Yours Are The Hands

It’s all over.

The light of the world has gone out. For all of us who loved him and lost him and stayed with him, we stand at the foot of the cross and all I want to do on Friday afternoon is scream into the wind about the unfairness of it all. The great temptation today is to think that, in the end, there was no point to any of it. To bury our grief. To pretend that he never existed. To shuffle our feet awkwardly and avoid conversation, but, when pressed at cocktail parties and around our relatives’ dinner tables, to agree that that bloke who was executed in the foothills of Jerusalem today probably was a bit of a nutter and then to change the subject in a hurry.

I am not one of them, said Peter.

And no doubt that would be the easier path to choose, the way of least resistance.

If he’s gone — and I can’t, in these dark hours that stretch from Friday into Saturday, I can’t believe that that’s not true. If he’s gone, then what good does it to anyone to keep banging on about him?

Except, it does. Somehow. It can.

My soundtrack for the last forty days and nights has been Christ Has No Body Now But Yours, the anthem by David Ogden, based on the words of St Teresa of Avila, who is the patron saint of, among other things, people in need of grace and people ridiculed for their piety. A saint who has been with us on this pilgrimage to Jerusalem these last few days.

One of the Evensongs early in Lent, the choir of St Mary’s Cathedral singing it in my ear. It surely wasn’t the first time I’d heard it, but it was the first time it had penetrated like that, and I sat, spellbound, as suddenly it wasn’t the choir singing it the words into my ear at all but God whispering them to a place deep in my soul.

They have remained there for the last six weeks: a motet, a whisper, a shibboleth, a howl into the vast unrelenting wilderness.

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on Earth but yours.

There is no light today and nothing good in the world. Standing in the middle of a place that was holy and well beloved and now rings in its emptiness, I keep thinking of WH Auden, too. The stars are not wanted now, put out every one. But a new day will dawn, for it always does. The sun will rise again, and when it does we will need to decide who we are now. To decide if, after all, the measure of our experience was something meaningful.

If I can find inspiration anywhere in these three days, it’s in a belief in a God who came to change the world and did, and a belief in his people, in the body of Christ left on Earth, who will carry on changing it even now that the man we knew is dead and buried and gone.

Even if that is the end of the story.

The world is a cold and dark and inhospitable place.

In these days, just as much as it was then, it is a revolutionary act to be a people who say that we love everyone, and that we welcome everyone, and that we will care for everyone. In these days it is the talk of radicals to say that everyone should have enough to eat, that everyone should have access to healthcare and education and clean water, and that no one should go to bed at night afraid that bombs will fall on their house while they sleep. In these days, if you defend the rights of the oppressed, work to raise up the downtrodden, and speak out loud of peace and justice and inclusion and radical Christian hospitality, they call you a socialist and a liberal and a radical.

In our liturgy on Maundy Thursday, we are reminded, every year, that if the world hates us, it hated him first.

The God who I believe in was a socialist and a liberal and a radical.

And today, they crucify him for it.

But that doesn’t mean his truths are not truths worth telling.

From his cross, he leaves behind a legacy and he trusts to us a world that is broken and bleeding and crying out to be turned upside down.

I do not find God in the slamming closed of borders. I do not find God in a society that lets the poor become poorer and the hungry become hungrier. I do not find God in power and greed and violent retaliation. And I do not find Christ in the actions of Christians who wish harm to God’s people and claim that it is in His name. God is not in those things, but those actions are in His world, and here he is too. I’ve found Christ in amongst the lawyers gathered on the floor at JFK Airport through a long cold night working to bring people home. I’ve found Christ in the footsteps of people who have risen up in their thousands to protest the rise of brutal and fascist politics. I saw Christ on Westminster Bridge when emergency service and healthcare workers ran without hesitation towards danger because people needed help. I find Christ in the work of a church that welcomes everyone, that loves everyone, that cares for everyone, even as the world screams hate and anger to us for daring to.

Today, he is gone.

But here we still are.

And if this was the end, the truth of Good Friday is that it is up to us to make the promised truth of the Gospel a reality for the whole Earth.

Yours are the eyes with which he sees. Yours are the feet with which he walks. Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world. 

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The Place Where They Buried Him

Then he took down the body of Jesus, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid.

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We keep the body of Christ here on the high altar, day by day, through the year, marked by a burning candle. It was in darkness tonight. He wasn’t there.

And so we found that after everything that had happened today, there was something left for us to do.

We went back tonight, like Joseph of Arimathea went back. We were all tired, and sore, and grieving. We were still trying to make sense of what had happened in the last twenty four hours. But we weren’t quite done yet. Just like Joseph wasn’t quite done.

