Canon Treasurer - Revd Canon Leanne Roberts
And so we come to the cross, and are confronted by death
Not just the death of Jesus, but our inevitable death also.
There is a temptation, as Christians, to dismiss death as ‘nothing at all’, merely a passing seamlessly from this world to the next. But if this were so, if death really were ‘nothing at all’, just a moving, of sorts, from one ‘room’ to another, we would likely not be here today, treating the death of Jesus and, come Easter, his defeat of death in his resurrection, as the seminal event we believe it to be. But to allow the resurrection and promise of eternal life to deny our very human, very reasonable fear of death is to avoid our invitation, through Christ, to confront this fear for what it is, and how it speaks to our living as well as our dying.
Today, we witness a death which is not only total but terrible. It is highly unlikely that any of us here today will have to endure a death as public and tortuous as this one. But it is Jesus’ death that makes the incarnation an unassailable fact; his life alone could lead us to believe that God became ‘as if’ human, something like us, but not entirely. His death, however, his experiencing an ending that is inevitable and common to every human being who ever lived, makes his lived experience authentic and complete.
Jesus knew what it was to fear death, to feel his life ebb out, to die. God no longer observed humanity from a position of absolute power, but knew in his body what comes to all his children.
This is why we cannot ignore death, despite our fear of it. We are invited by Jesus to stand at the foot of his cross and look our fear – all our fears, including the ones we’ve been considering throughout this week, such as loss, truth, love, being seen – in the eye.
Which brings us to those women: Mary, Jesus’ mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. How much easier it might have been for them to be huddled away, comforting one another in their grief and pain? But these women were steadfast, loyal, unflinching in their determination to stay with this man they loved so deeply and witness the culmination of all their fears – their very worst fears – in this awful and unjust death.
We, too, are invited to stand and watch today. To look at Jesus and see, starkly, those things of which we are profoundly afraid and from which we often hide.
To realize that death will come to us all, as it did to our Lord, and to know that we can cast all our fear onto him, who will bear it for us – who wishes to bear it for us, and invites us to freedom of life through him, through his death.
To stand patiently with those faithful, brave women, and allow our fear to die.
To believe that there is love that casts out fear, and that Christ’s death effects this for us, once for all.
A poem, Evening, by R.S. Thomas:
The archer with time
as his arrow - has he broken
his strings that the rainbow
is so quiet over our village?
Let us stand, then, in the interval
of our wounding, till the silence
turn golden and love is
a moment eternally overflowing.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his Letters and Papers from Prison, wrote: ‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.’ Although our physical death is certain, there is another death to which we are called, this death to self. Death of those things which distract and diminish us, of which we are afraid, which keep us in an unlived life.
When we stand and look, beholding earthly death and eternal love, we are gathered into another kind of life; a way of living that does not, cannot avoid our place in the world, and our connection with everyone and everything created in and for love. As WH Auden wrote, ‘We must love one another or die’; new life, fullness of life, then, is a life of love – love of God, neighbour, self. All belong together.
Love of God without the others is false piety; love of neighbour without the others is empty martyrdom; love of self without the others is bitter self-absorption. We are not separate. We are all created to be part of the divine life, which is always Trinity, always community.
This death, so terrible to behold, is the path to life. It shows us what dying to self, dying so that we can truly love, dying so that we can really live, looks like.
Let us have the courage to stand, with those women, and know that fear has no hold over us in the face of love and life like this.
Mornings at Blackwater Pond, by Mary Oliver
For years, every morning, I drank
from Blackwater Pond.
It was flavored with oak leaves and also, no doubt,
the feet of ducks.
And always it assuaged me
from the dry bowl of the very far past.
What I want to say is
that the past is the past,
and the present is what your life is,
and you are capable
of choosing what that will be,
So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination,
or the harbor of your longing,
and put your lips to the world.