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was a long shot that should have changed the world; but it doesn't seem
ONE IN THE EYE FROM GOD
at the Battle of Hastings:
It was a long shot which killed Harold. In every way. Rather like belief in the resurrection, really. But it struck home and changed a dynasty.
The arrow, I mean, not the resurrection. The resurrection changed nothing very obviously. Well, that isn't completely true. A few depressed and defeated souls were significantly changedchanged enough to unlock the door, sprint gamely down the stairs and out into the sunlight, preach their guts out, and allegedly change the world. Marvellous.
Only, from where most of us are standing, the world looks pretty similar now to how it did thengive or take a few additional spires on the sky-line and some hugely worthy community work. (Ohand an ever-burgeoning retreat movement for the economically comfortable middle-aged. How nice for them.)
These apart, however, we don't need to have been up for long in the morning to realise that today, despite the resurrection, it's business as usual. Joseph is still in prison, though by a different name. Daniel is still in the lions' den; Jonah remains within the whale; Hosea is still crying for his wife to come back; whitewashed tombs still control much of the religion; the fox Herod is still in charge in many countries; Stephen is still getting stoned; the poor we do have with us always; the sins of the fathers are being passed on with unrelenting savagery; love hasn't conquered all; and everything is either vanity or poverty, or worst of all, day-time TV.
For a changed world, a world upside down, it looks remarkably similar to how it did before.
That is how it is with long shots. Some hit. But most miss. Most long shots missed at Hastings, of course, and sensibly they are not dwelt on. There is nothing, for instance, in the Bayeux Tapestry about Gerard of Lyon's arrow ending up in the foot of his brother-in-law, Claud. It was a long shot which missed, creating only pain for Claud, embarrassment for Gerard, and a family feud lasting for several unhappy generations. Not the stuff of epics, and wisely airbrushed out of history. So, why the continued clinging to the resurrectionanother long shot which has failed to have its desired effect?
a crying shame
There really could be no other reason for this bizarre turn of events. There was no gain for them. Remember, this was a period of history when there were no publishers to impressjust insecure little authorities who needed another messiah in their patch like they needed two honeymooning cockroaches in their wine cellar, and who lashed, imprisoned, torched and crucified like there was no tomorrow. Well, for them there wasn't, of course. There wasn't any tomorrow. But suddenly for these Jesus followers, there was. There was a massive tomorrow. Very irritating, I can quite see. So let's cover them in tar and set them alight.
But they shouldn't have panicked. The authorities' knee-jerk reaction was quite unnecessary. Sadly, you can usually rely on Followers to mess up the Messiah, to savage the Symbols, and make the Genius sensible; and certainly Christians down the centuries haven't disappointed on this score. They've messed up marvellously. We've messed up marvellously. I've messed up marvellously.
So, it's not that the resurrection didn't happen. It just hasn't worked. The resurrection isn't working.
Or rather, the resurrection isn't being received. It's under-performing, under-achieving. In teacher-speak, it could do better, at both a personal and a global level.
It has become many things. It has become an argument. It has become a formula. It has become a weapon. It has become the stuff of rhetoric. What it rarely seems to have become, though, is the stuff of transformationwhich is surely the desire in the heart of God?
But then there is the most crucial of educational practicesthe nurturing. Beyond the telling and the showing, beyond the teaching and the demonstrating, is the sheer energy of support, encouragement, and incitement to growth. It is this will for nurture which knows no boundaries. And when it is placed in divine hands, it will not even accept the boundaries of death. You will be raised. You will be transformed. In Christ, the answer is Yes.
But in our souls, the experience is often No. As I say, the resurrection is not being received. It's being heard, but not received. There's a difference. And behind all this, I spy with my little eye my ego. And so if, in the mean time, my Easter "Alleluia!" sounds a trifle hollow, it is because I'm using it to paper over the cracks and structural fractures, rather than to heal them.
I can be convinced of the facts, but that is sparse nourishment for the soul. I can proclaim the old formula with the best of them, but that is not the way to the heart. For both activities leave the ego largely untouched, undaunted, and very much in control. We may be converted, but religious conversion is an occupational hazard which the ego is well used to, and is able to handle with only minimal discomfort to its daily routine.
As I listened to grand tales the other week of a church in the States converting 4000 people every night, it struck me that the whole town must have been converted at least ten times over. But converted to what? Sometimes the ego doesn't even break sweat amidst the conversion. Everything has changed! Of course. And nothing has changed. And why? We haven't been transformed because, although we've done many things well, what we haven't done well is live with the question which Jesus asked Paul on the Damascus Road: "Why do you crucify me?"
If we could answer that one, it would probably go a long way to answering why we so persistently crucify ourselves, and others as well.
When the long shot hit Harold, he had the grace to die. And a dynasty died with him. When the long shot of the resurrection hits me, I do something differentI pretend life. And my dynasty is left remarkably intact. I resist the wound. "Arrow? what arrow?" I resist the question, "Why do you crucify me?" "My goodnessis that the time? Excuse me while I move swiftly on."
Admittedly, my ego removes its hand from the tiller for just a moment, of course. It could hardly do other. It tugs its forelock in a heavenly direction, mumbles something appropriate like "Alleluia!", choking only slightly on the words. But then it slips quietly back to the helm, and navigational duties are discreetly resumed.
I then have to work out how to live with myself. The technical term for the answer is displacement, I think, and it goes something like this. Suppose that I want to make love to a woman. But I can't, because she's a nun, and I'm a vicar with a lovely wife and family. What do I do? I put her on a committee.
Similarly, I ache for transformation. But I can't admit my need. And even if I could, I can't face the pain that transformation entails. so what do I do? I improve the Church instead. I reform the Church. I declare that it is time to do this! It is time to do that! It is time to do the other!
It is all very necessary and worthy, of course, but it is largely cosmetic, and deeply uninteresting if the old forces are still there within: the old forces which lead us daily into acts of crucifixion against ourselves, against others and against Christ. "Why do you crucify me, Saul?"
But the result we can tell: it's a limbo from which to live, the half-rumour of an inner life once discovered and rejoiced in, but which now resembles a waiting-room from which energy and expectation dissipated some time ago.
And so we put the nun on the committee, and we get on with improving religion, and we get on with reforming religion. And everything changes, and nothing changes. Yet still we refuse the question. We still refuse to bleed. We still refuse to die.
As our ego awaits the heavenly arrow, it is the immovable object awaiting the irresistible force. It is the will of God, strong shaft and iron tip, sprung high and true, aiming fire-sharp pain, darting penetration and dynasty death. It is the Resourceful Ego, scouring the sky with its keen eyes, scurrying for position, ready to repel as best it might. To receive the arrow if it must, but then to limit penetration, avoid the pain, escape the death, strangle the question, and deny the resurrection to this soul it is pleased to call home.
How graceful of Harold to die. How graceful to recognise death when it came. To receive it. For it is hard to go gently into that good night. It was a long shot, but it struck home, piercing the place in him between the desire to resist and the ache to live. "Put that bow and arrow down!"
Then I might
cry "Alleluia!". Or I might just think "Harold". And know a little of
our massive tomorrow, today. Easter joy.
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