us to work for its completion.

These, then, are some of the reasons why our celebration today should be such a poignant, heady mix of joy, grief, relief and anticipation. It is part of the healing, the re-membering and the transforming, of our wounds, our memories and our lives.

We celebrate that we are saved by this cross; we grieve that it cost this cross to save us; we are relieved that the worst has now happened, in the unfolding story of these days; we are relieved that God has indeed saved the world; we nervously anticipate what God will require of us in the coming year, just as we eagerly anticipate the noise and joy that promises to burst forth when we gather again on Sunday morning to re-member the resurrection.

Maundy Thursday - Ian Boxall

This homily was given by Ian Boxall at the Solemn Mass of the Lord's Supper on the Thursday in Holy Week, Maundy Thursday.

So we have entered the old city of Jerusalem, we have jostled through the crowds of pilgrims as we made our way up the steep flight of steps into the upper city, and we have come finally to the upper room, to begin that chain of events which will take us to Gethsemane, to Golgotha, and finally to the garden with its new tomb. And as we prepare to participate in these events over the next few days, it is appropriate that we begin here, in the upper room in Jerusalem.

Because as John tells it in his gospel, what Jesus does at this Last Supper with his disciples, and what we are doing here this evening, is the key to understanding what Jesus will do tomorrow. Tonight, as we gather with Jesus and his disciples in the upper room, we begin to glimpse the meaning of the cross. At the Last Supper tonight, we begin to unravel the mystery of Christ’s death.

Death, of course, is very much in the air as the disciples gather with Jesus for this last supper in Jerusalem. John has already told us that Jesus is going away. Moreover, every year, the events of Holy Week will have particular poignancy for some of us, because of recent bereavements, or because this aura of death calls to mind loved ones who have gone before us.

When one of our own is close to death, we strain to hear those last words, we read particular significance into every last action, and treasure and ponder those memories. So too the early church remembered and meditated upon the last words and actions of Jesus, and three of those actions we meditate on this evening: the breaking of the bread, the taking of the cup, and the washing of the feet. And when the early church remembered, it understood that what Jesus said and did on the first Maundy Thursday revealed to us something of the mystery of the first Good Friday.

First, the bread and the cup. Some twenty-five years after these events in Jerusalem, Paul writes to Christians gathered in another room. The room is almost certainly in the villa of a wealthy member of the Corinthian church, perhaps Gaius who we know had a house large enough to hold the whole community (Rom. 16:23). But the company gathered in this dining room is a rather select one. Nine, perhaps ten people are reclining on couches on the newly-laid mosaic floor (the room can’t comfortably accommodate any more). Gaius, his wife, and a few select friends, perhaps those other Corinthians Paul mentions by name, Stephanas, Crispus, Erastus ‘the city treasurer’ (1 Cor. 1:14-15; Rom. 16:16:23). The table is groaning with the best the Corinthian markets have to offer; the wine is flowing freely, and things are getting rather raucous.

But something is not quite right here. Through the doorway, one can just make out the faces of fellow Christians who failed to make it into the small dining-room: Corinthians of the wrong social status who might spoil the new mosaic floor; artisans from the workshops which lined the city’s streets; domestic slaves still about their master’s business; unwashed dock-workers from the port of Cenchreae, arriving late after their shift.

What is going on at this Eucharist in Corinth – for all its claim to continuity with the Lord’s Last Supper – is a travesty of that supper. First of all, because it divides rather than unites the community, separated now between two rooms; then, because those with the host in the dining-room are eating and drinking too much, while those outside go without. Those in the dining room are unable to discern in their brothers and sisters the body of Christ which is his Church, and are therefore dishonouring his eucharistic body.

And so Paul writes to remind them, and more importantly to remind us, of what the Lord Jesus did on this night. How he took bread, broken as his own body would be the next day on the cross: ‘This is my body that is for you.’ How he took the cup, and offered it to them as a sign of that new covenant which the shedding of his own blood would inaugurate, a relationship which could bind together Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female as far away as Corinth: ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.’ The death of Christ, proclaimed in the Eucharist ‘until he comes’, is for Paul the pre-eminent revelation of the self-emptying of the Son of God, ‘who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Gal. 2:20). And for Paul, what Christ has done lays down the pattern for what his followers are to do in remembrance of him.