In my work, sometimes I am the person who is asked to go into a room where a person has recently died and to formally confirm that they are gone. I try to wake them up. I do the things that you do to confirm that this person is not here anymore; that this is just their body. And it is just their body, but I sit with them for a couple of minutes and I try to make sure that they’re comfortable. I understand the impulse that made Joseph come back.

In this church, we receive those who have died into the sanctuary on the night before their funerals. We bring them back to this place where they belong, and here they stay, safe with God. And on All Souls Day, when we remember all our dead, we name them and we bring their names to this place, to this altar, where they stay throughout the year, safe in this beloved place, safe with God. We understand the impulse that made Joseph come back.

It’s about wanting to do right by our loved ones who have died.

And that was what we did for Jesus.

We took the empty ciborium that used to hold the essence of everything that we believed him to be and took it to the High Altar, where we keep the names of our dead safe. We lit a candle, a flicker of light in the darkness of a cavernous empty building. We left him there, with them, safe in the sanctuary of the place where we have witnessed the reality of his passion and crucifixion.

We remember Christ who at this hour lies in his tomb, and with him we remember all those who have died. We remember particularly those who have died in violence, those who have died in pain, those who have died alone, those who have died and have no one else to name them, and all those who will die tonight.

Rest eternal grant unto them O Lord.

Confession

I am writing this on a piece of paper which I have found in my pocket. I am writing it so that after the end of all things, someone might realise what it was like to live this life and might understand what happened tonight and two thousand years ago and on all the nights to come. As I write, people are coming and going. Some of them I know well, some I have never seen before. They all look just as confused and frightened as I feel.

I still do not understand what happened tonight.

It was never supposed to be like this.

The sun was out today. There was spring in the air. It carried the smell of good food and the noise of young voices making joyful music. We were decked out in gold and glitter and tassels. The city is in holiday mood.

I was there when they destroyed the temple. It’ll be in tomorrow’s papers, no doubt, blamed on kids or yobs or perhaps even terrorists. As precious things were broken to pieces around about me, I heard footsteps coming from behind. I looked around — I thought there was a fire, or an accident, or perhaps the police coming. And as I looked, one of them flew down the centre, eyes wild, elbowing bystanders out of the way, up the steps, and leaping into the most holy of holies, destroying it. In that split second, I saw something that wasn’t for drama or for show but was someone hell-bent on destroying that which he had once loved most. I stopped what I was doing, frozen, with everything around chaos and darkness. I thought: “God, what have we done?” And as suddenly as I’d stopped, I went back into action. It had gone too far to take it back, and dashing through seats and around tables all I could do now was make sure there was no trace left of us. This is what fear tastes like.

As I left, I looked back. It is a dark and desolate place now. There is no love left there.

And now I find myself in this garden. I can see him, here with three of them. I’m hiding in the shadows. I’m not sure I’d be welcome. I want to throw myself down and beg forgiveness for the great evil I’ve helped to do, but I am frightened. I am frightened that he would turn me away and that he would be right to. I am not worthy to be forgiven; why would he forgive me?

Beyond the gates, I can hear traffic and music and people laughing. I want to shake them. My world has ended tonight. They do not care.

I call myself friend, but what sort of friend does this? I call myself an activist, but this time I am too afraid to speak out. I call myself a healer, but look at the destruction I have wrought. I call myself beloved, but what good has loving me done him?

Should you forget everything else I’ve told you, remember this and tell this to your children and your grandchildren: he was a good man who deserved better.

They were followed here by dozens of people. The people are beginning to leave; gathering their things and whispering to each other as they leave the perimeter. I should leave, too. I should take my stiff legs and my hungry belly and my tear-dirty face and my guilt that’s no good to anyone, and I should go home. I won’t, though. Because something is happening tonight, something that I don’t understand and that I’m scared by and that I can’t see ending well. I am too much of a coward to stop it, but I’ll stay here with my cold patch of floor and my thin blanket to at least see it through to the end.

God So Loved The World

As we slipped out of the gathered crowd at the Garden and made our way into the sacristy, another server paused and reverenced the altar and then caught herself and I could see that we had had the same thought at the same time.

He’s not there anymore.

For anyone who has ever thought that belief was a crutch, that faith was taking the easy way out, that religion wanted to pretend like it had all the answers, all the things we’ve seen over the last twenty-four hours say that nothing could be further from the truth.

Because this is a day when believing in God means believing that he died. It means believing that the darkness has fallen, that the light of the world has gone out, and that the man who was our most beloved hope and who came to be the saviour of us all is simply not there anymore.

My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?