the priority of love…


Here’s the thing… I’ve been preaching through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Rome in the last year. We’ve just hit chapter 9 and we started right after easter 2015. It’s been good…at least from my perspective. I think that the entire first section of the letter is dealing with the big ‘contemporary’ issue: who’s in and who’s out…and on what basis? That is: who is part of God’s family and on what basis?

I’ve been struck by a couple of things:


First, how much of the discussion revolves around ‘law’ – nomos. This is to be expected in so many ways. Paul, as a Jew, had lived a life like so many other of his contemporaries, that was driven by the interpretation of the religious law. Adherence and faithfulness to the ‘law’ denoted one’s own faithfulness to the covenant with God.

And yet the crunch is that Paul, having encountered the resurrected Jesus has become aware that there is a new way to live – a new righteousness – that is not determined by faithfulness to the ‘law’ but by a trusting relationship with God (Rom 1:16-17). It appears that it is this assertion, and Paul’s mission to the gentiles on the basis of it, that has caused no end of strife and struggle in the Israelite/Jewish community.


Second, what seems to inspire this paradigm-shifting transformation in Paul is on the one hand his encounter with the resurrected Jesus, but on the other hand it appears that Paul has been (metaphorically) blown away by a fresh understanding of God’s love. While ‘love’ is mentioned on fewer occasions in the letter than ‘law’ it is clear that love is THE driving force in Paul’s missional agenda. Love is a present experience in the life of the disciple (5:5); Love is the evidence of God’s commitment to humanity (5:8); Love is the ever-present, unbreakable bond of God with humanity (8:39); Love fulfills the law (13:8-10).


I for one do not think that the Christ-following Paul preached a gospel that was deliberately antithetical to traditional Judaism. I think that in his encounter with the resurrected Jesus- perhaps having missed this previously – Paul comes to realise that Judaism is in fact (and always has been) infused with love, grace, mercy, and compassion. Judaism is built on the foundation stones of love and grace. Whether recalling Abraham or the Mosaic law it seems that love and grace predominate Paul’s thinking in Romans. Abraham’s call is an example of God’s grace in action. God choice of the people of Israel is run through with love. The gift of the law is another example of God’s grace. Paul makes clear – following Jesus, and other ‘teachers of the law’ (Luke 10:27) that the key to keeping the covenant with God and thereby obeying the law is that ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Romans 13:10).

In the beginning was love. For God is love. The gift of the law gave practical examples and directives as to what love looks like among the community of God’s people.

But the priority is love.

So, the big ‘contemporary’ issue I began with: who’s in and who’s out…and on what basis? That is: who is part of God’s family and on what basis? For too long I guess I/we’ve forgotten that God is love and this question answered only through this lens: God is love.


Image: Robert Indiana, LOVE, 1968

Atonement : a loving reunion (part 2) 

Charlie Mackesy The book of love

Rethinking the place of atonement…

“God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ.” So says the Apostle Paul. If we take this statement at face value, how might we go about interpreting it?

Reconciliation in Jesus

  • That God was at work throughout the life of Jesus doing the wonderful, mysterious work of reconciliation. With every step Jesus took; in every conversation; in each embrace. God was at work in Jesus working the wonderful work of reconciliation – the work of welcoming humanity back to God, back to humanity’s true and restful home.
  • That God was at work in every detail of the death of Jesus working the mystery of reconciliation. In his arrest; in the beatings; in the humiliation; in the abuse; as the nails pierced his hands and feet. God was at work reconciling the world to Himself. As the religious authorities and the imperial soldiers mocked and yelled up at Jesus, ‘If you’re the saviour of the world, come down from the cross and then we’ll believe in you.’
  • That God was working the wonder of reconciliation as He expressed His never-ending love in the resurrection of Jesus from death.

God was working in Jesus to bring about the reconciliation of humanity to Himself. But, how was he doing this work of reconciliation? What was God’s strategy?

Friend of sinners

Now, there are many names, titles, and ascriptions given to Jesus – by the prophets before his birth, by people – including Jesus himself – during his life, and then by the apostles after his resurrection from the dead. But of all the names given to Jesus perhaps one of the most moving, and beautiful is a name intended as an insult: ‘Friend of sinners’. Throughout his life Jesus became friends with sinners. Friends with people who were on the outside. Friends with those who were ‘not good enough’; people who didn’t fit in; friends with those who had done wrong, knew they had done wrong, and lived in the deep pool of their shame. Jesus became friends with such as these. And Jesus became friends with others too. People who wanted his friendship; people who were lost; people who were lonely; people who needed loving. God worked reconciliation as Jesus made friends.


The German theologian Jürgen Moltmann writes movingly about friendship in his recent book, The Living God and the Fullness of Life.’[1]

  • Moltmann identifies friendship as ‘a personal relationship that makes no claims.’
  • Friendship ‘means accepting and respecting … just as they are.’
  • Friendship ‘is the promise to walk together side by side’ with ‘no prejudgement that pins the other person down, and no ideal picture that has to be lived up to.’
  • ‘Friends open up free spaces for one another, for personal development.’
  • ‘Friendship is enduring and is aligned toward permanence.’

These descriptors are, I think, beautiful assessments of the true nature of friendship. And they describe the friendship of Jesus.

Friends forgive

Jesus forgives because that’s what a friend does. When he is mocked, and insulted, when he is beaten and crucified, Jesus cries out to God, ‘Father forgive them’, because that’s what a friend does.

Reconciliation. Friendship. This is the beautiful work of God in Jesus Christ. The response of humanity was brutality and hatred. God’s activity in the death of Jesus was forgiveness…the on-going work of reconciliation. This work of reconciliation is not isolated to the death of Jesus alone, but is true for the whole of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Resurrection: friendship

Resurrection is the most powerful demonstration of the love of God: Love that breaks through any barrier; Love that raises the dead; Love that is faithful and true; Love that is not weakened by death. Resurrection is the unbreakable friendship between Father and Son.


Here is atonement. Here is where God brings about the reunion of humanity, and all creation, to Himself:

In friendship.



The Book of Love Charlie Mackesy.

[1] Jürgen Moltmann. The Living God and the Fullness of Life. Geneva : WCC. 2016. p.118-119.

easter – a meditation…


Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

Maundy Thursday: friend.

