The Bishop of Shrewsburys pastoral letter for April 2018
My Dad tricked me. Aged seven, it was my first trip to London and we went to Madame Tussauds. Seeing that I needed the lavatory, he told me to ask the attendant at the foot of the stairs where to go. When I asked him, the attendant didnt answer. Only by touching his cold hand and turning to see my father grinning, did I realise he wasnt alive, only a wax dummy.
Dead or alive? Response or non-response is the test. Why are so many people only half-alive? Why is it that children seem to be more vividly alive than their parents? Or why should young people express so great a dread of becoming middle-aged?
I like the seaside - the beach, the sea and the rock pools - but I didnt realise how dull I had become to its wonder until I enjoyed it with my daughter, Fran, when she was a toddler. To walk fifty yards along the beach could take half an hour because every pebble, every bit of shell, every dry twig or bit of seaweed was an object of such wonder and awe that you had to squat and examine and squeal with delight. Heaven lies about us in our infancy and even a trek across the beach can become the golden journey to Treasure Island. Where did it go, that intensity of response? How comes it that most of us lose the gift of seeing the ordinary as extraordinary? This is why Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is for the childlike, for it is the Kingdom of the fully alive. The unaware and the half-dead have no place in it because they have no feeling for it.
There is a frustrating amount of deadness around - the sleeping sickness, apathy and lack of response. Perhaps its fear that does it. We shrink from the pain of being fully awake. The child who is so intensely alive to the wonder of each shell and pebble quickly discovers that she cannot tunnel that vision so as to be aware of only the beautiful and happy things. Eyes that remain open to the glory of the world must see its ugliness as well. So growing up is usually a process of closing up. Awareness makes demands. Awareness hurts. So we begin to grow a protective shell and become a bit blind, a bit deaf, a bit dead.
In the gospels, Jesus is portrayed as a human totally alive to God: supremely aware and responsive. He noticed the unattractive small character perched in the sycamore tree and he heard the cry of the blind beggar above the noise of the crowd. In him was life and the life was the light of all people (John 1:4). During Holy Week and Easter we remember how that life went down into death and was overwhelmed. On the cross, the aliveness of Jesus Christ went down under the deadness that is our sickness and sin. Surrendering himself to death, he drew it into himself and absorbed it. Our sin was absorbed in Christs forgiveness. Jesus has opened up a way for us. He transformed death into life.
At Communion we remember that he died to bring us new life. The bread is broken as he was; the wine is poured into the cup as his life was poured out. Because I am alive, you shall be alive also. God transforms bread because he wants to transform us. We are blessed to be a blessing to others, to make a real difference.
The invitation is there. Its not forced on anyone but neither can you receive by sitting back and doing nothing. He says: Ask. Come. Take. His aliveness is on offer. Choose life!
Wishing you a joyful Eastertide