Thinking Anglicans

Jesus is placed in the tomb

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Joseph of Arimathea
“I’m Joseph of Arimathea. Like Nicodemus, I was a member of the Jewish Council. I’d only recently had a new tomb cut from the rock, near to the place. It was to be for me and my family. But it was beginning to get dark, and we had to bury his body before sunset. So I suggested laying him out there, and then we could come back on Sunday morning to tidy things up and anoint his body and say our prayers. That’s what we did, and the Governor ordered the tomb to be sealed and guarded. Of course, on Sunday morning it was all very different …”

Prayer
Lord Jesus, Lord of life, you became as nothing for us:
be with those who feel worthless and as nothing in the world’s eyes.
You were laid in a cold, dark tomb and hidden from sight:
be with all who suffer and die in secret,
hidden from the eyes of the world.
To you, Jesus, your rigid body imprisoned in a tomb,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
Amen.

illustration: from a wood-engraving by Eric Gill, 1917

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Jesus is taken down from the cross

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Nicodemus
“I’m Nicodemus. I had met him a few times and spoken to him. Now he was dead. We thought it was all over. All we could do now for him was to get him down from that cross and give him some dignity in death. My friend, Joseph, and I went to his mother to offer our help. I think Joseph went to see the Governor and got his permission. So we were able to get him down and cover him up. It was a terrible task, but it was the last thing we could do for him. It was awful to see his mother holding his limp body and kissing his bloodied face. And we just kept asking ourselves, Why; why did this happen?”

Prayer
Lord Jesus, your friends and family mourned at your death:
give strength and comfort to those who mourn.
To you, Jesus, your body cradled by your mother in death as in birth,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
Amen.

illustration: from a wood-engraving by Eric Gill, 1917

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Jesus dies on the cross

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the Centurion
“I was the Centurion. My job was to supervise the whole execution and see it through until the three men were dead, and keep the crowds under control too. As the occupying power in a troubled territory we were used to executing rebels. But I remember this one. Of course it was at Passover, and the crowds were large and worrying. The Governor had us put a sign over him — that he was king of the Jews, and this is how any king of the Jews would end up. And it went so dark that day, you’d think it was the middle of the night. But the way he died was different too. He didn’t curse, he didn’t incite his friends to rebellion, he seemed to be saying his prayers and talking to his mother and a few friends. Through all the pain, through all the indignity and humiliation, he seemed to know what he was doing. Everything about him proclaimed his innocence.”

Prayer
Lord Jesus, you died on the cross
and entered the bleakest of all circumstances:
give courage to those who die at the hands of others.
In death you entered into the darkest place of all:
illumine our darkness with your glorious presence.
To you, Jesus, your lifeless body hanging on the tree of shame,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
Amen.

illustration: from a wood-engraving by Eric Gill, 1917

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Jesus is nailed to the cross

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a soldier
“The next thing was to nail him to his cross. Sometimes prisoners were tied up, other times we used nails. This time it was nails. It always took a whole squad of us to do this. Some to hold the cross secure, some to hold him and restrain him, then someone to hold the nail, and someone to hold the hammer. You had to put a nail through each wrist, so he would be held up by the nail between the two forearm bones. Then a single nail through both ankles. To breathe, a man would have to push himself up on these nails through his wrists and ankles.”

Prayer
Lord Jesus, you bled in pain as the nails were driven into your flesh:
transform through the mystery of your love the pain of those who suffer.
To you, Jesus, our crucified Lord,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
Amen.

illustration: from a wood-engraving by Eric Gill, 1917

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Jesus is stripped of his garments

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a soldier
“I was a soldier in the guard. We were just doing our job, something we’d done dozens if not hundreds of times before. Crucifixion was our business. First thing was to strip the prisoner. No dignity was left to a man being executed, not even a cover for his nakedness. His tunic was woven all in one piece, I remember that, and we threw dice to see who would have it.”

Prayer
Lord Jesus, stripped and beaten by your captors:
be with all who are deprived of their dignity
by the actions of their fellow human beings.
Your clothes were given over to a game of chance:
inspire us to protect the weak and innocent, and give dignity to all.
To you, Jesus, the Word made Flesh,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
Amen.

illustration: from a wood-engraving by Eric Gill, 1917

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Jesus falls the third time

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another woman
“After he’d fallen before, we’d run along the road, pushing through the crowd, through the city gate to the hill outside the walls. And just as we got there, he fell again, a third time. How much longer can this go on? And this time the soldiers don’t even try to force him to his feet. They’re already at the place.”