Some years I find myself pausing on Maundy Thursday… Maundy Thursday, the day of the betrayal of Jesus, the day of his arrest, the beginning of the end…

Maundy Thursday, the day when Jesus welcomed his friends and ate and drank with them.

Bread: “This is my body given for you.”

Wine: “This is the blood of a new covenant”

Some years I need to pause on Maundy Thursday and remember that when Jesus welcomed his friends and ate and drank with them he welcomes me.

Good Friday: forgiveness.

Some years I find myself pausing on Good Friday…Good Friday, we call it good, but it was anything but good. The ultimate betrayal of a good man..THE good man. Compassion, love, mercy, kindness, goodness, gentleness were all traits of his character. And yet he was met with hatred. They crucified the Prince of Peace. They stood around his cross and mocked him. “If you’re the saviour of the world come down from that cross and save yourself.”

Good Friday, the day when Jesus looked upon those who had rejected, betrayed, denied, mocked, beaten, and crucified, and said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Some years I need to pause on Good Friday and hear the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive…”

Holy Saturday: mystery

Some years I find myself pausing on Holy Saturday…Holy Saturday, the day after and the day before. The day when hope was lost. The day before hope arose. The day when questions abound. The day when I just don’t know anymore… I’m not sure I believe anymore… Everything has become a fog and I just don’t know…

Some years I need to pause on Holy Saturday because the questions are overwhelming and the easy answers just don’t resonate anymore.

Easter Sunday: love

Some years I find myself pausing on Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday…when Mary went early to the tomb, and finding it open and empty begins to weep. She turns and pleads with the gardener, “tell me where you have put him.” In her surprise, and shock, and fear, and disappointment, she misses the greatest reality…

Jesus speaks her name, “Mary”

Some years I need to pause on Easter Sunday and, amid the confusion of my spiritual journey, amongst the questions, doubts, and fears, I need to hear my name. That one word, my name, spoken with the greatest love, changes everything.



*Empty Cross Commission For A Monastery : Ulrich De Balbian

Atonement : a loving reunion… (part 1)


The doctrine of atonement is the central Christian doctrine where we consider how it is that God has brought about the reunion of humanity and indeed, all of creation, back to Himself. This presupposes of course that the most natural existence for humanity is to be in relationship with God and with creation.

The doctrine of atonement concerns itself with the understandable reality that humans are regularly not at their best and therefore often fail to live well with themselves, with creation, and with their creator God. Another way of putting this is to talk about the sinfulness of humanity, or a broken relationship.

Atonement doctrine asserts that humanity has tried but has failed to bring about this reunion with God and therefore requires that God has to act to repair the relationship and to bring about the reconciliation of all things to Himself. This involves forgiveness for all that have spoiled the relationship.

At this point it seems to me that we need to assert a profound and fundamental reality about God. God is love. That is: God is love.

Thus it follows logically to say that the reunion of humanity with God is brought about by love and in love. Atonement is an example of the wonderful, beautiful, glorious nature of the love of God. From beginning to end atonement is flushed through with love. Because God is love, God can do no other.

Plus, just so there is no confusion; at no point in the process of bringing about this reunion does God act outside of love.

So, in order to bring about atonement – the reunion – what is necessary?

  • Love. God moves towards humanity with a passionate desire for a renewed relationship.
  • Forgiveness. Forgiveness arises out of love and is necessary to deal with all that has messed up the relationship.

How about forgiveness then? How does God forgive?

Was God active in the death of Jesus?

Now, it is often said that the death of Jesus was a necessary prerequisite for God to forgive and renew relationship with humanity. Some atonement theories state that God was somehow active within the violent event of the death of Jesus bringing about the reunion of humanity with Himself. My view, reflecting on the words of Jesus, is that God was not involved in the violence of the death of Jesus.

Shocking…? Maybe. But here’s what I mean. As he hung on the cross Jesus cried out to God, ‘My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?’ Jesus did not believe that God was active in the violence of the cross.

  • The violent death of Jesus was perpetrated by a violent culture.
  • If God was involved in the violence of the death of Jesus then God is a violent God.
  • If God was involved in the death of Jesus then we could hold God culpable of filicide – killing His own son.

Was the death of Jesus necessary for atonement?

Some theories even suggest that the death of Jesus was somehow necessary in order to bring about forgiveness, atonement and reunion. Again I assert that this is simply not true. God is love.

  • When has the death of a perfectly healthy, sane, good person ever been an act of love?
  • And I simply do not believe that God was so inadequate in His love that he required a bloody sacrifice, without which he could not forgive and bring about atonement.
  • God is perfectly able to forgive…because God is love.

If we take a look at the life of Jesus how do we see forgiveness?

  • Jesus forgave the sins of a paralysed man (Matthew 9:2).
  • Jesus forgave the sins of the woman who anointed him with perfume (Luke 7:48).
  • Jesus insisted that his disciples should forgive, and forgive, and forgive (Matthew 18:21-22).
  • While Jesus was dying he continued to forgive (Luke 23:24).

The reality that we see in the life of Jesus, which we would claim is the best evidence we can turn to for the character and values of God, is that forgiveness does not require violence, or death. Forgiveness is given freely. And for disciples of Jesus forgiveness is insisted upon. In the Lord’s Prayer – more properly the Disciple’s Prayer – Jesus teaches that forgiveness for the disciple is dependant upon the disciple forgiving others (Luke 11:4). The point being that forgiveness is offered freely, without recourse to bloody sacrifice or violence.

So what can we conclude?

  • God is love
  • God is able to forgive from within Himself.
  • God does not require anything – sacrifice, death, etc – in order to forgive.

God forgives because God is love. God forgives because he desires a renewed relationship with humanity and he desires that humanity should be reconciled with God and creation. Everyone who turns to God in humble trust will receive forgiveness.

This is not the end of it, but the death of Jesus is not the place of atonement – of reunion. If anything, the death of Jesus shows humanity at its worst. Moreover, I am not at all convinced that the Apostle Paul thought that the death of Jesus was a prerequisite for atonement, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

‘And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’ (1 Corinthians 15:17). Let’s think about this. The Apostle Paul is reflecting on a position in-between the death and the resurrection of Jesus: post-death and pre-resurrection. Jesus has been crucified, but he has not yet been raised from the death. At this point, suggests Paul:

  • You are still locked into your sins,
  • Atonement has not taken place
  • Reunion / reconciliation has not been accomplished.

