So familiar and still so dangerous

Matthew 26 and 27

It’s Good Friday morning as I write this.

I’ve decided, as we approach the end of the reading of Matthew, to cover the last three chapters in one lump. This is for a variety of reasons. First of all, the story just rolls along at this point, into a well known and desperate future that seems utterly unavoidable now. It seems to have a completeness to it at this moment that I respond to as a whole. A second is a way more practical reason: having been ill at the beginning of the week and still not quite right, I have been playing catch up. I don’t want to be writing about the Crucifixion on Easter Day. So, here we go. A decent into hell.

The Pharisees have had enough. And it’s hardly a surprise, is it? Jesus has been haranguing them for some time, and they are sick of being challenged in their ultra-law enforcement. For years, centuries, even, they have developed what they perceive to be the only way to seek a righteous life. They have lived according to codes and beliefs that they have justified as being from God, and so any upstart who challenges them must surely be wrong. And yet Jesus somehow says things that connect with people so quickly and directly. It is a feature of power that you can’t give it away. Power sticks. And the Pharisees are unable to change without someone grabbing the power from them. In this regard Jesus is, of course, a radical. He wants to demonstrate the need to change, and knows that change will only come when people seize the power to live a new way. The power of God is in all our lives, and we need to experience it and live according to it. That’s what the previous 25 chapters have been about. And now, as the end approaches, he’s done pretty much all he can to prepare the world.

There are two sorts of time, according to Greek culture. There’s chronos, the ‘normal’ passage of time, second by second, minute by minute. It’s how we plan our days. It’s sort of how we live. There’s also kairos, a suspension of chronos, almost a ‘space’ within ‘time’ that  can last longer than chronos would seem to permit. There are instances of kairos throughout the Gospels. They’re moments of heightened awareness like the transfiguration. They are moments of prayer, when God is nearby and tangible. They are moments that take away the breath. Jesus’ anointing is one such. The woman pauses time, halts the decent to execution with her loving gift of perfume and her praise and worship of The Christ. Messiah: which means anointed. This woman recognises Jesus’ status and pauses normal time to give praise. As Jesus points out, the poor we will always have, but he will be soon be gone. Isn’t it worth pausing for that, and showing our love?

The kairos is over, and chronos resumes. We are rushing towards darkness, and all the lessons, all the powerful and stirring words of the past 25 chapters seem to go out of the window. Judas, Peter, everyone: they (we) all panic, with Jesus at the centre, behaving with astonishing calm and determination. Could I be like that? Not a chance.

I’m listening to Stabat Mater by Pergolesi. I always do on Good Friday. Later I’ll listen to Via Crucis, by Liszt. Good Friday is that kind of day. Even before I became a Christian I found time to listen to reflective, devotional music on Good Friday. Something about the story travels beyond the pages of the Gospels and permeates space and time. what happened? How and why?

We know the chronos. We know the sequence of events. We can almost recite them moment by moment. We have fourteen stations of the cross to help us. we can see it in the streets of Jerusalem. The Via Dolorosa. The reenactments around the world today. Tomorrow there’ll be images of people on crosses. But what actually happened? I don’t know. But I feel it. On Good Friday the words cease. It’s all in the reflection. It’s preverbal. Only music, for me, can come close to providing an adequate explanation. It took me a long time to realise this. The scientist in me searched for reasonable answers to rational questions. How can a man ‘die for me’, especially 2000 years ago? What difference does it make? And let’s not go anywhere near Easter Day yet! What was it about Christ’s death that means I am saved? Again, I honestly can’t explain it. But I feel it.

I don’t want to go off into the realms of some major apologetic for my faith in the infinite grace of God, but somehow I want to explain how astonished I am at even being able to consider that God might become flesh, and suffer so. It seems such a pointless act. It seems such a negative, weak and ineffectual role to take on: God, the being that brought all creation into existence, can become like me, and die like me. Such a stance. Such a declaration. I can’t explain it, but when I accept it, so many things fall into place. If I accept God’s grace in my life, God’s love for me, then the proof is neither important nor significant. I perceive things as you do when a puzzle suddenly makes sense. Einstein, in seeking an explanation for some of his equations postulated a ‘cosmological constant’, a kind of ‘number you first thought of’ that, when inserted into his mathematics allowed some rather recalcitrant equations to ‘work’. It turns out that the cosmological constant is a real, physical notion that can be argued for experimentally. But Einstein simply postulated it’s existence and things made sense.

Christ’s death, God’s death, fits. It means the world makes sense.

I was blinded by the devil,
Born already ruined,
Stone-cold dead
As I stepped out of the womb.

By His grace I have been touched,
By His word I have been healed,
By His hand I’ve been delivered,
By His spirit I’ve been sealed.

I’ve been saved
By the blood of the lamb,

Saved
By the blood of the lamb,

Saved, (saved)

And I’m so glad
Yes, I’m so glad,
Well, I’m so glad,
so glad,

I want to thank You, Lord,
I want to thank You, Lord,
I want to thank You, Lord.

By His truth I can be upright,
By His strength I do endure,
By His power I’ve been lifted,
In His love I am secure.

He bought me with a price,
Freed me from the pit,
Full of emptiness and wrath
And the fire that burns in it.

I’ve been saved…

Nobody to rescue me,
Nobody would dare,
I was going down for the last time,
But by His mercy I’ve been spared.

Not by works,
But by faith in Him who called,
For so long I’ve been hindered,
For so long I’ve been stalled.

I’ve been saved…