Prayer
Lord Jesus, three times you prayed that this cup might be taken from you
and three times you fell under the weight of the cross:
hear our pleading, our cries of agony.
Three times Peter disowned you
and three times you bade him feed your sheep:
forgive us when we disown you and strengthen us to share your love.
To you, Jesus, sharer in our suffering,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
Amen.

illustration: from a wood-engraving by Eric Gill, 1917

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Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem

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a woman
“My friends and I had been waiting for him to come to Jerusalem. We’d heard about the man from Galilee. We’d even seen him there and heard him speak. And now here he was. Surely it didn’t have to come to this? And as we cried he must have heard us, and drew on his reserves. ‘Don’t cry for me,’ he said, ‘cry for yourselves and your children’. How could he have known what would happen to us all these years later? Our beautiful city destroyed, and our Temple razed to the ground. Now there are no more sacrifices here.”

Prayer
Lord Jesus, the women of Jerusalem wept for you:
move us to tears at the plight of the broken in our world.
You embraced the pain of Jerusalem, the ‘city of peace’:
bless Jerusalem this day and lead it to the path of profound peace.
To you, Jesus, the King of peace who wept for the city of peace,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
Amen.

illustration: from a wood-engraving by Eric Gill, 1917

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Jesus falls the second time

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a man
“We were walking into the city as the soldiers cleared the way out, so we stood to one side to watch. A man, helped by another man, was carrying his cross. Even with help he was struggling, and he stumbled and fell beneath the weight. Some of the crowd were yelling abuse at him, and others were crying. Despite everything there was something about him that stood out. I remember wondering who he was.”

Prayer
Lord Jesus, you suffered and fell under the ill-treatment of your captors:
be with all who cannot find the strength to get up and carry on.
Your captors were doing the job they had been given:
guard us from causing others to stumble and fall.
To you, Jesus, bearing the cross for the whole world,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
Amen.

illustration: from a wood-engraving by Eric Gill, 1917

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Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

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Veronica
“Everyone forgets my name now. But I was there, and I remember seeing him, carrying his cross, his face so covered in sweat and in blood from the soldiers’ blows. He stumbled towards me and almost by instinct I pulled out a small cloth and wiped his face. There was so much sweat and blood that when you looked at the cloth you could see his face. I still have that cloth, a true image of him.”

Prayer
Lord Jesus, your face was sweaty and bloodied:
be with all who care for the broken bodies of our sick and injured.
Your face was wiped by an unknown woman:
let us bear your true image in our hearts, in our words and in our deeds.
To you, Jesus, scarred by a crown of thorns,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
Amen.

illustration: from a wood-engraving by Eric Gill, 1917

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Simon helps Jesus carry the cross

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Simon
“I was there to see the Passover. It was big thing in those days, and I’d brought my two boys, Alexander and Rufus. We’d got caught up in this crowd, and I could see that they were taking some prisoners out to be executed. The soldiers saw me and the officer came over, and with his sword he forced me behind one of the prisoners and to take half the weight of the cross. I couldn’t believe how heavy it was: it seemed like I was carrying half the world. At the time, I had no idea who he was.”

Prayer
Lord Jesus, you were worn down by fatigue:
be with those from whom life drains all energy.
You needed the help of a passing stranger:
give us the humility to receive aid from others.
To you, Jesus, weighed down with exhaustion and in need of help,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
Amen.

illustration: from a wood-engraving by Eric Gill, 1917

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Jesus meets his mother

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Mary
“O my son, my dear son. It was agony to see you suffering like this. How many mothers have seen their children suffer? I knew what it was like. We, my friends and I, had waited outside the governor’s palace, waiting for you to be freed. And then the soldiers forced you out, carrying a cross. Before they could stop us we ran past them and hugged you. Why was this happening to you? Why? Surely you could have said something, done something, and it would have stopped? Even now? But as he looked at me, I knew this would not happen — I felt as if a sword had pierced my heart.”

Prayer
Lord Jesus, your mother Mary wept at your torment:
give heart to all parents who watch their children suffer.
Your mother felt your pain in her heart:
guide us to bring the fullness of life to children and parents.
To you, Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
Amen.

illustration: from a wood-engraving by Eric Gill, 1917

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Jesus falls the first time

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a woman
“I was standing outside the governor’s palace. It was just before Pass­over and a crowd had gathered to see if the governor would release any prisoners. We’d cheered the news that Barabbas was to be freed. But then the soldiers came out with some other men, taking them to be executed. They were each carrying their crosses, but this one was already weak. The weight of what he was carrying seemed crushing. He lurched towards us, and he stumbled right in front of me. The soldiers were straight in with their spears; they picked up the cross, dragged him to his feet, and carried on.”