Atonement : a loving reunion (part 2) is on its way…


‘the return of the prodigal son’ Charlie Mackesy


the darkside of easter…

Christ in the tomb

Stand on Holy Saturday.

Behind you is Good Friday. Before you is Easter Sunday.

You are post-death but pre-resurrection.

Jesus is dead. His body is going cold in the tomb.

Jesus cannot raise himself from the dead, because he is dead.

Ask the question: ‘in what way does the death of Jesus differ from say, Ghandi, MLK, the Maccabean martyrs, Polycarp…etc’

Taking inspiration from Gestalt Therapy we might call this reading of the death of Jesus a gestalt reading. A ‘what-does-this-mean-in-the-moment’ reading; A ‘here-and-now’ reading. Such a reading requires that we enter into the moment. Too often, and all too easily we interpret the historical event of the execution of Jesus from a post-resurrection perspective. The problem with this interpretation is that we already know that ‘it’s all going to end up happy in the end’ and we read positive outcomes back into the event of the death of Jesus.

If we are to read the death of Jesus as a key – or even the key – to atonement then we do need to explain the mechanics of how Jesus’ crucifixion brings about the reunion of God, humanity, and creation. If we think that atonement comes about through a combination of death and resurrection then it seems appropriate to critique this assertion and ask pertinent questions: What does the cross contribute to atonement? What does the resurrection contribute? What do either of these contribute that the other doesn’t? Is there an overlap? And critically, it seems to me that any good theology of the cross / resurrection / atonement must seek to explain the mechanics of how it all works. As Robert Jenson intimates, ‘theology…born of the urge to demythologize’[1] insists on such a critique.

The death of Jesus was one among many thousands who were crucified by the Roman Empire in their pursuit of power and their preservation of power and privilege…but now he is dead.

Jesus lived a wonderful life. Full of love, compassion, beauty, kindness, forgiveness… but now he is dead.

Jesus lived as one who took up the missional mantle of Israel – Jesus was the light of the world…but now the light has been extinguished. Now he is dead.

Jesus lived as a prophet – revealing in his words and in his actions the reality and truth of God… but now he is dead.

The story of the life of Jesus resonates with joy, and love, and laughter, food and friendship…but now a full stop has been placed at the end of story. Now he is dead.

At this point – post death, pre-resurrection – does the death of Jesus have meaning and significance other than that which we can ascribe to the death of any other (good) person…?

Post-death, pre-resurrection:

  • if the death of Jesus was a sacrifice – to which god was the sacrifice made?
  • if the death of Jesus was for the atonement of sin, what are the mechanics of the transaction and who is to say it is valid?
  • if the death of Jesus was a revelation of the love of God…just, how?
  • if the death of Jesus was a victory…just, how?

And, there’s another strand here: if Jesus was dead do we really believe that Jesus was active – in death – ‘preaching to the spirits in prison’ (1Peter 3:19)? What then does it mean to be dead? Are we dead – body, mind and soul? Or are we only partially dead? (A previous blog post discusses this: ‘What does the resurrection say about the body…?’)

Post-death, pre-resurrection: Possible options for understanding the death of Jesus.

  1. From the perspective of the Roman Empire and the ruling religious authorities:
  • The death of Jesus ensures that the power wielded by the Roman Empire and by the ruling religious authorities is undiminished.
  • The death of Jesus is a reminder that the Roman Empire is (still) in control.
  • The death of Jesus is an ancient billboard advertising the success of intimidation.
  • The death of Jesus confirms that violence is the ‘Power’s’ preferred method of pursuing and preserving power.

2. The death of Jesus from the perspective of the disciples of Jesus:

  • The death of Jesus marks the end of hope.
  • Another prophet is dead.
  • The ‘Messiah’ has failed.
  • Return from exile is just a pipedream.
  • ‘Our God, our God, why have you forsaken us…?’
  • Power and violence maintain their unrelenting grip.

3. The death of Jesus from the perspective of Jesus:

(Accepting that we cannot know the psychology of Jesus and get ‘inside his head’…)

  • ‘It is finished’ Mission accomplished? That is: if the mission of Jesus was to live a life for God; a life of love, compassion, forgiveness, and mercy.
  • Victory? A life undefeated by ‘Sin’. A life lived free from the values of the world. A life lived to the full as a blessing to all. A life lived without resorting to violence. ‘Love no matter what.’


(Le Christ au tombeau (1883) de Henner Jean Jacques)

[1] Robert W. Jenson ‘On the Doctrine of the Atonement (2006)’ in Theology as Revisionary Metaphysics: Essays on God and Creation. Eugene, OR : Cascade. 2014. p.132. This is an excellent essay, well worth reading. Jenson’s critique in this essay suggests that without the resurrection ‘a crucifixion would be anything but beneficial.’ p.129. This essay can also be accessed here:


The Revelation of God in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

empty tomb

Greg Boyd has posted an excellent article on The Revelation of God in the Cross In this post I want to put a different perspective. And yet, I am agreeing with much of what he says.

In order to counter what Greg rightly considers to be a misguided interpretation of the event of the resurrection he states, ‘The cross cannot be understood apart from the resurrection, just as the resurrection can never be understood apart from the cross. They are two sides of the same coin.’ My response is simple; of course the cross can be understood and interpreted on its own terms. Just as the resurrection can be understood and interpreted on its own terms. Now, I understand precisely where Greg is coming from, but I think that he may well be overstating the case in his assertion. What Greg is seeking to do in the article – I think – is to correct the misguided view that the God who raised Jesus from the dead is fundamentally different than the God who is revealed in the life of Jesus.

However, I would interpret the event of the death and resurrection of Jesus from a slightly different perspective. I would be interested to see if Greg concurs with my view…?

My perspective is this:

The execution of Jesus is a clear revelation of the unjust violence of political, imperial, religious power. Violence in our present day is an echo of this same injustice, and an admission of failure.

The Power that put Jesus to death on the cross is blind to – and rejects – love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

To suggest that in resurrecting Jesus from the dead God uses superior brute force is at best to misunderstand the nature of the power of God, which is love; and at worst to deliberately manipulate the event for selfish and malevolent means.

What then do I consider to be the meaning of the resurrection?

