There is no doubt that our work in God is to live according to, and in order to spread, the good news that is Jesus Christ. And it really is good news; although sinners, God came down to earth and took our sin upon himself in his son Jesus, dying and rising to new life, inviting us to follow that way by simply having faith. An almost free ticket to eternal happiness!
Some people have mistaken this mission, which offers hope in the midst of the most desperate and deplorable circumstances, as one of fixed smiles and positive words. A simpering faith that pats gently on the shoulder with its people saying ‘I understand your pain’. Such saccharine stuff might be medicine to some, but it’s not the gospel we are called to preach here or anywhere. I have always thought of it as the spiritual equivalent to painkiller for a dislocated shoulder – when actually a short sharp tug in the right direction would do infinitely more good!
To give you an example of the sort of thing I am talking about: I have taken many, many funerals, and been a mourner at a few as well. One thing that is guaranteed to raise my hackles as a mourner is any sense that the celebrant ‘feels my loss’. It is fine to have sympathy, to be sorry, to walk alongside, but let’s not pretend that the loss I feel can be adequately communicated to you. As a celebrant I try to respect this by remaining outside the circle of mourners – I am an enabler, an accompanier, a functionary in the process of their grief – not another member of the family.
Our Church has more than enough room for the negative thoughts, sad and low times, desperate and deplorable circumstances of the community and the world. The Eucharist is not a dinner party; we don’t have to be bubbly and polite with our host. Jesus says, ““Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mat 11:28-30). This is an invitation to bring those feelings of sadness, anger, vengeance and injustice to him. Acknowledging them by sharing them with the body of Christ is the beginning of that way that leads to peace.
There is time and space for feelings of anger, pain and vengeance – especially for those feelings are born of a lost love or opportunity, a perceived injustice. It is the image of God in us who wrath is provoked by such things. At times like these I have always found Psalm 109 to be a great help with its great list of punishments God might dish out against those people and things with which we are angry. If we are honest, I am sure many of us have uttered such curses ourselves at times.
Psalm 109 does not remain obsessed with vengeance until its end, it finishes instead with an acknowledgment that the fight is not our own, and that God comes to the aid of those who call to him. This is the result of the Psalmist desired vengeance, it should be the result of our ire and anger too.
God’s love embraces and penetrates the whole of creation, not just the beautiful, pleasant and easy bits. Making room for those feelings, and those people who feel them, shows us growing into the body of Christ. Within that body there is room for hope, help and compassion, even when there isn’t room in ourselves for those things. We might feel stuck, but we can be swept along on the tide of God’s grace, knowing that there is a plan for us.
God doesn’t stop us falling, but he is there to catch us when we do, and set us wasn’t more along the path that leads to eternal life with him.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”