Now we jump perhaps another thirty or forty years, where John also looks back upon the tradition of the Last Supper, meditated upon again and again over the decades. But John is silent about the bread and the cup in his narrative of the last supper. Instead, he focuses on the action of the foot-washing. Yet again, the same pattern is there: the Lord Jesus lays aside his outer garment, and assumes the condition of a slave, as he kneels to wash his disciples’ feet. And whatever else is signified by this action (and there are many things), we catch here a glimpse of the meaning of the cross, when the Son lays aside his glory out of love for his own. In the cross, we see God revealed to us as never before, the God who is love and who gives himself in love for the life of the world. For John, if we wish to see God, then we are to contemplate the twisted, disfigured man hanging on the cross for our redemption.

But again for John, as for Paul, the action of the Lord on Maundy Thursday, which opens for us the meaning of his action on Good Friday, is not simply presented to us for our contemplation. It is also presented to us for our imitation. ‘For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done for you.’ It is the new commandment, lived out, enacted in the washing of the feet as the divine Son lays aside his glory out of love for his own. ‘So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.’ Or as St Augustine puts it:

‘We have learned, brethren, humility from the Highest; let us, as humble, do to one another what He, the Highest, did in His humility’ (On the Gospel of John, 59.4).

Wednesday of Holy Week - Ian Boxall

This homily was given by the Senior Tutor, Ian Boxall, on Wednesday in Holy Week:

Readings: Isa. 63:1-; Rev. 14:18-15:4

There is a phrase which has been working on us like a recurring theme over the past few days. We have been singing it, meditatively and rhythmically, as our canticle at Morning Prayer, so that by now it has entered almost surreptitiously into our subconscious. And this evening it erupts to the surface with full-blown intensity in our second reading: ‘Who is this that comes from Edom, coming from Bozrah, his garments stained crimson?’ This obscure and in some ways mysterious passage from the Prophet Isaiah has kept commentators intrigued for centuries. Who is this mysterious figure who comes from Edom? What is he doing, and why are his garments stained crimson?

But the more perceptive of you may have realised that our Morning Prayer canticle has only given us the sanitised version, as if the compilers of the Office felt it was too much for our delicate dispositions first thing in the morning. We hear of the mysterious warrior figure coming back from Edom, with garments stained crimson. We hear him declare that he has trodden the winepress, grape juice thus accounting for the red stains on his clothing. But then we jump three-and-a-half verses from the obscure to the upbeat: ‘I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, the praises of the Most High.’ Well, this evening, we have heard the uncensored 18 Certificate version. We learn that the warrior has trodden the grapes in his anger, with a day of vengeance in his heart. In other words, the crimson-stained garments are not simply the result of grape-juice; they are stained with the blood of the Edomites. And the warrior is almost certainly the Lord himself, the divine Warrior returning to Jerusalem fresh from the battle-field.

It is as though we need to have come to this point in Holy Week before we are ready to meet the blood-stained divine Warrior face to face. And with this Holy Week context in mind, I want to explore with you two points from Isaiah’s vision.

The first is that vengeance and love are not two different divine attributes, but one and the same reality, albeit viewed from two different perspectives. The ‘day of vengeance’ in the warrior’s heart is also ‘the year of my redeeming work’. Edom is one of the nations who have oppressed God’s people, and the Lord comes as a response to the cries of his people, to deal with oppression and set his people free. And so the prophet sees the Lord himself returning from battle, having accomplished his loving redeeming work of avenging his own, and breaks into a song of the gracious deeds of the Lord.

In a few days time, we will do something very similar, when we sing the Song of Moses and Miriam at the Easter Vigil. If we think too long about the words we are singing, we might not be so quick to open our mouths: ‘I will sing to the Lord who has triumphed gloriously! Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’ Yet when we sing this Song, we are not doing so in order to celebrate the bloody slaughter of fellow human beings. As the Fathers recognized, that kind of interpretation is not a moral reading of Scripture. Rather Christians, like the people of Israel, sing this song from the perspective of the underdog, as former slaves who have escape the former slave-master and now celebrate their freedom. We can sing it this week, because we are celebrating the Christian Passover, and embarking on the Christian Exodus journey in Christ our Redeemer leads us from slavery to freedom.

The second point I want to make requires us to read our first reading in the light of our second reading, from the Book of Revelation (and you will have to indulge me a little here). In John’s vision, the Divine Warrior who treads the winepress alone is revealed as none other than Christ himself, who tread the winepress outside the city. Now this identification does not lessen the violent character of the battle in which Jesus is engaged. The events we are celebrating this week were sufficient to shake the very foundations of our world, so as even to tear apart the curtain of God’s holy Temple and cause Hell to tremble with terror.

