Saturday, March 22, 2008

Following a pussy cat


NT Wright has his Maundy Thursday sermon up on the web here. Highlights include:

"And the events of Good Friday tells us something we urgently need to know about doing God in public. If it is the true God we are talking about – the God we see and know in Jesus Christ and him crucified – then we should expect that following him, speaking for him, and living out the life of his spirit, will sometimes make the crowds shout ‘Hosanna!’ and sometimes make them shout ‘Crucify!’ We are not in this business to court either popularity or martyrdom. When they come, like Kipling’s triumph and disaster, we should treat them, imposters as they are, just the same. Speaking and living for God in the public world will sometimes dovetail exactly with what the world inarticulately knows it wants and needs; sometimes it will cut straight across what everyone else is saying. But those who have sat at table with their Lord, and have known him in the strange privacy of the breaking of the bread, will not waver the next day when they need to stand as a sign of contradiction in the market place, in the council chamber, or in the courtroom. This is a lesson, my friends, we are going to have to learn more and more in the days to come. Work hard, you who stand up to be counted as the Lord’s publicly recognised servants, work hard at the private disciplines, so that you will know where to stand and how to stand when everyone else thinks you’re blaspheming against the secular gods of the day.

But the story doesn’t stop there. After Good Friday comes Holy Saturday, the day of waiting, waiting without hope, without knowing what will come next. Go down deep into Holy Saturday, because once again you are called away from the public arena – extroverts in particular find this hard – and into the stillness where you don’t understand, you don’t have an agenda to work on, you don’t know what it is you want or expect God to do. Without the still, dark privacy of Holy Saturday, the new kind of public message which is the resurrection of Jesus could turn simply into a shallow or angry response to the taunts and violence of Good Friday, answering the world in its own terms. The church is sometimes tempted to do that, to huff and puff and charge off to ‘defend’ God and the gospel. Holy Saturday commands us to lay down our swords and wait: wait without thought, says Eliot, for you are not yet ready for thought."


And I like this line little later: "Western thought has wanted to keep Christianity as private truth only, to turn the Lion of Judah into a tame pussy-cat, an elegant and inoffensive, if occasionally mysterious, addition to the family circle." True Christianity is something so intrinsic to one's life that you would die for it. I've been reading a fair bit about this by Rowan Williams recently, and may blog on it sometime soon. But is appropriate, I think, to pause and reflect on one of Williams predecessors, Thomas Cranmer, who was martyred on 21 March 1556. Cranmer was the great English church leader and theologian who guided the English church through the first few decades of the Reformation. (and subsequently has had a huge impact on the church around the world for five and a half centuries). After 22 years as Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer was burnt at the stake under the authority of both Queen Mary I and the Roman Church. And he died the kind of death of a Lord's servant that says that it is the Lion of Judah, and not just a tame pussycat that is Lord:

"Then was an iron chain tied about Cranmer and fire set unto him. When the wood was kindled and the fire began to burn near him, he stretched forth his right hand, which had signed his recantation, into the flames, and there held it so the people might see it burnt to a coal before his body was touched. In short, he was so patient and constant in the midst of his tortures, that he seemed to move no more than the stake to which he was bound; his eyes were lifted up to heaven, and often he said, so long as his voice would suffer him, "this unworthy right hand!" and often using the words of Stephen, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit", till the fury of the flames putting him to silence, he gave up the ghost."

- John Foxe, Foxe's Book of Martyrs

1 comment:

byron smith said...

Thanks for posting this. NB I think you might have missed a 'not' in your final line before the Foxe quote?