On the Edge III: Love

Sunday 24th April 2011
Easter Day
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Easter Vigil

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

For us, the idea of emptiness is frightening. We don't mind the odd few hours of silence but we can't take more than that, particularly if it's imposed externally rather than enjoyed voluntarily; we fill the silence with television and music or the almost silent noise of email, texting and reading. We all glory in the open spaces of nature that are still left, but we congregate in houses, inns and meeting halls. And we wouldn't much fancy an empty vase or an empty chocolate box as a present!

And so the image of the empty tomb strikes us strangely. Instead of a dazzling tableau of Jesus flanked by his angels, making his way down the hill into Jerusalem, we have the utter confusion - and even terror - of the empty tomb. We know we are supposed to like this; but it still strikes us as odd.

How much more odd, then must it have been to the followers of Jesus who, in various accounts, went to the tomb and found it empty. In Matthew's account the women, after their encounter with the angel, meet Jesus, but it isn't what you would call a happy ending; it is no more than mildly encouraging.

But I want to suggest that the empty tomb is, in itself, the most powerful symbol of the Resurrection simply by virtue of its emptiness.

For in spite of the fullness of Jesus' ministry, one of its key themes is emptiness: the emptying out of his Godhead in kenosis;  the emptiness of his moral pronouncements; the emptiness of his rule book; but I think we have not quite got the full meaning of this for us.

As a culture we still identify the idea of "love" with doing something, showing something, giving something; but what if the essence of love, based on the Kenotic act of Jesus, is simply making space for the other and for otherness? What if our generosity and concern, our willingness to please, even when it is not tainted with a desire to be liked, respected or praised, is simply a minor virtue compared with selfless openness and vulnerability to the other. Is caring, in other words, quite separate from and less exacting than loving?

We have to ask ourselves whether there is love without risk, without being on the edge, without being vulnerable to otherness. And the answer we will most likely arrive at, if we are honest with ourselves, is that caring is a good deal easier than loving, that we are naturally cautious of giving ourselves, anything of ourselves, away. Our culture is crammed with stories about the high price of vulnerability.

To the followers of Jesus, too, this would have been a strange prospect, so properly were they enmeshed in the Jewish traditions of solidarity, justice and alms giving; but what about us who live in such a cluttered, crowded, noisy and assertive age? Might not emptiness be the thing we could best contribute? Might not listening, an accepting silence, a self imposed ban on judging others, an unconditional contentment of the hand we have been dealt by God, and a recognition that we are part of the problems we encounter, be a better response to the selflessness of Jesus than a capitulation to the peer pressure to be busy, opinionated and assertive? This is not to indulge in a theology of fatalism - God will not fix anything he gave us the means to fix - but it does mean that any fixing we do must be in God's name and therefore be worthy of him; and that, in turn, means behaving like Jesus because he is our most reliable guide to God's will; and, contrary to what many of his followers assert, Jesus was a man given to silence.

In the human sense we recognise that Love is a supreme act of displacing our own temperament, instincts and ambitions with an almost ethereal other-worldliness in imitation of Christ. And we will almost certainly fail almost all of the time. And we will fill our lives with the clutter of bad deeds and good; but might this not be the time to contemplate what we mean by love in the light of the empty tomb?

The accounts of the conquest of love over death are almost threadbare but perhaps the evangelists had not come to terms with the immense revolution in human self consciousness which it brought about. Looking back over 2000 years, the Church itself has tended to concentrate on great deeds; and while it has welcomed properly regulated monasticism, its record with saints has not been very good, particularly saints who have challenged the conventional. Strange to relate, then, that Jesus, in his life but more so in his Resurrection, challenged the conventional.

We have faith, hope and love and the greatest of these, and the hardest to sustain, is quiet, empty, love

Alleluia! Christ is risen!