But – and this is where John differs from Isaiah – the battle tactics of John’s divine Warrior are not learned in the battlefields of Edom, or the valley of Jezreel, or the training-ground of Sandhurst. The battle which John describes in his vision is the victory of a slaughtered Lamb. The only weapon this Divine Warrior possesses is the double-edged sword coming out of his mouth. The blood that John sees on the robe of this fighter is not the blood of his enemies, but his own blood. For all its unfamiliar imagery, John’s divine Warrior is the dying and risen Christ whom we are accompanying this week. It is as if John is saying: when heaven looks down upon Christ on the cross, it sees not a defeated man crucified, but a glorious victor treading the winepress. When heaven looks down to Calvary, it sees nothing less than the judgement of the world.

There is one final point I want to make about John’s vision, another reminder that we are the people of a new Exodus. After describing a series of complicated liturgical manoeuvrings involving angels in the heavenly temple, John directs our attention to something else: a group of people standing on a sea of glass, singing the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb. These are Christ’s people, who have crossed the sea with him and been rescued from their enemies. But the song they sing is very different from the original song of Moses. There is no mention of Pharaoh’s chariots and his army being cast into the sea. Instead, all is focused on the ‘gracious deeds of the Lord’, accomplished in and through the Lamb:

‘Great and amazing are your deeds,
Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations!
Lord, who will not fear
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
For you judgments have been revealed’ (Rev. 15:3-4).

Tuesday in Holy Week - Lucy Gardner

This homily was given by Lucy Gardner at Evening Prayer on Tuesday in Holy Week:

As we are drawn inexorably toward the fulget crucis mysterium – the flaming mystery of the Cross – the Lectionary steeps us in lamentation. You may have noticed! Now, at the beginning of Holy Week, we work our way through some of the book of Lamentations. Tomorrow this will give way to listening to the prophet Jeremiah, and on Thursday we shall hear some of Isaiah’s response. And our Psalms are all laments.

All this will culminate on Good Friday in the Song of the Suffering Servant from Isaiah and the Reproaches; like Elijah’s altar drenched in water, the cross drenched in tears will still ignite and burn bright, for all the darkness of the hour.

Each of these texts cries out to God in an extraordinary mix of outrage, despair, trust and hope. Listen to them and the resonances with modern turns of phrase.

“Look at the mess we’re in!”
“This is not how things should be!”
“The world has turned against us.”
“I am in a sorry state.”
“Look at what they’ve done to me!”
“Look at what they’ve done to my people!”
“Look at what my so-called friends have done to me!”
“How angry God must be at sin and perversion!”
“How angry God appears to be with us!”
“Why did it have to come to this?”
“Surely injustice will reap its reward; surely justice and righteousness shall flourish?”
“Surely the good Lord God does not want to abandon us? Surely God will be faithful to the covenant?”
“Surely God will save us?”
“Surely God has saved us?”

Formed in the crucible of Israel’s very specific history, destiny and vocation, these texts have resonance throughout human history and experience.Like Abraham and Moses before them, each writer, each speaker, laments at, for, with and on behalf of his people. The singular individual is always representative, always collective, always shifting and always challenging, sliding disconcertingly but also reassuringly from I to you to we.

It is important to realise that this is no self-indulgent self-pity. These are not invitations to a massive pity party. These texts are not wallowing in the false comfort of our own misery. Nor are they about beating ourselves up and leaving it there. We are too good at all that, and it is part of what we need to be cleansed of.

No, these prophets don’t simply ask us to cry out our woes; they also give voice to a summons to penitence and repentance, to a turning away – from enmity, evil, depravity, selfishness, waywardness – and to a turning to righteousness, justice, mercy, steadfast love, holiness, faithfulness, hope and a returning to God.

And what of us, what of you, today? How does your lament sound? With which injustices and hurts are your songs filled? What disappointments and terrors cause your eyes to fill and run over with tears? What have your people done to you? Who are your people? Who are their enemies? What have you seen done to your people? Who are your enemies? Who are the Lord’s enemies today? What form does your weeping for Jerusalem, your lament for peace and justice take today?

With the unfolding of the story of Good Friday, we are made aware that God is not only the one who is addressed by all this lamenting. As we listen to the Song of the Mysterious Suffering Servant, as we listen to the unfolding of the Passion, as we hear the singing of the Reproaches, we learn again that God has also lamented with us.

More than this, the question we have been hammering home every morning this week “Who is this that comes from Edom: coming from Bozrah, his garments stained crimson?” is not only the Lord, strong and mighty to save; it is Jesus Christ himself, the Lamb, slain for us, Son of God, who has become our Saviour in all our distress and has redeemed us by his love and pity.

We have failed, but he was lifted up for us, and has lifted us up with him; he has carried us through all our troubles.