  • God who raised Jesus from the dead is precisely consistent with God revealed in the life of Jesus.
  • The power exerted by God in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is never more and never less than love. For God is love.
  • The resurrection vindicates the faithfulness of Jesus in ‘loving-no-matter-what’ even if they crucify you for it.
  • The event of the death and resurrection of Jesus epitomises the trust in which Jesus related to his Father. When Jesus died he was dead. Jesus trusted his Father to do what was good and loving and just whether that meant resurreciton or not.
  • The loving power of God in resurrection is postively, life-affirmingly, and beautifully transformative.
  • The resurrection is a direct challenge to the violence, and injustice of political, and religious power. Jesus died in a violent act, following the perpetration of violence and injustice upon him.
  • The resurrection is an example non-violent power
  • The resurrection subverts political and religious power.
  • The resurrection insists that the love of God – that forgives, reconciles and restores – is more powerful than the power of violence that put Jesus to death.
  • The power inherent in the resurrection is altogether different and of a different category – completely other – than the power exhibited as violence, might, force, pressure, manipulation…
  • The resurrection reveals a way of justice that is other than the legal justice enforced by violence, threat, and punishment.



What does the resurrection say about the body…?


The body matters. That God raised Jesus bodily from the dead says something powerful about the body. Jesus did not consist simply of spirit. What was important about Jesus was not simply spirit. Jesus was body, mind, and spirit. It all mattered, but without the body perhaps there was nothing worth keeping? Why else would God raise Jesus bodily from the dead?

The brothers in 2 Maccabees 7 who courageously faced execution at the cruel hands of Antiochus confidently asserted that the God whom they trusted would restore physicality to them post-post-mortem.

2Mac. 7:10   After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, 11 and said nobly, “I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.”

The physical body, our bodies, my body; these are integral to resurrection. Without the physicality of our bodies resurrection is nothing of the sort. Without the body resurrection becomes purely spiritual, ethereal, ghostly, transcendent, and unrelated to the corporeal physicality of the life as we know it.

I am my body and my body is me

I am my body. My body is me. And yet at this precise moment I find myself wanting to say, ‘no it isn’t!’ And yet, without my body there is no me. My body seems to be integral to who I am. Yes of course, if my heart was in danger of giving out, or my arteries became seriously blocked and it was deemed by medical professionals that my life was in danger they might suggest or advise, or insist that I have a heart transplant. Someone, somewhere might donate their heart in order that I continue living. I don’t think for a moment that having someone else’s donated heart inside my body, pumping my blood around my body, makes me any less me. Nor if I was have receive donations of any other part of a body. There’s no doubt that medicine and transplant techniques are rapidly advancing and evidence of this is that soon there will be an attempted body transplant. Yes! A surgeon in Turin, Italy is convinced that within a couple of years he will be able to graft a living person’s head on to a donor body! Wow! I have absolutely no doubt that ethicists will have a field day! But, if successful there remains the question as to whether the recipient, who apparently will only have contributed his head to the new person/body will still be the same person. Personally, I have absolutely no doubt that whichever lucky individual is deemed suitable for this extraordinary operation will still be the same person when she/he wakes up. But, and this is surely crucial, without a body that person will cease to be. The head requires a body, just as the heart requires a head.

Floating on clouds…?

Within Christianity there are all sorts of weird ideas floating around about life after death. Ethereal, disembodied persons floating around on clouds, strumming and stroking gilded harps; spirit beings gathered in an infinite choir forever singing solemn chants. Most prevalent is perhaps the idea that the believer rises instantaneously upon death to heaven – whatever heaven is pictured to be.

A recent bestseller and now massively profitable film ‘Heaven is For Real’, asserting that a boy had been to and returned from heaven, included claims that Jesus rode a rainbow coloured horse, and that the boy sat in the lap of Jesus whilst muscular angels sang to him. Once the money had been made the boy confessed that it was all untrue and no, he had never been to heaven. But, the success of the book and film shows the eagerness of folks to grasp a hold of images, pictures, ideas of heaven as a place that exists and is waiting for them once they die.

Jesus – the only evidence

What is it that awaits us after death and more to the point, what part does the body play in this afterlife? It seems to me that the only clue we have to life-after-death, life-after-life-after-death, and so on is the experience and witness of Jesus. I would contest that there is no one else who has even a clue as to the reality of post-mortem experience. Not even the Apostle Paul, for all his wisdom and insights, not the Old Testament prophets, no one else has been through death, come out the other side and has been presented to human beings as a witness to the reality of life on the other side.

Jesus lived; he died; and he was raised from the dead, not to live and die again, but somehow to live forever. And all this Jesus did in a body. If we then take Jesus as the paradigm for our investigation of the body in the life-after-death and life-after-life-after-death what do we have? First, we can assert confidently and without any fear of contradiction that Jesus lived in a body. And Jesus’ body was pretty much the same body that we are all familiar with. No sensible person would ever suggest that in his completely ordinary body Jesus didn’t experience precisely the same experiences that you and I experience. The gospels record that Jesus was hungry. And thirsty. Jesus slept and ate and drank. Jesus would have experienced itchy eyes when the wind swept the dust up into his face. He would have known that familiar ache of weary muscles after a long walk along a hard beaten road. He would have had all the same daily routines of washing, pooping, stretching, eating, sleeping that all humanity is familiar with – some of course to a greater extent than others. All this was accomplished in his body. Needless to say the DNA of Jesus would be absolutely recognisable as human DNA. Bearing a close resemblance to his mother, brothers, and sisters, nephews and nieces. We have no idea what Jesus’ body looked like. What colour his skin, or his eyes, or his hair. But the chances are skewed massively in the direction of Jesus being no different from a regular Palestinian Jew. Darker skinned, dark hair, brown eyes. Jesus lived as a regular, recognisable human being. And he died much like any other human being. Once Jesus had been pronounced dead a man by the name of Joseph, possibly aided by another named Nicodemus, carefully removed Jesus from the cross and took him to a nearby garden where there was a tomb carved out of the rock. Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped up his body in burial cloths, placed him in the tomb and rolled a stone in front of the entrance. This latter act was not to prevent Jesus from leaving the tomb – the tomb was not a jail where the dead were imprisoned – but rather to prevent hungry wild animals from entering the tomb and enjoying a juicy morsel or two.