Prayer
Lord Jesus, you suffered like us under the burdens of this world:
be with those whose strength is taken away by ill-treatment or illness.
You are present in our suffering and share our loads:
help us to let you carry our burdens.
To you, Jesus, falling under the weight of the cross,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
Amen.

illustration: from a wood-engraving by Eric Gill, 1917

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Jesus takes up his cross

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a soldier
“I was a soldier in Pilate’s guard on duty that day. Once Pilate had passed the sentence of death it was our job to carry it out. So we marched him out from Pilate round to our courtyard. That’s where we used to have our bit of fun: we dressed him up and mocked him and spat at him, and some of my mates roughed him up a bit. Then we got out a cross for him. He knew that he had to carry it, but he didn’t seem strong enough to carry that weight. But with our spears and swords, he had no choice.”

Prayer
Lord Jesus, you carried the cross through the rough streets of Jerusalem:
be with those who are loaded with burdens beyond their strength.
You bore the weight of our sins when you carried the cross:
help us to realize the extent and the cost of your love for us.
To you, Jesus, bearing a cross not your own,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
Amen.

illustration: from a wood-engraving by Eric Gill, 1917

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Pilate condemns Jesus to death

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a young slave
“I was a slave in Pilate’s household in Jerusalem. There were lots of people there, jostling and pushing, and over to one side were the Jewish priests, keeping themselves separate. Pilate wanted some water and I was sent for it. I brought in a bowl and a towel and he dipped his hands in the bowl and dried them on the towel. That’s what I remember. Then Pilate said, ‘Take him away and crucify him!’ Only then did I see him — standing, shackled in front of Pilate. I wondered what he had done.”

Prayer
Lord Jesus, you were condemned to death for political expediency:
be with those who are imprisoned for the convenience of the powerful.
You were the victim of unbridled injustice:
change the minds and motivations of oppressors and exploiters
to your way of peace.
To you, Jesus, innocent though condemned,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
Amen.

illustration: from a wood-engraving by Eric Gill, 1917

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Poverty Sunday

Sunday 22 June is Poverty Sunday, a campaign run by the Church Urban Fund. David Walker, Bishop of Manchester and a trustee of the CUF, urges churches to pray and to pledge to act.

There’s always something ambivalent in a Franciscan writing about tackling poverty. St Francis, though born into one of the wealthiest families in the town of Assisi, gave up everything. He spoke of ‘Lady Poverty’ in the same language that the romantic troubadours and medieval knights would use to describe the earthly ‘Lady’ to whom they offered utter devotion. But then there is huge difference between that poverty which is freely embraced, in order to enjoy release from material concerns, and the poverty which is forced upon an individual or household.

Francis and his followers in fact did much to alleviate this latter. And in tackling it they challenged one of the worst aspects of how poverty was viewed at the time, they made no distinction between the deserving and the undeserving. Lepers in particular, who were commonly thought to have brought their plight and consequent destitution upon themselves, were at the heart of the ministry of the first group of Franciscan brothers.

What saddens me most, as I reflect upon the present attitude to poverty in the UK, is that this false distinction seems once again to lie at the heart of social policy, and to be accepted as such both by government parties and by the mainstream opposition. Were it genuinely an issue of affordability, that the costs of supporting some who could be identified as undeserving were such a large portion of the welfare budget, then I would understand it from an economic perspective, even whilst deprecating it as theologically deficient. But that patently is not the case. The costs of treating our poorest people better, of treating all poverty as a reality not a sin, represent a very small proportion of the budget. They could probably be met if the five largest global companies from among those who avoid almost all UK corporate taxes were made to pay on the basis of the actual work they do here.

Jesus, who like Francis made himself poor for the sake of the gospel, tells us that we shall always have the poor with us. Not as a reason for doing nothing about poverty, but as a reminder that some challenges will be there for his disciples to tackle even after he has accomplished his earthly ministry. When he himself showed compassion on the poor he did not set some standard of prior merit that the recipients of his bounty needed to attain and evidence. Indeed the very theology of grace that underpins his teaching is alien to such a notion.