And with this our lament changes:

We must now bewail what it has cost our Saviour to redeem us and our tearfulness; more than this, we must learn to lament with him, and not just to him. It is not simply that he has taken our lament upon himself; we must now learn the full extent of his lament, and join him in his acts to undo the lamentable. It is only in so doing that we shall receive the new beginning, the new songs and the new identity he offers us as his redeemed people. Then perhaps we, too, shall be able, with Paul, to claim that our bodies and our lives bear the marks of Jesus.

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion - Fr Damian Feeney

Given by Fr Damian Feeney at Evening Prayer on Palm Sunday

"Do not be afraid…." (John 12.15)

The words ‘do not be afraid’ occur 67 times in scripture. For example, in the Old Testament, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you’ (Gen 26.24) ‘Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there’. (Gen 46.33) ‘Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous’;(Joshua 10.25) ‘Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, (2 Kings 19.6) – gives us a flavour, although there are many more.

Then, in the New Testament…. ‘Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife’ (Matthew 1.20) ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people’ (Luke 2.10) ‘Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows’. (Matt. 10.31) ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’. (Luke 12.32). Then there is the one most relevant to today, from John’s Gospel: ‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’

Whether the words come from voices human, divine or angelic, they are words of divine re-assurance to God’s people, words designed to take away our fear – the fears, rational and irrational, which we carry with us as part of our everyday living. Morning by morning, we say the Benedictus, Zechariah’s spirit-filled outburst of praise, in which we are reminded that we are ‘free to worship him without fear’. Remove fear, and we experience a greater measure of freedom.

This week is in so many ways about not being afraid, about the abandonment of our fear. Images of fear will surround us, from the frail apostles to the political fear of Pilate, the fear of Herod in the face of the silent Christ, and the frightened desperation of the Sanhedrin, expressed in the manipulation of the truth. We will all arrive at Calvary by a slightly different route, as we encounter our own fears along the way. But throughout the week, perhaps divine re-assurance will be ours – the re-assurance that reminds us that the fear which holds us back is transient, whilst the glory which lies before us in permanent, indeed, eternal.

Different people react to Holy Week in different ways. We must acknowledge that the vast majority – even of those who consider themselves to be ‘Christian’ people – tend not to enter very fully into it. Maybe fear is a factor here, too. Some simply fear what they might find in this week, in themselves. They might come today, and then again on Easter Day, without marking the life and death moments in between. For others it is simply lost in the turmoil of life. For some – and perhaps you are among them - it is a genuinely engaging and emotional time, as we contemplate the extent of God’s love in the face of the deepest human dereliction. Such people have to follow the Way of the Cross; they have no choice in the matter. It is all too much for some, who go to pieces in the face of this terrible moment of the death of Jesus, the Crucified God. Those who find Holy Week unbearable have perhaps begun to enter in some strange way into the dreadful mystery of the passion. It can’t be understood if we are simply observers.

The cross is a sign of defilement for the onlooker: it is only a purifying and healing reality for those who share its terrible darkness. To know Christ and the power of his resurrection can only occur as a result of sharing his suffering and death, becoming like him in his death. In fact, I am quite reassured by the idea that going to pieces is an essential part of the Way of the Cross. To enter into the mystery of Christ’s dying is to experience a form of brokenness. It may feel that we are crumbling, but in truth, it is merely our defences, our delusions of self-sufficiency, which are crumbling . This is the beginning of true liberation. We do not simply watch the cross, but we absorb it.

Holy Week teaches us that we have to overcome our detachment which makes the cross a beautiful symbol but does not tremble and shake with fear at the horror of it all. It is only in anguish and brokenness of spirit that we can begin and continue this week’s journey.

Some who undertake this journey find that the truth is unbearable and move towards despair. Others receive the Word of the Cross with relief, even with joy and who see in this naked desolate figure the real symbol of their own liberation from the power of death, their freedom from fear. But unless we can identify with the fear of losing hope, we have not begun to understand Holy Week. Those who have encountered despair can best appreciate victory. Only the dead can appreciate resurrection, and all Christians must confront and experience the darkness as we move along the road to our own death.

To enter into the darkness with Christ is the very heart of faith and hope. When we enter the darkness we cannot see the way, save by relying on Christ who, in the darkness, becomes both presence and light.

If we are to be true to our calling as Christians, we cannot shy away from the dark places of our lives – and there is none darker than the death of the Jesus. We cannot be transformed or liberated other than at the foot of the Cross, and neither can those to whom we seek to show Christ. To ignore this week of all weeks is to collude with the tendency of the world to run away from pain and fear altogether. Let that never be said of us as we offer the Cross of Jesus again and again in the dark and harrowing places of people’s lives. Let is rather be said that we are people who truly know the power of this week to speak to overwhelming pain, and who recognise it as the only remedy for the disease of the world. Do not be afraid.