Jesus, in toto, was buried

Now, this may be moronically obvious but it perhaps needs to be said that when Jesus died and was buried, he took all of this to his grave. His body was buried. Jesus was buried. The person who was Jesus, in his body died and was buried. There was nothing of Jesus that was left behind outside of the tomb. Jesus, the complete whole person suffered, and died, and was buried. There was nothing physical left outside. There was nothing spiritual left outside. Everything, in toto, that could be considered to be Jesus and was Jesus was buried. No loose ends. Once Jesus’ body was buried, everything that was Jesus was buried.

This is important because following the burial of Jesus there is silence. There is stillness. Nothing happens. For up to thirty-six hours following his death Jesus lies in the tomb. That is, Jesus, the complete physical, spiritual, emotional, but now deceased, human being, lies lifeless in his tomb.

Did He or didn’t he…?

Suggestions that can be gleaned from the New Testament as to the activity and whereabouts of Jesus while he lay in the tomb are scarce. The earliest reference comes in Ephesians 4:8 in a passage speaking about gifts that Jesus has given to his followers. ‘(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?’ We can take this to mean that the writer here is proposing that in his death it was believed that Jesus descended into the place of the dead – Hades. Likewise, the Apostle Peter, speaking at Pentecost quotes Psalm 16:10 and speaking of Jesus, affirms ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption’(Acts 2:31). A third and a fourth reference come in 1Peter. 1Peter 3:18-19 asserts, ‘He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, and he ‘went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19). This is commonly taken to mean that in-between the death and resurrection of Jesus he was busy preaching to all those who had died previous to his own death. Indeed, even the Apostles’ Creed asserts, ‘he descended into hell.’ First asserted by Clement of Alexandria towards the end of the second century C.E. this view then grew in popularity up to the time of Augustine at the beginning of the fifth century.[1] A final reference comes in 1 Peter 4:6, ‘the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead.’

But, other than these there is nothing in the witness of the apostles or the gospel writers to suggest that Jesus did anything after his death except lie very still.

One thing is clear: between his death and resurrection Jesus’ body did not leave his tomb. What is contested however, is whether Jesus was already experiencing life post-mortem, but pre-resurrection in a spiritual sense. The idea of Hades, place of the dead is something that NT Wright discusses in The Resurrection of the Son of God. ‘Death itself was sad, and tinged with evil. It was not seen, in the canonical Old Testament, as a happy release, an escape of the soul from the prison-house of the body.’[2] But, as far as the New Testament writers were concerned Jesus died, and went spiritually into Hades, whilst his body remained in the tomb. All of this is difficult. We cannot know for sure what happened to Jesus when he was lying in the tomb. Physically yes, Jesus stayed where he had been placed. Spiritually, we cannot truly say. However, if we conclude that Jesus was present and alive spiritually in Hades, then we need to ask about the situation of others who had died; what of their spiritual whereabouts? Was Jesus welcomed into Hades by Abraham and Sarah, and by Isaiah and Jeremiah, and by David and Solomon? If so, then can we speak of the immortality of the soul? Can we affirm with Plato that within the physical body there resides immortality waiting to be released? I don’t think so. The bible otherwise seems to be clear that the soul is not inherently immortal. After all, the Apostle Paul talks about the mortal body putting on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:54). Hopefulness is all very well, but hopefulness does not equate to reality.

I would suggest that once Jesus had been laid in the tomb he did not move physically or spiritually. I would submit that in our mysterious creation God has wonderfully and beautifully tied our spiritual selves to our physical selves. One depends upon the other. Without our bodies we are not complete. Likewise, in the absence of our spirit we are incomplete.[3] Thus, when Jesus is raised from the dead, he is raised bodily. A new body nonetheless, a ‘transphysical’ body to be sure, but a body all the same. ‘Christians envisaged a body which was still robustly physical but also significantly different from the present one.’[4] In addition Wright also makes clear that the early Christians, ‘were not talking about a non-bodily, ‘spiritual’ survival. had they wanted to do so, they had plenty of other language available to them.’[5]

Death as sleep

What does this then mean for our own deaths? Is there a life after death but pre-resurrection? I’m not so sure. It seems to be that we can affirm the description that was given when many of the kings of Israel died – they slept with their ancestors. ‘Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David’ (1Kings 2:10). The notion of sleeping has so much going for it. Sleep is not a permanent state. Death as sleep speaks hopefully of awakening. Sleep is a state of restfulness, recuperation, of preparation. Sleep is a place of safety, and peace. Death as sleep anticipates a future that is active, and purposeful. Just as I think Jesus rested/slept for something like thirty-six hours, so too I don’t think we can say anything about our immediate and longer-term death state other than that we sleep.

Wait, trust and wait.

And we wait. We enter death trusting in the love that is God. We rest in that love. We do so just as Jesus rested, and waited. Waiting for his Father to affirm his love for his son and to bring him through death into newness of life, embodied with newness, radiating with vitality.

When Jesus was raised from the dead and was encountered by Mary, and Peter, and John, and Thomas and the others, he was encountered as a physical being. Pointedly, when Jesus gently and wonderfully confronted Thomas he says, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (John 20:27). It is clear that the scars inflicted on Jesus in the last hours of his life still remain. His body in resurrection is the same body as in life. But what of those who are crippled? What of those who have dreamed and longed for wholeness in their bodies? Who have longed to be able to walk, and run; or to clench, and stroke; to see, and hear, but have been unable in life to do so? Jesus in resurrection is no longer tormented by the injuries so brutally inflicted upon him as he approached death. It is as if he had not been beaten and incapacitated, and yet he has the scars to prove it. So too, for those crippled in life, either by injury or by birth. Wholeness awaits in resurrection. Yet, we will still have the scars that we will carry with us.

No body, no resurrection.


Resurrection involves the body. The body is a gift of God. The body is God’s unique gift of wonder and beauty. And this means that we are honour our body in whatever form we experience it. And we are to honour the bodies of others. We are called to love our bodies. Jesus is explicit in asserting that what is required of the disciple is to love God with heart, mind, soul and strength and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. It is clearly difficult to love one’s neighbour – to give one’s neighbour the care and attention we should unless one also pays good care and attention to oneself and in particular to one’s own body. The body is not a dustbin prepared to take the garbage of life, or to be discarded. The body is not to be abused; it is a gift of God. We care for our bodies in anticipation of resurrection.

