Life comes out of death; the horror of crucifixion bears the fruit of redeemed and renewed humanity; the worst that we are capable of becomes the access way to that intimacy of relationship with God that Christ makes possible; it is in the bowl and towel of the servant that true power is expressed; it is in losing ourselves that we are found.
Antony the Great, one of the early desert monks and most influential of Christian monastic teachers, said:
“Our life and death is with our neighbour. If we win our brother, we win God. If we cause our brother to stumble, we have sinned against Christ.”
Rowan Williams reflects on these words of Antony in the following passage. It is not easy reading but it is worth reading and re-reading as there is much to reflect on as we approach Holy Week.
“Living in a Christian way with the neighbour, so that the neighbour is ‘won’ – i.e. converted, brought into saving relation with Jesus Christ – involves my ‘death’. I must die to myself, a self- understood as the sole possessor of virtues and gifts, entitled to pronounce on the neighbour’s spiritual condition. My own awareness of my failure and weakness is indispensable to my communicating the gospel to my neighbour. ... Everything begins with this vision of putting the neighbour in touch with God in Christ. On this the rest of Christian life depends, and it entails facing the death of a particular kind of picture of myself. If I fail to put someone in touch with God, I face another sort of death, the death of my relation with Christ, because failing to ‘win’ the neighbour is to stand in the way of Christ, to block Christ’s urgent will to communicate with all.
"The desert monastics were keenly interested in diagnosing what sort of things get in the way here, what things count as blocking someone else’s relation with Christ. They seem very well aware that one of the great temptations of religious living is the urge to intrude between God and other people. We love to think that we know more of God than others; we find it comfortable and comforting to try and control the access of others to God. Jesus himself speaks bluntly about this when he describes the religious enthusiasts of his day shutting the door of the Kingdom in the face of others ‘You do not enter yourselves, and when others try to enter, you stop them’ (Matthew 23:13)."
This then is another sort of paradox that our earnest efforts to communicate the Gospel can at times get in the way and become an impediment as we interpose ourselves between God and neighbour instead of, through our solidarity, relating to others as one who has ‘fallen short’ also.
Christians throughout the world, in this the most holy of weeks, walk again with Jesus through the passion and the suffering that lead ultimately to the cross. The heart of the message of Easter is not the passion or the suffering, but the resurrection which we celebrate on Easter Day. As Martin Luther King rightly reminded us, ‘Hate begets hate, anger begets anger, killing only begets more killing. The only thing that can turn an enemy into a friend is the power of love”. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s offer of friendship to us, - unconditional, uncontainable love.
Bishop Philip Richardson (Taranaki) will succeed Archbishop David Moxon as Archbishop of the New Zealand dioceses on May 1.