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Holy Week Reflections


Isaiah 49 1-7

John 12  20-36

‘I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth’ (Isaiah). There is no end to the reach of salvation, or its scope. If God is God, God cannot grow tired or run out or give up. In yesterday’s talk I mentioned that the Church was unsure how to respond to the full revelation of God’s love in Christ. I have heard one Bishop describe it as similar to how Simon Peter is outrun by the beloved disciple on their way to the empty tomb on Easter morning in John’s Gospel. The Church, like Peter, has to catch up as it still attempts to comprehend the reach of the love of God shown in Christ.

‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’ (John). ‘I will draw all people to myself.’ We are not redeemed in part. The shadow and the light in us, which is so subtly mixed, is redeemed. And if Christ draws all people to himself then he must be drawing the desperate, the terrible, the lost, the fearful, into the embrace of his love as well.

In Christian history the concept of hell, a term which is a bad translation for a variety of names used in the Bible, has been used to describe a hideous vision of God as redeemer and punisher, lover and executioner. In this understanding God does not draw all people to God’s self. God weighs and sifts and raises up or casts down.

But Christ cannot redeem in part, else Holy Week and Easter describe a highly ambiguous victory. If I am redeemed, loved, given new life in Christ, why is my sister or brother being excluded from the embrace? And if my sister or brother is excluded from the embrace because of the sheer weight of their moral failure, then it follows that I must be excluded as well because the one thing I am certain of is this: I am a moral failure.

In the publicity for Holy Week is an Icon of Christ. Christ is shown entering hell and giving his hand to a kneeling figure of a man. The only hell that makes any sense is the hell which is the prison of our own making, the hell which Christ descends into, his love and mercy making their way to the bitterest regions of sin and alienation.

None of this means redemption is easy. Redemption and mercy confront the darkest elements of who we are, and such judgement is painful. But with Christ it is, ultimately, the pain of healing and not the pain of a mythical, eternal punishment.

‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ The guilty, the lost, the weak, the violent, the cruel, the failed. In other words, us.


The Reverend Ben Brown


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