The body will be renewed but it will still be recognizable as our body. We will carry our bodies as we carry ourselves into death and beyond. The body will become more and not less.


(The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio)

 [1] J. Dalton. Christ’s Proclamation to the Spirits : a Study of 1 Peter 3:18-4:6. Analecta Biblica 23. 2nd, fully rev. ed Roma : Editrice Pontifico Istituto Biblico. 1989. [1st ed., 1965.]

[2] N.T. Wright. The Resurrection of the Son of God p.126.

[3] But then of course, when we speak of our ‘spirit’ what are we speaking about !!!??

[4] Wright. The Resurrection of the Son of God p.601.

[5] Wright. The Resurrection of the Son of God p.601.

Death, Punishment, and the Resurrection : reframing the Cross…?



Traditional portrayals of the death of Jesus often have Jesus as a lamb sacrificed by God substituted in our place to take the punishment due to us for the sin we have committed. But, the logic of God’s punishing Jesus for our sin does not stack up. Punishment is profoundly about restoration and the move towards reconciliation. If we ourselves have sinned, then logically we should be punished in order that we should be challenged, encouraged, motivated, and inspired back into relationship with God.

We cannot repay a debt to God

But, what also appears to be true is that whichever way one looks at it, we could never repay God for the sin of which we are apparently guilty. We could neither repair the ‘damage’ we have done to others, nor the damage we have done to ourselves, nor the injury we have apparently done to God and his open offer of relationship for us. While it may in some way be possible to calculate the sin we have committed against others I frankly doubt how anyone can possibly begin even to quantify the damage that is done to God by our sinfulness. How do we know, and how can we know how our acts of sinfulness, most often committed through sheer ignorance of a better way, be calculated as causing damage in some way toward God? Of course, this can play into the hands of power-seeking preachers and religious gatekeepers to speak of the guilt we are drowning under; for they, in turn, benevolently offer us a way out and we are forever grateful. But therein lies another (sordid) tale.

We require forgiveness

But the fact is that we require God’s forgiveness. There is no hope either for us, or for our neighbours, our friends, our family, let alone for those millions whom we do not know unless God graciously moves toward us to forgive the wrong we have done. We require God to do whatever is necessary to awaken our souls to begin the journey back home.

Indeed, if the definitive destiny of all creation is reconciliation as suggested by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17 ‘…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us’ then forgiveness is an essential element of that process. We require God’s forgiveness.

Moreover, because justice is an essential element of reconciliation then it is not enough to punish the wrongdoer. Yes, the wrongdoer needs to be forgiven and to be brought back into relationship with God, and the one he has wronged, and perhaps even the wider community, and any others who are implicated in the wrongdoing. Additionally, the one who has been wronged needs to be restored, personally and relationally.

The cross as imperial propaganda

Where then does this leave the cross? The death of Jesus, executed by the Roman Imperial forces, was an effective propagandising episode. It reminded the Jerusalem populace that Rome was all-powerful and the consequence for challenging their power would be execution. From the perspective of its immediate aftermath the crucifixion of ‘Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews’ appeared to be yet another nail in the coffin of love and justice and another medal pinned on the chest of power and violence. The death of Jesus was not, and cannot (it seems to me) have been, punishment by God brought upon Jesus to pay the penalty for our sin.

‘Sin’ … put Jesus to death…?

If we personify sin, as the Apostle Paul does in Romans 6, then perhaps we should consider that Sin can be a way of speaking about entire culture, ethos and value systems that are opposed to God – his love, justice and peace. The power and strength of such Sin lies in their opposition to God – his love, justice and peace. Whereas God is life and leads into fullness of life, Sin destines all to death and perhaps we could say that from birth Sin has already marked the individual for death.

Thus Sin, manifested in the despotic and violent power of the Roman Empire, put Jesus to death.

The power of forgiveness

There are then two responses by God that weaken and ultimately nullify the power of Sin – the culture, ethos and value systems that are opposed to God. First, the freedom with which God forgives weakens the power of Sin, which is opposed to God and requires avoidance of justice in order to sustain its power. Forgiveness is a deliberate and proactive move toward reconciliation. The reconciliation to God of powers, cultures, ethos and values systems that are opposed to God would require a transformation of those powers and systems.

When Jesus prays from the cross, ‘Father forgive them…’ he is calling upon God even as Sin – opposed to God, his love, justice, and peace – seeks to annihilate love that is manifested, lived out, and exemplified in Jesus. Forgiveness of Sin in this context – the openness to reconciliation – may well be a deliberate and proactive that is intended to subvert and even emasculate the power of Sin rendering it impotent.

The power of love

Second, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead transforms death – the ultimate display of the tyrannous power of Sin. However, it is important to note that resurrection does not avoid death, nor does it transform death into something that is it not. Death remains death, and when we die we are dead; death is still unavoidable. To say the obvious, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead takes place in the existential space beyond death. We cannot and should not minimise the reality of death and dying. We should not, I don’t think, for example dismiss death as a nothingness, or as a dream, or as a mirage – ‘it looks real, but when we get there death evaporates…’. Death is still death. We all still have to suffer and die. We will still all experience the nothingness of death, if indeed we can speak of the experience of death, for in death we will experience nothing, as we will be dead.

However, in the world of God, in which resurrection can or may be normal and ordinary, death is no longer final, no longer the closing full stop determining the conclusion of life’s narrative. In the realm of God resurrection proclaims the provisionality of death and thus the provisionality of the reign of Sin. If death is the decisive horizon against which Sin determines that all things are to be measured then resurrection re-evaluates this horizon as love. For the great power, which is manifested by God in raising Jesus from the dead, is love.


*Salvador Dali, “Corpus Hypercubus” (1954)

Stephen Fry, caricatures, reality, and the god of Jesus Christ

Stephen Fry calls God an ‘evil, capricious, monstrous maniac’

A video clip of Stephen Fry that has gone viral on the internet and has already been watched by millions shows the comedian delivering a tirade on Irish TV programme when asked what he would say to the almighty at the gates of heaven.


Here are a few thoughts as an initial response…

Caricatures and reality…?

My first response is to agree with Stephen Fry. If I understand him correctly…then I’m not sure that there is any way around his argument that a god who creates and is directly responsible for a world that perpetuates such cruelty is not a good god. But then who is this god of whom he speaks? It is easy to dismiss his views by arguing that they paint a caricature of god, but every caricature has some element in truth somewhere. And, yes, I do think it represents the god proclaimed by some elements of some religion, but certainly not all.

