Letter from Alastair – May 2022

Dear friends,

Our journey to Easter this year has been profoundly shaped by the war in Ukraine and so this year I want to think about how we view the story of Easter with conflict as our backdrop. The first Easter took place in the arena of occupation; separatist fighters were crucified either side of Jesus while the Jewish authorities were caught up with the realpolitik of first century Palestine.

The Easter story reminds us that life, death and redemption are always set in the midst of war. The Cross and resurrection of Jesus are the crucial plays in the most important cosmic battle in the whole of history; between good and evil, love and hate. Because of the cross, love and goodness will always win in the end, but it is a huge battle for them to gain the upper hand. We live in the in-between times when victory has been assured, but fighting is fierce and on-going. Jesus tells his disciples that at the end of time as we know it, he will usher in a new Kingdom, but until then the fight is on. As Christians we are called to dare to believe that hope is possible; that we have the wherewithal to pray and pronounce the healing and gracious resurrection presence of the Kingdom here and now, in enemy territory. That is the challenging adventure that Christians live in, wherever they live in the world. War and conflict are like volcanoes of hatred and evil erupting on the surface. In the face of such aggression, whether in Ukraine, Yemen, Sudan or Ethiopia, acts of kindness, of sacrificial love might seem as pointless as the saviour dying on the cross. We may want to yell at Jesus and tell him to ask for his legions of angels to swoop down and banish the evil. We might feel a better solution is to follow in the footsteps of Peter who severs the ear of the temple guard, but Jesus tells us as he told Peter – that is not the way to true peace and reconciliation.

Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador who was assassinated for speaking up for the poor against a corrupt regime wrote “The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into farming tools.” Love is neither theoretical nor weak. According to Romero there is a violence to love. Not a violence that hurts others, but a violence that resists all that hurts people and stands up to the powers that exploit and destroy God’s beloved children. It is a violent passion that shouts, “No more! In the name of Christ, no more!”

It is vital for Christians to hold on to the fact that God’s way, his sacrificial way of love, will win out in the end. For Ukrainian Christians, as they pray fervently for peace, they understand that they are in the situation for the long haul. We may want to ask the question, why does God allow this to happen? I find people of little or no faith often want to ask that question precisely because they don’t believe in the God who seems to allow it to happen. We certainly want to ask God, where are you? But to think that the God who empties himself of power to come among us in the person of Jesus is inoculated to the suffering of his people is completely wrong. Jesus models that he is the absolute opposite to President Putin. He doesn’t force himself on the world in strength. He allows hatred to bubble up precisely because he gives us free will to take the right path or to make our own path. His reaction is an offensive of love. He sits with the child who has lost her parents, he inspires incredible acts of kindness from strangers, he is like the father who covers the body of his child as a shell lands on the house. He gives strength and courage to the weary so that they can keep going.

When we dare to hope, it is not a naïve optimism. The hope that Jesus’ friends are called to inhabit is the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. In God’s economy, death is never the end, goodness and light are never defeated. At times it looks as though it has been, but Jesus draws us deeper and closer to him so that our hope builds. Christians are called to be hope-filled even when the superficial signs are not promising. Christians are called to be agents of hope, praying and acting for the Kingdom. When we follow God he leads us in his mission to be alongside the broken-hearted, to give sacrificially, to show kindness and generosity to the stranger. It rarely has a victorious look to it, but then neither does the man hanging limp on a cross. But ultimately the love of God wins and we are called to be the signs of that victory shining in the darkness and fractured nature of our world as we live as people of the resurrection.

Grace and Peace