So here we are again, another Poverty Sunday and poverty has got no better since the last. We can continue to tackle it through the direct action of our food banks and other projects. We can continue to tackle it by speaking out against the causes of poverty, not least by challenging policies that exacerbate it or add to the numbers condemned to face it. We can tackle it too by seeking to refute the rhetoric of the ‘undeserving poor’. And we will have Jesus and Francis at our sides.

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Puppet on a string

Giving isn’t always entirely what it seems. Giving by governments to developing countries is particularly notorious for being linked to the economic benefit that might be accrue to the donor. Whilst the UK government is probably better than many at resisting that siren call, you can still guarantee that every year or two some prominent politician will advocate linking UK aid to the purchase of UK products. At its worst it stretches all the way to pressing upon recipients products such as military equipment that many of us might feel are well off the top of the shopping list of the neediest people in whichever nation it may be. It’s not really giving, it’s just a crafty way to subsidise our own industries and services.

Churches can give like that too. I remember in my early years as a vicar visiting a parish in a very poor neighbourhood. They were getting considerable financial support from a wealthy parish elsewhere. What became clear very quickly was that the price of this generosity was that the recipient parish would be ‘sound’ on a particular set of theological positions. I’m sure the rich parish justified its stance on the basis that it was paying for Christian mission, and if the poorer one took a different stance then the work it did would no longer be advancing the Kingdom. For my part I prefer the phrase ‘bribery and corruption’.

And if we imagine that such failings lie only with institutional giving, then a recent and particularly stark example at the individual level is what happened to one charity earlier this year when its USA arm announced it would not refuse to employ people in same sex marriages. The recipients of the ‘generosity’ clearly mattered less than the theological presuppositions of some of the donors. That’s not giving, it’s just using our money to advance our own ends.

So what I like about Christian Aid Week is that it encourages us to go back to proper giving. Giving without strings. Giving for no other reason than to improve the lives of others. When I put my money in the envelope, or see my Standing Order go from my bank account, I am trusting a charity with a very wide brief, and that encompasses a huge diversity. I’m trusting it to make its own mind up as to where that money may best be spent. It’s not that I don’t care about the people who will benefit, it’s that I care enough to want to distance the choice of recipients from my own preferences and prejudices. I want to be adamant that there is nothing I expect by way of return.

My prayer is that the act of giving to Christian Aid Week can then help me to recognise where, in other areas of my life, I am claiming a false generosity that disguises (perhaps most of all to my own self) my mixed and muddied motives.

David Walker is Bishop of Manchester

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Do not be afraid

The tag-line for this Christian Aid week, and for these Thinking Anglican reflections, is ‘Fear Less’. We are asked to be part of a movement for change by which those who suffer the immediate horrors of war can live their lives free of fear.

It should be a no-brainer. But then I stopped to think about the society to which this campaign is addressed. How ironic that we are offered this tag-line, asked to make this response, in a culture where fear is one of the great drivers.

How much of the concrete structure of our lives is shaped by fear, fear of those around us, our neighbours? We lock our doors, prime our alarm systems, invest more and more in CCTV, create gated communities, and deny each other the right even to walk up the drive to a front door.

For our children, we fear the random disaster, the wandering lunatic. So they are driven to school, discouraged from playing outside, hedged around by risk assessments and protective clothing. We are even encouraged to fear the home itself: the really, really, good parent, the advertisements assure us, will expunge every lurking germ, every speck of dirt or dust to create a sanitised, frictionless world for the young (though not, interestingly, for the old and vulnerable).

We fear the stranger. So our electoral arguments circle around immigration, and we hide ourselves in our phones, our music, our games, so that we don’t have to engage with that other person on the bus or the underground.

Fears infect the life of our churches. How many conversations are driven by the suspicion that they will not survive as congregations grow older and young people find different ways of expressing faith, if they have any interest in faith at all? In response, we turn inwards, putting all our energies into ever more creative ways of preserving buildings and the patterns of life and worship which they have housed and maintaining the organisational structures as nearly as possible as they have always been.

Some of these fears have substance. But each protective measure, each withdrawal from shared space limits our ability to respond to those whose fear is grounded in the realities of the bomb blast, the shattered limbs, the homes destroyed, the long sentence of the refugee camp. Consumed by our own fears, we have little energy left for empathy, let alone solidarity, with those whose lives hold much greater terrors.