Additionally, I would ask how anyone comes to believe that a god has this or that characteristic, whether kind or cruel? Do we believe that a god is like this-or-that because our scriptures explicitly says, ‘god is kind’, or ‘god is cruel’? Or do we deduce from the accounts of actions attributed to a god that therefore the god is kind or cruel? Then, we might also include the actions of those who claim to follow and/or represent a god. If a god’s followers are kind/cruel then it may follow that their god is kind/cruel.

The god of Jesus Christ

It seems to me that anyone who calls him or herself a Christian has an essential responsibility to pay attention to the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and thus the god revealed by Jesus Christ. We are, after all Christians…

Hell…and the capricious god

However, I do wonder whether the Christendom propensity to propagate the concept of ‘us-and-them’ may also be partly to blame for the perpetuation of the concept of a cruel and capricious god. What I mean is this: the idea of hell has, as far as can understand, been acceptable to those who are ‘saved’, because the ‘saved’ don’t think that they will be going to hell. Moreover, the ‘saved’ can not only hold to the idea of hell, but can preach the idea of hell and exaggerate its hellishness – burning for eternity in a pit of boiling sulphur with absolutely no relief– because they themselves do not consider it to be their eternal home. It is not for ‘us’ – the saved, it is only for ‘them’ – the unsaved… Indeed, the very idea that the unsaved will be punished purely for their unbelief is surely anathema to anyone who has known an ounce of kindness in their life.

The point here is that a belief in the reality of hell as I’ve briefly described it has consequences for the nature of the god who condemns the unsaved to this hell. Only a cruel god would condemn anyone to an eternity of excessive suffering. Even the mildest form of hell, if it is maintained that it is literally for eternity, far outweighs the seriousness of any act of evil, or cruelty that one is responsible for whilst one is alive. Even we mere humans have developed a legal system whereby, certainly in the civilised countries of the world, we can reckon on folk paying for their crimes by means of a time-limited prison sentence.

But, many Christians continue to believe in and preserve the idea of gratuitous eternal punishment. And this means that the idea of a capricious and cruel god of which Stephen Fry speaks is also perpetuated. Added to this is the view that there have been those who call themselves Christian who have acted cruelly, sometimes on a vast scale. But, lets not for a moment deceive ourselves with the overly simplistic opinion that cruelty is only a christian or religious problem. It most certainly is not. It seems to me that humanity of all ethnicities, politics, and religions, (or none of these!) takes all to easily to acts of cruelty.

Believing in the god of Jesus Christ

There is a sense I suppose in which the longer I have called myself a Christian the less I have come to believe… Or perhaps more accurately, there are fewer things that I can affirm, but I probably hold them more deeply.

I believe in the god revealed by Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus claimed to model the character of god. In the life of Jesus we see a life of love, kindness, forgiveness, mercy, compassion. But we also see an impatience with injustice. Jesus messed with the stratum of social status. He welcomed and affirmed the poor and outcast. He blessed the prostitute. He forgave his executers. He miraculously restores sight to the blind, heals the cripple and the sick, and even raises the dead. In his chosen team of disciples Jesus brought together people of apparently very different social backgrounds and political beliefs. Jesus announced the presence of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ first recorded sermon according to Luke has him quoting the prophet Isaiah and speaking of a desire to see very real, practical, down-to-earth political change. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus articulates the values and ethos of the kingdom of god. A kingdom that is rooted in love and justice. Whereas many may hold to the apparent simplicity of laws and rules Jesus affirmed the primacy and power of love over law.

We need also, I think, to be clear that in announcing the kingdom of god and in both teaching its values and living its ethos Jesus clashed with the imperial powers that dominated vast swathes of the ancient world. The penalty Jesus paid for his refusal to accept and live by the values of the domineering power was execution. His crime, according to the sign placed above his head on his cross, was that the Romans regarded him as the king of the Jews and thus seeking to usurp imperial power. Jesus was prepared to go to his death espousing love over violence, justice over injustice, compassion over cruelty. The god of whom Jesus spoke, and whose ethos and values he modeled, is a god I can believe and hope in.

The God of resurrection

While this next point is controversial to many, at the heart of the narrative of Jesus is the account of his resurrection. And yes, there may be many disputes as to its meaning, or historicity, and so on… but this is what I think it says about the kind of God that Jesus believed in and espoused. I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. Moreover, I believe that the power God used in order to raise Jesus from the dead was the same power that had motivated and inspired Jesus throughout his life and even to his death – the power of love. And yes, we might say that this can sound simplistic and trite but I really don’t think so. The greatest power is love and compassion. God’s power to raise Jesus is the ultimate demonstration of the nature of God. And that nature is love. Moreover, I think that the account of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a parable that love and justice will ultimately subvert and usurp violence and power.

A commitment to love, justice, peace…

Now, this doesn’t say much about bone cancer in children, or eye-burrowing insects and so on, but it does say something about the God whom I believe in. I can’t give complete answers to questions about the presence of evil in the world, whether illnesses, or disasters, or malevolent dictators who impose their power through immense acts of cruelty and so on… But, I’m not sure that atheism gives clear answers either. Some of these things just are… We wish they weren’t, but they are…

The way of Jesus and, I think, the way of the God he revealed, is a way of love and compassion, of a desire for justice, of standing against evil whatever its disguise, of working for peace, of dealing with and preventing disease wherever possible, of helping the poor, working against iniquitous systems at every level of society…

Love and resurrection…


Love is enough…?

One thing is clear…the kingdom of God is rooted in love… its fruit is love. The kingdom of God is built upon foundations of love; its building materials are love. The oxygen of the kingdom of God is love; its food is love; its purpose is love; its life, energy, destiny and everything else can, I think, be summed up with this one value…love.

Said in another way, someone who lives their life in the kingdom of God is trusting that love is enough. When Jesus was asked, ‘“what must I do to inherit eternal life?” he plainly affirmed the answer, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus then added, ‘do this and you will live’ (Luke 10:26-28). As far as Jesus was concerned love is enough.

