When death bites, it hurts. The Beloved Son of God comes from above and becomes death, death on a cross. If, when we see Him and believe in Him, Eternal Life will flow into us. This is the wonder of it all. That Eternal Life appears at the exact moment when human life is failing and carries us through the loss of all that we know. Eternal Life suffuses and carries us to the other side of what we cannot yet see. This truth is grasped by looking on the crucified One, who transfigures death into the servant of life.
And there is more! In Christ there is no condemnation! This is the truth. It is, if you like, the highest truth, or the revelation of the One who is behind all that His Beloved Son does. Our lives are a mystery to us and we are sustained by what we cannot really understand. But we are led to the truth that the ground on which we stand sings of the self-giving love of the Father who is dedicated to human fulfilment. This is what Dante calls, ‘the Love which moves the sun and the other stars’.(Paradiso, 33.145)
The Beloved Son is sent by this Love, who cannot bear to see His creation being unravelled by death. The Son brings life without end. He does not seek condemnation but Salvation. God’s judgement is love and life. If we accept this gift, condemnation cannot touch us. But if we refuse the gift we are undone. Perhaps this is why, when we are drawing closer to God, and the light of Love begins to shine more brightly in us, there is a risk that when we see the full horror of sin we might want to cover ourselves in darkness again. But the Light of Mercy suggests another direction. A direction which begins with gratitude for the Grace of God which is, and always has been, the source of all the good we have done. A choice which keeps choosing to move more deeply into the light.
When we hear the Good News that in Christ there is no condemnation, we might not believe it. We are so used to being judged – and condemned – by people. Are we not always being put on the scales, weighed in the balance and found wanting? We even do it to ourselves! Husbands, wives, parents and children do it. Bosses, work colleagues, neighbours and friends have mastered the look that lets us know we are not quite good enough. So when we hear that God has abandoned judgment and condemnation in favour of Love, we may have to work on ourselves to let this Truth come home. Having done that, there is no sense of being off the hook. We are, but we are now on another one. The light of Love will reveal to us how we ourselves might live in the twilight zone of sin and the judgement and condemnation of others.
In the beautiful Parable of St. John’s Gospel 8.6, Jesus bends down to write in the sand, deliberately evoking a memory of undeserved forgiveness in Exodus 31.18 where God gives Moses a masterclass in Mercy. The Pharisees claim that their only motivation for stoning the woman is faithfulness to the teaching of Moses. But Jesus, the true interpreter of Moses, wants them to drop their cover story and be searingly honest with themselves about why they are really there. He gives them a chance to come into the light. But they will not take it. They have been casting the stones of judgement and condemnation for a long time and old habits are hardest to break. The invitation to come into the light is no match for the comfort of darkness. One by one, they move away from the Light. And this preference for darkness has become a free choice for self-condemnation.
It is a strange truth that preferring darkness is easier than we might think. We do not always recognise our habitual ways of relating as darkness, so first we have to see it for what it really is. Only with the arrival of the Light does the racist, sexist, classist and separatist character of our thinking become clear. It is easier to create a cover story for our bad behaviour than to engage in painful self-examination. Other people seem eager to buy into our cover story and join us in our self-deceit. They are happy to not look at what we will not look, at as long as we agree to return the favour. The light is not welcome. It calls for a decision to change. Perhaps this is why some prefer the darkness. In this fourth week of Lent, let’s pray that this is not us!