Monday of Holy Week - Fr Damian Feeney

Homily given by the Vice-Principal, Fr Damian Feeney, at Evening Prayer on Monday in Holy Week

: Lamentations ii:8-19, Colossians 1.18-23

‘…God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace through the blood of his cross. (Col.1.20)We heard earlier in our worship the end of one of the great hymns of praise in Paul’s writings. It’s not necessarily by Paul, but might well have been by an even earlier author, and is here quoted. The purpose of the letter to the church in Colossae is to refute error, in the same way as the letters to Galatia and Corinth – but here the errors which Paul is addressing are errors of belief and doctrine, not so much of practice. We arte reminded of the fullness of God, dwelling in Jesus, that he is the firstborn, and the head of the church. Only Jesus is truly God, truly human, and no-one else has a divine claim. Then there is the remarkable claim that the Cross of Christ renders true peace and reconciliation possible – that the most violent and terrifying act, calculated to induce suffering and agony, carries with it the benefits of peace and restoration.

Peace is a gift we are failing to make known. This morning 39 people were killed in two separate incidents on the Moscow Metro system as two female suicide bombers detonated explosives in crowded stations. Communities on our doorstep are prone to violence, theft, noise, disruption. The Church itself, far from being a place of peace, is a place both of internal disagreement and also of controversy and anger within wider society. All of this points to the closest disharmony of all – the lack of interior peace which seems to be the lot of so many, ourselves included. We cannot fulfil our vocations as messengers of peace if we have not first heard, assimilated and lived that message, that grace. For Paul, the cross is the place of encounter with Jesus that releases saving grace – not least, peace.

Christians believe that in all sorts of ways the cross is a place of reconciliation. The offering of the Son to the Father is a place where the humanity of Jesus – the ‘second Adam’ recapitulates and restores what was lost in the first. The first Adam – points to the understanding that human beings have fallen away from the good purposes and providence of the living God. Jesus, God incarnate, comes to earth to restore and to make good that fractured relationship in the form of a new covenant which replaces the old, as the ‘tree of man’s defeat becomes the tree of victory’.

An ignominious, horrific death, alone, betrayed, lied about, taunted, naked, and horrifically painful. There simply isn’t a worse human fate than the cross. And so, in Christ, the Godhead embraces and assimilate all human suffering. And so he embraces Moscow, 9/11, The Gaza Strip, The Holocaust, The Soham murders, South London Knife Crime, the row you had yesterday – whatever you can think of. He embraces and assimilates the unlovely communities and individuals around us: and he reaches out to embrace and assimilate the lack of peace in ourselves, reconciling all to the Father in this supreme moment of all history and existence.

We who aspire to be disciples rather than merely admirers of Christ are begin asked serious questions by all this. It begins with our own personal attitude to violence and aggression, and what circumstances drive us to these things. It continues with an honest examination of the requirements of the gospel and the kingdom. Perhaps it ends with a renewed set of priorities as we examine our own conduct, and the way we demonstrate the peace of the kingdom to one another, as part of our response to the blood of his cross.

A popular habit in parishes during Holy Week is to watch a film, such as Jesus of Nazareth. I did so with a group of young people last year. At the point of the crucifixion I saw a few people wince, heard sharp intakes of breath. A few years ago Mel Gibson’s film ‘The Passion of The Christ’ was released, and the reaction was fascinating – was it gratuitously gory? Of course, the cinema-going public shrinks from violence and brutality; the same public, presumably, who sat through Reservoir Dogs and the first half an hour of Saving Private Ryan. Perhaps we really do not want to know the depths and lengths that God was prepared to go to, preferring instead to sanitise and render respectable our experience of God so that He becomes comfortable to us – God in our image, God as we would like Him to be – neat, clean, tidy, understandable, and ultimately disposable.

But God is none of these things: rather, He’s untidy, dirty, messy, mysterious and completely engaging for all eternity. The God on the Cross is the God you simply cannot ignore. And our experience of him should continue to be uncomfortable until we have made the journey of faith which places us with him in our true homeland, which is in heaven. And through this act of love and utter sacrifice we are freed to make that journey homewards to the Father, attaining ultimately the peace which is part of God’s ultimate desire for us, the people he loves and longs for, and to whom be glory both on earth and in heaven, during this Holy Week and to the ages of ages.