Love as the definition of a disciple

In John’s gospel we have a dramatic account of the last night of Jesus’ life that is strikingly different from the other gospels. John recalls how Jesus took the position of a slave, washed his disciples’ feet, and then later directly instructs them, ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). This raises a probing and challenging thought: the definition of the disciple of Jesus is not a particular, well-defined theological statement or series of doctrine and dogma, but the practise of love. Moreover, it seems as though John’s account is making clear that Jesus is setting his disciples up for examination by the rest of society… It’s as if Jesus is inviting the wider society to judge a disciple in this simple way: ‘Whatever they say, whatever they claim, whatever their politics, the size of their congregations, their influence…just look at how they live. You will spot my disciples by their love.’

Jesus was saying to his disciples, ‘do as I do.’ Jesus set himself up as the paradigm of the kingdom of God. Jesus both said it and lived it. More fittingly, Jesus lived it first and then said it.

Jesus: loving others…

The life of Jesus was a life lived in the kingdom of God, adopting and modelling the values and ethos of the kingdom. A simple reading of the Gospels gives numerous examples of the love and compassion with which Jesus lived and taught. He loved poor, and the wealthy. He loved and welcomed the outcast, the leper, the sinner, those who were blind, sick, or dead. He loved the tax-collectors who had thought that siding with the imperial rulers was politically expedient, but in the process seemed to have lost their soul. Jesus welcomed the lost and the lonely, encouraging them to sit, and listen, and learn, and be blessed, and receive unequivocal forgiveness, to live free from guilt and shame. Jesus encouraged folk to come and be part of God’s kingdom family. There was no qualification necessary, no form to fill in, no approval required by purity gatekeepers, no doctrinal exam. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). Love was the basis of the life of Jesus. And, even as he was crucified, Jesus was relentless in his commitment to love. In his suffering he cries out to God that God would forgive those who killed him. Love from beginning to the end. The love of Jesus is generous and broad. It is not judgemental. It does not define or restrict people according to their background, ethnicity, education, sexual preference, religion, or politics. It is forgiving and kind. We may even regard it as outrageous. But, this is the life of the kingdom of God.

Jesus: loving God…

But the love exhibited by Jesus was not simply a superlative version of humanism. Jesus rooted his love in God. He drew his love for others up from a deep well of a trusting in God. He submitted himself to baptism because he knew that it was a step of obedience before his Father. And God responds with the beautiful affirmation of Jesus’ intention, ‘You are my son, I love you. I am pleased with you.’ At times Jesus slipped away from his disciples and took time out from the demands of people, in order to make space to be with his Father and to pray. Jesus spoke passionately of his desire to please his Father, to know his love and delight.

Jesus: loving himself…

Additionally, Jesus loved, honoured, and looked after himself. Although the gospels don’t make this explicit – in words of one syllable, I think it’s clear that Jesus carried himself with a profound sense of his own worth. He knew he was loved. He knew he was valued. We never read of Jesus rushing from place to place, filling every moment of everyday with appointments Jesus was certainly not the slave of to-do lists, becoming burnt out and needing to read survival manuals for the first century celebrity. Jesus looked after himself. He forgave freely, and welcomed, and healed, and blessed because these all add up to wholeness in body and soul for oneself and for others. Jesus knew what it was to love God, love oneself, love one’s neighbour and to live whole.

The limits of the loving life…?

However, there is a slight, but very awkward problem in all this. It seem evident that Jesus lived his life – according to the values and ethos of the kingdom of God, a life rooted in love – as a direct counter to the values and ethos of the prevailing culture. But – and it’s a very big BUT – the prevailing imperial culture roundly rejected Jesus. The imperial powers put an end to this exemplary life. And this, it seems to me is a problem. The loving, beautiful, kingdom-of-God life of Jesus clashed with the values and ethos of the imperial world. The love of the kingdom of God clashed with the violence, tyranny and injustice of the Roman imperial world. And in the end there was, it appeared, only going to be one winner. Because we all know, that he who has the bigger, sharper sword, and the larger, stronger army will win. The beautiful life will be stamped out by violence. And so, even though Jesus lived an extraordinary life; and even though Jesus loved to the limit of his personhood…he died. Again, in humanistic terms, the life of Jesus was exemplary.

Jesus ended his life precisely the same way as every other human being…in death. There have been millions of other people who have lived – some good and some bad, and some very good, some very bad and a lot of very ordinary run of the mill people. But ultimately there was nothing to mark out Jesus from these millions of others once he had died. They were dead. Jesus was dead. Death is the big full stop (period) at the end of life. Death makes no distinction. Good life or bad life or mediocre life, death will have you in the end. And this gives rise to an important question: other than being impressed by the exemplary, beautiful life lived by Jesus, why follow Jesus at all and why seek to live in the kingdom of God, and why take up the challenge of living a life ruled by love if after everything even Jesus ended up dead? And yet…perhaps that is the point. Maybe it is enough to love, and to love, and to love, and then to die?

Love: the power of the resurrection.

The answer lies ultimately in the event of the resurrection. In dying, the only hope that Jesus could have was that there was a power that was more powerful than death. His only hope was that he was loved, because there is nothing more powerful than love. In raising Jesus from the dead, God demonstrates that love is truly enough. Love will get you through death. Love will raise you from the dead. Resurrection is the point where God says, ‘you are my daughter/son. I love you. I am pleased with you.’ And yet, the love that matters is God’s love. God’s love will raise us.

Living and loving and dying in Jesus

Of course, we could ask… ‘does my life really matter? If it is God’s love that will take me through death…then why should I love…?’ If love truly is love, then it is not earned. Love just is. Either: I am loved by God, and that love will draw me through life and death…and resurrection…into a new eternal life; or I am not loved. Love is not a dependant clause. So why does it matter that I love in my life?

It seems to me that we have to reckon with Jesus. Jesus lived the best life. Overflowing with love and kindness. Love was constant and unrelenting. My simple reflection is that much as I would like to, I do not love like that. Perhaps, there’s a degree of fear of losing myself if I try to love like that. Perhaps it’s a struggle with forgiveness? Maybe I can’t shrug off old and engrained habits and learn to fully love myself? Whether we call it sin, or imperfection, mistakes, or failure…I’m not going to …and, let’s face it, I can’t…make any great claims for myself. My only hope is to hide myself in Jesus. As the Apostle Paul wrote, ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, and so somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.’


Painting is ‘resurrection morning’ by JRC Martin.