The skirmishing is well under way in advance of the General Election campaign. Attention is focussed on what the government can and should do in our present circumstances. Clearly the decision we have to make is important and it is important to be involved at least by turning out to vote. It will be an opportunity to send a number of messages. One is that we demand certain standards of behaviour in our elected politicians but another is that those who are offering themselves for election out of a genuine desire to serve deserve to be honoured. We all suffer if public service is denigrated or if cynicism takes hold.
But this is Holy Week. Once again we are accompanying Jesus through the events of this week. Once again after the experiences of the past year, the story is fresh.
After his tumultuous welcome from the crowds, they turn against him. He is sacrificed to political expediency with its dismal but rational account of human motivation.
Pilate is trapped in this rational world view. He does ask “what is truth?” but he is merely toying with the question; jesting and does not stay for an answer. Most important he does not see the answer in the suffering body standing in front of him. Pilate stands for those who have separated the search for truth from what they see. He has turned his back on the Word made flesh.
If Jesus had only come preaching manners and morality then he would have been honoured. But God so loved the world that he gave himself to strangers, to the unclean, the unworthy and even to enemies. For God, love is not an emotion or a reward for the righteous, it is self giving.
It is hard to tolerate the generosity of God. As one of the prophets of London William Blake expressed it –
“And we are put on earth a little space
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.”
The cross is the shape imposed on God’s love.
What Governments do and do not do is significant but there will be no profound transformation without an earthquake of the spirit in which we are involved. For one thing the spirit of generous volunteering will be crucial in the difficult years to come when the inevitable cuts will have an impact on the vulnerable. The Church in the Diocese is already hard at work in a large number of projects right across the spectrum of need. As local authorities have had to trim their youth work programmes, the church has been employing more youth workers. At the same time we have a responsibility to reach out to the old and infirm and to raise the question of why some societies value elders whilst others simply have the elderly.
I am also grateful for the fact that our commitment to going beyond ourselves does not stop at the shores of our own country. ALMA, our link with the church in Angola and Mozambique has been exploring new territory. I was very moved by a visit to Old Ford school, a community school where a whole corridor is devoted to art works and poems by the children inspired by the figure of the “music man” fashioned in Mozambique out of the debris of the civil war. At the same time in the City of London a new venture has been launched in collaboration with a number of experienced NGO’s. “Arcubus” is intended to raise an initial sum of £1 million to finance small loans and to create banking services in one of the poorest parts of Mozambique where there are only four banks for an area the size of the UK.
Whoever we are, the question at the foot of the cross this Holy Week is what and to whom can we be a generous neighbour.
One of the most heart breaking moments in the Good Friday story in St John’s version is when Jesus sees his mother and the beloved disciple, John himself, standing by the cross. He entrusts them to one another. “Woman behold thy son” – then to the disciple “Behold thy mother”. “And from that hour that disciple took her into his own home.”
If we see the truth in the cross then the generosity of God impels us to become givers in our turn, helping others so that they are enabled to be generous. It is the deep and simple mystery of the faith that the more we give, beyond ourselves, the more we become our true selves; the more we lose ourselves the more we find our true identity.
This Holy Week I have been deeply moved by the work of Barry and Margaret Mizen. Their son Jimmy was murdered two years ago just after his sixteenth birthday. Instead of giving way to bitterness and hatred they have launched a Foundation to “promote the good in young people”. With the parents of other murdered young people, Damilola Taylor, Robert Knox and Daniel Idowu they have formed Families United to help the victims of violent crime. Barry Mizen said “Change has got to come from all of us. Look out for each other and take care of each other and look to the sort of values we need to live with.” His message resonates in a London where two more young men have been murdered in recent days.
All the laws and regulations; the grants and the courses, important as they are will be inadequate unless there is a resurrection of the generous spirit of the volunteer. People tempted to violence can be helped in various ways but they can only be transformed by honest and generous relationships.
The great economist John Maynard Keynes who was not a believer observed to Virginia Woolf wistfully and perhaps a little prematurely – “We destroyed Christianity and yet had its benefits.”
It has yet to be proved that profound transformation in our world is possible without seeing the truth of the God who so loved the world that he was generous and gave his only son to die upon the cross to love the loveless into loving.
May God bless you this Holy Week and may the sacrifice of his son upon the cross further open up your life to health and generosity.