‘Do not be afraid’. The phrase recurs so often in the gospel. It doesn’t mean there is no cause for trepidation. It does require us to have the courage to take risks: to take the small risks of allowing others into our private spaces, of engaging with the messy realities of the created world, of pouring our energies into loving service rather than counting heads; and to take the larger risk of trusting that God’s grace and God’s creation has sufficient for all. And if there is enough for all – then there is enough for a world where men and women and children in places of bitter, bloody conflict may fear less.

Canon Jane Freeman is Team Rector of Wickford and Runwell in the diocese of Chelmsford

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The promise of the mountaintop

It is a commonplace to say that, to climb a mountain you take it one step at a time. This is fine until the mountain looks very high, the steps are painful ones and it may just be possible to opt-out and pretend it is not there.

My early involvement in Christian Aid in the mid-1970s involved comparatively easy steps on this mountain. As Christians, we understood we were duty-bound to help out those less fortunate. Our view of these less fortunate invariably included pictures of women and children eking out a living, tilling a barren and unforgiving soil. We were helping them, and we felt good about doing so.

In the intervening decades, the world has become smaller. We have learned so much more about poverty, particularly in emerging nations. Whereas members of my family, who had worked in Colonial Administration in Africa or India in the 1950s would assure me that poverty was a result of indigenous listlessness and idleness, (based on their incomprehensible unwillingness to knock themselves out doing physical labour in the service of the British Crown), these days we know that the world’s economic systems are inequitable because they serve the interests of the world’s dominant nations who designed them. In discovering that our culture and our standard-of-living is a major factor contributing to emerging world poverty, makes that mountain suddenly appear considerably darker and steeper.

The story continues with the realisation that global climate change is the deferred consequence of the nations who underwent an industrial revolution. The very force which consolidated European colonial dominance in the nineteenth century, and the economic superiority of the developed world, is the very same one which carried the seed of what has become climate-change through greenhouse gases. Our culture is not only responsible for inequitable economic rules, we invented human-made climate-change, whose effects now make for catastrophic shifts in weather which disproportionately imperils the livelihoods of emerging nations.

With each successive Christian Aid campaign focus, in the last thirty years, our own cultural soul has become increasingly laid bare, that mountain has begun to look very dark indeed.

Most recently, as technology has enabled the movement of capital beyond the reach of national laws, so the phenomenon of tax avoidance has become a huge factor in our failure to manage the distribution of wealth. When the growing list of super-rich individuals possessing personal fortunes greater than the Gross Domestic Product of many emerging nations, then the morality of our own culture is laid bare and has nowhere to hide.

That mountain now appears to be immense and almost insurmountable, maybe we cannot climb it at all, so why bother? It was easy when charitable giving was about our own beneficence. These days we are being asked to resource the restoration of humans who suffer as a consequence of our own treasured lifestyle, we are being asked to face a truth too hard to bear.

There are always ways of avoiding the issue. In the United Kingdom, the tabloid press represents a whole industry dedicated to presenting us a world in which, all that is wrong is a result of someone else’s incompetence. Tabloids are popular because they will invariably locate the evils of the world somewhere else. The soul fed by a tabloid narrative need not worry about its complicity in anything dark or evil: there is no mountain, it is someone else’s mountain, or the mountain is an illusion.

Global poverty remains a spiritual issue because it makes us look within. It invites us not to be subject to our whim or our need to be indulged or desire to follow fashion. It raises a question about what needs determine our sense of what we can expect from life. Global poverty invites us to ask if we really are masters of our own destiny, with freedom to choose. Or whether we are part of a larger web of life, where everything connects.

Our affluence is not only a corrosive presence in the lives of the impoverished, it also diminishes our own lives, by reducing us to being spoilt, indulged and trivial, in other words, a good deal less than we could be, if only we took time each week to remember the world and our neighbour as gift; the health of the world and our neighbour as inseparable from our own.

Each successive Christian Aid campaign, in my lifetime, has made me more aware both of what I have to power to do, and what I have the potential to become if I heed its call.

Andrew Spurr is Vicar of Evesham in the diocese of Worcester

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Jesus is at the door

Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for he is going to say, “I came as a guest, and you received me”. And to all let due honour be shown, especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims. In the salutation of all guests, whether arriving or departing, let all humility be shown. Let the head be bowed or the whole body prostrated on the ground in adoration of Christ, who indeed is received in their persons.

The monastery to which I go for my retreat has a custom that, when a ‘gentleman of the road’ calls in search of food and drink, the message, ‘Jesus is at the door’ is sent to the brother on kitchen duty. Very much in keeping with the 53rd chapter of the Rule of St Benedict (RB53), quoted above. But on one occasion, brother caterer, somewhat harassed by ‘one of those days’ syndrome, retorted, ‘Well, he’ll just have to wait: I’m busy!’

