Members of the Theos team reflect on the fresh significance of the Easter story for them this year. 31/03/2021
The Risk of Love
The past year or so we have all, perhaps, become increasingly aware of our humanity; reminded daily of our fragility, our mortality, and increasingly aware of those connections that make us human in their absence.
As this Easter approaches, I’ve found myself re–reading Herbert McCabe on the Easter triduum – particularly his sermon on Good Friday, in which he emphasises and re–examines Christ’s humanity. He remarks upon how we see in the Gospels that Jesus doesn’t want the cross – especially in Matthew, Mark, and Luke – “not my will but thine be done.” He is recognisably human in the Garden of Gethsemane. He panics. He is in obvious distress.
It’s often tempting to take this route, to see Christ as most human when He’s experiencing moments of pain or distress, united with us in our suffering. Perhaps there is more reason than ever, this year, to do this. But McCabe offers a powerful, differing view of Christ’s humanity: “As I see it, not Adam but Jesus was the first human being, the first member of the human race in whom humanity came to fulfilment, for whom to live was simply to love – for this is what human beings are for.”
Christ, for McCabe, represents the fulfilment of humanity in his capacity for love. He is “the human being we dare not be. He takes the risks of love which we recognise as risks and so for the most part do not take.” McCabe goes further on the risk of love in separate sermons in God Matters, at one point remarking that: “If you do not love, you will not be alive. If you do love, you will be killed.”
Love, of course, makes us vulnerable to loss, to heartbreak. There has been too much of that of late, and I suspect it won’t go unremarked upon in sermons across the land that we celebrate this time of victory over death at the same time that the worst of a deadly pandemic appears to be behind us. As we emerge renewed from another Easter season, my hope is that we emerge more like Christ – more willing to take the risk of love.
Pete Whitehead is Research, Communications and Events Assistant at Theos
The Tendency to Fix
We humans have the tendency to grip happiness and positivity the moment it peeps out of the ground. For good reason; we all want to look forward to something. An NHS Manager described the desperation to put the bad past behind us as “banking something before it has ended” and that really, that is not the right thing to do. I love BBC1’s ‘The Repair Shop’ but humans are not fixable as easily as a musical box or leather bag. Our permanent state is fragile with the capacity to be broken. Pain and exhaustion cannot be ticked off like another task on the ‘to do’ list. Adopt Leonard Cohen’s thought – we’re all full of cracks, that’s how the light gets in.
C. S. Lewis writes in The Four Loves: “Man approaches God most nearly when he is in one sense least like God.” The embodiment of that couldn’t be much more evident than in the nailing of a human to a make–shift wooden cross at Golgotha – meaning ‘skull’. Some years I’ve sensed the sigh of relief amongst some Christians on Easter Sunday when Resurrection is celebrated and the weight of torture is behind, almost to the point of “let’s forget all that nasty stuff”. A bit like our attitude to the pandemic at times. But that’s not reality and nor is it particularly helpful for those still on crosses.
R.S. Thomas reminds us –
When we are weak, we are
strong. When our eyes close
on the world, then somewhere
within us the bush
burns. When we are poor
and aware of the inadequacy
of our table, it is to that
uninvited the guest comes.
Easter is a short period of time when all of life’s long spectrum of experience is encapsulated – the darkest and most painful of experiences take place and can remain with us, while simultaneously hope and light filter through. A theme expressed so beautifully by Annie Dillard, alluding to that dark Golgotha as being also home to hope, in Pilgrim At Tinker Creek: “Cruelty is a mystery…But if we describe a world to compass these things…then we bump against another mystery: the inrush of power and light, the canary that sings on the skull.”
Anna Wheeler is Operations and Events Manager at Theos
Jesus was a morning person
I love mornings. I will happily wake up with my alarm and bounce straight out of bed, picking up unfinished conversations with my husband from the night before and thinking through the day ahead. Mistakes have not yet been made, ideas have yet to be tested, and nobody quite knows exactly how the day will pan out. It’s exciting, if we allow it to be.
The Bible is full of references to the morning, using this tangible, everyday occurrence to illustrate the refreshment and renewal that Christians believe is on offer through the presence of God. The book of Lamentations reminds readers that, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning”. Psalm 30 gives the encouragement that “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes with the morning”.
Mornings, especially early ones, buzz with potential. Perhaps this is why Jesus embraced them, too. Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus would preach in the temple “early in the morning”. Mark’s gospel similarly reports that Jesus would get up “very early in the morning, while it was still dark”, in order to pray. And, perhaps most significant of all, the resurrection of Jesus was discovered “at dawn on the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1). Easter Sunday is a time when Christians remember that the extraordinary, history–shaping resurrection of Jesus means a fresh start. A new day, filled with space for forgiveness, celebration and hope. The resurrection is the sign to all who wish to see it that death – in all its thievery and pain – is not the end, and that another reality is possible. As is often the case in life, this idea is perfectly summed up by the inimitable Nina Simone: “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me; and I’m feeling good”.
Lucy Colman is Head of Development at Theos
In recent months, our relatively normal 2nd floor flat has been transformed into a greenhouse. Three varieties of potatoes sprouting in the living room, rose cuttings lining a wall of the kitchen, an old bucket filled with earth and dry bulbs and trays of tiny tomato seeds sat in a sunny spot by the window.
Given the limited opportunities for entertainment of late it’s been rather captivating viewing. To start with nothing at all, just bare soil. Watering, waiting and watching. Until one by one little green tips started breaking through the dark earth. Most remarkable of them all, the transformation of the tomato seed. A tiny, dry fleck planted in some soil but completely lifeless, it was hard to imagine anything could come from something so seemingly dead. Until we saw it shoot, bright green, face tilted towards the sun, one day to become a towering plant with armfuls of fruit each filled with hundreds of seeds.
Jesus uses the metaphor of a seed/a grain of wheat in the gospel of John to speak about his imminent death.
“Let me make this clear, a single grain of wheat will never be more than a single grain of wheat unless it drops into the ground and dies. Because then it sprouts and produces a great harvest of wheat—all because one grain died.”
And theologian John Stott puts it this way, “as long as a seed remains in the dry, warm, security of the granary it will never reproduce itself. It has to be buried in the cold, dark grave of the soil and there it has to die. Then out of its wintry grave, the springtime grain will sprout.”
This is the Christian hope of Easter. That because Jesus didn’t cling to life, but died in darkness there is life for the world. And with that death, a chain of events that means our broken earth will one day be fully beautiful again, bursting with life but without the sting of death or decay. Without injustice or sickness. No longer watered by our tears.
My tomato plants are a very imperfect picture of this remarkable exchange, but after a year of death feeling so close at hand, they remind me that it won’t have the final word.
Lizzie Harvey is Head of Communications at Theos
Interested in this? Share it on social media. Join our monthly e–newsletter to keep up to date with our latest research and events. And check out our Supporter Programme to find out how you can help our work.