BBC Radio Scotland Easter Morning Address

Why did Jesus have to die?

Why could he not have lived a long life and be remembered for his sweet nature, his kindly acts and his inspiring vision?

 

As Christ breathed his last on the Cross, he uttered several “last words”, one of which was, “ it is finished!”

 

We know that the phrase, rendered in English, does not capture the full meaning. Some translations render the phrase, “it is accomplished”. His last word was a word of triumph, a note of victory or achievement, as though this moment of apparent defeat was what he felt his life was all about. In some way, rather perversely to his devastated and scattered disciples, this was what he had come for: a death – but a death like no other death – for it was the most life affirming of deaths.

 

The meaning of Christ’s death – his life affirming death – is this: The only kind of life worth living, for any of us, is the life that brings life to others.

 

Life for self, life lived for accumulating personal wealth, life lived for power or success in worldly terms is a life lived “for the hell of it”. With aims such as these as the centre and focus of our lives, we are bound ultimately to diminish the lives of others and the life of the world. Life lived with these things as our goal will not last, we will bankrupt ourselves and plunder our planet.

 

However, a life lived for the enhancement of the life of the world and the life of others – a life lived in sacrificial service – even unto death – is a life that gives life.

 

C. Day Lewis has a poem about that strange letting go that brings life to others, a hard lesson about the ache of those who truly learn the meaning and depth of love:

 

C.D.Lewis’s Walking Away:

 

‘It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –

            A sunny day with the leaves just turning,

The touch-lines new ruled – since I watched you play

            Your first game of football, then, like a satellite

            Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away

 

            Behind a scatter of boys.  I can see

            You walking away from me towards the school

With the pathos of a half-fledge thing set free

            Into a wilderness, the gait of one

            Who finds no path where the path should be.

 

            That hesitant figure, eddying away

            Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,

            Has something I never quite grasp to convey

About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching

            Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.

 

            I have had worse partings, but none that so

Gnaws at my mind still.  Perhaps it is roughly

            Saying what God alone could perfectly show –

            How selfhood begins with a walking away,

            And love is proved in the letting go.’ 

 

Some of you may have heard of the American Scientist, Edward O. Wilson. Wilson has won the Pulitzer Prize, is Harvard professor of Zoology and has written of the condition of the planet and the human condition.

 

He argues in his book, On Human Nature that humanity must strive to evolve beyond selfish desire and short term aspiration. Our lust for power, money and selfish gain is diminishing the planet and is consequently self-destructive. He writes, “a change of heart occurs when people look beyond themselves to others and the rest of life”.

 

This attitude perfectly encapsulates the way of Christ. A way so utterly at odds with our prevailing attitudes that Christ had to be put to death.

 

But, in thinking beyond ourselves, in giving life to others rather than taking things for ourselves, somehow life is gained, given, enhanced, re- enchanted and something grows. This is what we mean when we say that Divine love is stronger than death.

 

Looking at the way in which we have plundered the earth’s bounty, beauty and bio-diversity, Wilson asks the following devastating question that haunts our present generation as we witness the consequences of reckless human greed. “Our descendants will ask why, by needlessly extinguishing the lives of other species, did we permanently impoverish our own?”

 

A life enhancing life.

A life giving life.

A life lived that others may have life –

That is a life that gains life.

 

That is the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection.

 

Someone once wrote that the greatest challenge facing our world today is not terrorism and not even climate change, it is the fact that we have turned our backs on the interior life and substituted that with a life of material excess.

 

It is the life of the Spirit, the life of depth and mediation and reflection, the life that is considered spirituality that always turns us away from ourselves to the glory and wonder of the people and the life around us.

 

If we can recover some sense of spiritual poise in the life of humanity, we will recover an understanding of what really brings us life in all its fullness. We will recapture the things that really enhance existence.

 

The finest sight on earth is love, the love that loves even unto death, the love that brings life to light, the love that conquers death, decay and destruction. This the kind of love, the kind of human maturity, the kind of imagination our planet needs if we want life on earth to endure.

 

Our task is to go and proclaim the victory of love, to go and engage in the task of “soul retrieval” and restore human depth and spiritual imagination to the heart of life.

 

I am not so interested in the mechanics of Easter, instead, I am interested in what Christ was trying to tell us from the Cross on that Good Friday and what he is trying to tell us today as we face so many global challenges.

 

For the sake of the life of the world, we should lift our lives above the humdrum, life diminishing things that occupy our thoughts every day.  We should lift ourselves above selfish gain and destructive habits and begin to learn again how to live life- enhancing lives that bring life to others and to the planet.

 

Then we will understand the meaning of Easter, why Jesus had to die and rise again and the meaning of Christ’s words “it is accomplished”.

 

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

 

Adress for Radio Scotland -Palm Sunday 2012

It’s funny, but a lot of people say that the best things in life are free. It’s true enough that you can’t put a price on courage or freedom or love. But there is another kind of cost involved in these things and they can turn out to be very expensive commodities indeed that demand not our wealth but the expense of our hearts, and even sometimes the cost of our very lives.
Love can be very expensive – the pain of childbirth – letting your children go as they grow – facing up to the loss of a loved one. If we had never loved life might never have hurt us so. But in the rose there is always the thorn. Loving and caring can be very costly indeed. But what kind of life would it be if we hardened our hearts, insulated ourselves from the ache of life?
CS Lewis once reflected on this:
“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in the casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable”.
Jesus removed his outer garment, the protection and status of a robe that might have distinguished him as a leader and teacher and he wrapped a towel round his waist, stooped down and washed his disciples’ feet. For love of his friends he is prepared to humble himself, serve them and remove the things that protect him and guarantee his status.
That vulnerability was seen again and again in Jesus’ life. He reveals the expense of love – that love comes at a price – not a financial one of course, but at the cost of status, security and power.
In Jesus’ day lepers were considered unclean, deemed to be contaminated. Jesus shared the contamination of the leper’s soul by reaching out and touching him and in doing so he healed and restored him. When he met the loathed tax gatherer Zacchaeus, he risked being as unpopular as Zacchaeus was by going for dinner in his home.
And then, in that most magnificent of defeats, he gave up his life for his friends. And the odd, foolish message of the Cross makes sense to us: in giving his all, in spending his life, in giving his life, he found it. Before granting us life – life in all its fullness, it seems that God demands our lives – ourselves – our wills and even our wealth and security.
Of course we all like to cling on to power, security and even money. I heard a story recently from the great Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He once said that “when the white man arrived in Africa, we Africans had all the land and the white man had the Bible. The white man told us to close our eyes and pray. When we opened them, the white man had all the land and we had the Bible”.
It is so true that we don’t want to give anything up that we cling on to the scaffolding that we think will give us security, but it is a bogus security. Christ’s people in the world are challenged to reflect the manner of Christ’s presence in the world – a presence of un-calculating love, not boasting or bullying or intimidating, not using henchmen to enforce a line or a doctrinal position but being a vulnerable presence in the world, being prepared to have our hearts broken so that we might love and bring life to others and even to ourselves.