We are well used to Christian Aid’s moral appeal, to its unanswerable challenge to the way the world operates, and so on and so forth. John Fenton, of blessed memory, once commented on the Matthew 25 passage referenced in RB53, saying that those who point to the passage as the justification for Christian Aid have missed the point — Christian Aid needs no external justification. Its claims are beyond dispute.

However, what about the holiness of inconvenience as these messengers from the world outside our walls arrive at the doors of our organized, measured lives? There is something about the way in which we tend to interpret ‘charity’ which emphasises our control of the world, and our ability to normalise and universalise our world-view. We are (when we respond) the good guys, dispensing of our enlightened largesse to the importunate and the unfortunate before us.

It is so easy to turn Christian Aid (or Jubilee, or any one of dozens of Christian campaigns for social justice) into another 1960s style moral exercise which bolsters up our sense of being worthy, even superior members of the community. But to welcome the unexpected, potentially disturbing knock at the door? To allow ourselves and our outlook to be changed, to undergo the ‘conversio morum’ of the Benedictine tradition? To recognise the prophetic Christ, not just the needy one hidden in the stranger? We might better start to view Christian Aid not simply as a good cause, or a noble ideal, but as a necessary and jarring note from outside our warm Western cocoons.

The religious communities get this, by seeing in the person of the unexpected the presence of Christ knocking at the door, putting routines and default attitudes to the test. RB is particularly good at drawing attention to the prophetic voice of the outsider, the neophyte and the disregarded. The system in the monastery has to be sufficiently open to the promptings of the Spirit to be able not merely to deal with but also to absorb and welcome the new, even the uncomfortable, for in them Christ is received.

‘Well, he’ll just have to wait: I’m busy.’ As the European elections approach, the ‘Don’t bother me, I’m absorbed in myself’ seems to be an ever-more acceptable personal philosophy, and newspapers and politicians readily court the anti-Benedictine spirit. Sobering though it might be to consider how the Matthew 25 passage ends, chapter 53 of the Rule has something important to say to a complacent and narcissistic world as Christian Aid Week stands at the door amid a pile of electioneering leaflets designed to keep the inconvenient Christ at bay.

David Rowett

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Focus on War

It is war that is the focus of this year’s Christian Aid week, that most preventable of disasters. Or rather it is its aftermath. The human misery that follows behind it. The misery that follows, not sometimes but always.

I am in a minority among Christians in being a pacifist. The Hebrew Scriptures have only small inklings that war is not going to solve anything. I think of the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, and of Esau’s generosity to the brother who wronged him, and Jacob’s remarkable declaration that seeing his brother’s face is like seeing the face of his God. How hard it is to forgive those whom we have wronged. I think, too, of the remarkable little story of Elisha telling the King of Israel not to kill the Syrians who he has delivered into his hands.

It is only when we get to the New Testament that we find a radical demand that we suffer ourselves, rather than attack others, or even defend ourselves. Yet, as with so much that Jesus says, it is ambiguous enough that most Christians in most places have felt justified in ignoring it and making wars.

Embracing peace is a hard thing. I realised fairly young that it was bound to mean suffering in the short term. It was only as I grew older, learned more, thought more, prayed more, that I came think that however dear the short-term cost, the long term benefits were greater. As a girl I chose peace as a blind act of faith. Now I think that violence so inevitably leads to more violence and to greater wrongs, that it is almost never justified. Only in the most exceptional of circumstances is war the lesser evil, and I cannot think of an instance during my life time when it has led to anything but more misery and greater wrong.

Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo are the focus of this year’s Christian Aid appeal. It is tempting to think the disasters are so huge than it is pointless taking action. Action, help, is never pointless. It is not however enough. We have a duty to the world to live peace and to speak peace. Love and forgiveness, however sorely we are tried, have to become our watch words. War is not the solution, whatever the problem. We have to absorb that fact so thoroughly that it becomes part of our immediate reaction.

This must be our reaction not just to international conflicts, but to personal loss and personal challenge. This of course is where it is hardest. We live in a society where a desire for revenge is still seen as right and proper, and it takes a lot of courage and often a lot of presence of mind not to get sucked into that way of thinking and acting. Yet if we are ever to change the world, if we are ever to see the Kingdom, we need to work at it, so that peace always becomes the right and the natural response, despite its high cost.

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