In one of those bizarre moments of serendipity this morning I read Giles Fraser’s latest column for the Guardian’s Comment Macht Frei section right after I had just sorted out the Easter lily for my dead son to be part of the adornments in our church on Easter Sunday. Each year St Mary Bredin invites congregation members to buy a lily for a deceased loved one and to have that person’s name written in a book of remembrance. It is a glorious reminder that the victory of the tomb is the triumph of Jesus over all suffering, pain and death. Christ is the first fruits of those who will rise on the final day, glorified beyond their sin and destruction by the one who wiped away on the cross all their sorrow and iniquity.
By contrast, Fraser’s polemic in the Guardian is a weird conglomeration of class warfare, a functional lack of awareness of what many Evangelicals actually believe and have experienced and liberal distaste of the more explicit portions of Scripture that quite clearly declare Jesus’ death on the cross as a victory. The thing is though, that victory like so many things in the Bible is a two part process. The events of Good Friday achieve the victory but the Empty Tomb on Sunday morning proclaims it. The two are the same event. The cost of Jesus’ death and the price he had to pay for removing the spiritual consequences of both our sin and our wounds from living in a fallen world are the very reason why Evangelicals and others take such delight in the name of the one who has transformed us.
The two years after my son was stillborn were the darkest in my life. Depressed and angry with God for taking our child before his life even began, and for then not giving us the job we wanted (because obviously if you do the right thing then God will make everything OK) I entered that long dark night that the Christian mystics speak of. You’d be surprised how many Evangelicals do. As I sat in the dust alongside Job I learnt that it is in suffering and despair that we learn to wait on God, and it is in the surrender of our desires and dreams that we give God the permission to raise from the dead that which we (and He) have crucified. But as Evangelicals understand, it is the moment of darkness that is the moment of triumph. The Father lays upon the Son every sin of the believer, every suffering, every moment of pain, anguish and sorrow and as Jesus dies he takes upon himself the entire spiritual consequence of those things. There is a supernatural exchange – my brokenness for his perfection. It is an exchange that cannot be understood by those who have not experienced it and it is one that the world derides and mocks.
No doubt there is a tendency amongst all Christians to do one of two things with suffering and sin. The first is to ignore it and pretend that the Christian life should be all smiles and laughter. This isn’t so – nowhere does Jesus promise us material prosperity and emotional security. But secondly there is also a tendency amongst some Christians to positively wallow in their plight, to not envision that the events of the Easter weekend are transformational, not just supernaturally for Jesus but also for us. If we are to be united with Christ in sharing his sufferings and becoming like him unto death then we also can taste the power of his resurrection. Jesus does heal today, he does bind broken hearts, change sinful attitudes and transform opportunity and situation.
That of course is at the heart of the experience of not just Evangelicals but also other orthodox Christians. The joyful expression of the name of Jesus is not a denial of the suffering and pain but a bold proclamation despite it. At the heart of conversion is the understanding that everything has changed and that everything will change. No matter what faces me now, regardless what hurdles a broken and sinful world is presenting me with, now that I am Christ’s I can raise my face through the tears and praise him for what he has done and what he will yet do. The glory of Good Friday and the Cross is that is does lead to Resurrection Sunday. Evangelicals are not the stereo-typed cheesy, happy-clappy HTB attenders without a care in the world from Giles Fraser’s column but rather are and should be men and women who completely understand the price Jesus paid for them (and calls them to pay daily), have had a foretaste of glory divine and who positively revel in the grace of it all. What’s not to celebrate?
I’d love to ask Giles to dinner to discuss why he caricatures Evangelicals in such a negative manner but it’s likely he wouldn’t come, suspecting that I’d be serving some posh Sloane Square culinary pretentiousness. So I’ll invite Teresa of Avila along instead as we would have much more to talk about over our Cheesus Fondue.