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Diocesan Clergy Conference 2014

Confidence in our Mission

The Revd Dr Mike Lloyd
Principal, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford

There was a delightful little episode on High Table during my tenure as Chaplain at Queen's College, when my wife turned to the Provost and asked if he’d ever heard of the Big Bang Theory. Now, the Provost of Queen's is Professor of Chemistry. He was too polite to say, ‘I’m a scientist – of course I’ve heard of the big bang theory, you moron!’ but he found it hard to divest his expression of some such sentiment as he replied, ‘Yes’. My wife took this as the opportunity to launch into the antics of Sheldon, Leonard and other members of the TV sitcom of that name, at which point - if you will pardon the expression - the Penny dropped.

There’s a nice scene in Season 2, when Leonard has invited Leslie Winkle round for a date, and he tells his flat-mate Sheldon that he would appreciate it if he could make himself scarce for the evening. To which Sheldon replies, ‘Leonard, I’m a published theoretical physicist with two doctorates and an IQ that can’t be accurately measured by normal tests – how much scarcer could I be?’ Anyway, he finally gets the message, and is sitting on the stairs playing Super Mario on a poorly coded Nintendo 64 emulator – I’ve absolutely no idea what I have just said, but, anyway, that’s what he was doing -when Penny comes past. They greet each other – sort of – and Penny asks why he is playing computer games on the stairs. Because, says Sheldon, ‘Leonard is upstairs right now with my arch enemy.’

Penny: Your arch enemy.

Sheldon: Yes, the Dr. Doom to my Mr. Fantastic. The Dr. Octopus to my Spiderman. The Dr. Sivana to my Captain Marvel… You know, it’s amazing how many supervillains have advanced degrees. Graduate schools should probably do a better job of screening these people out.

Anyway, it turns out that he is referring to Dr. Leslie Winkle. And Penny says, ‘Okay, let me put it this way. If you are really Leonard’s friend, you will support him no matter who he wants to be with.’ To which Sheldon replies,

Sheldon: Wait a minute – why am I doing all the giving here? If Leonard’s really my friend, why doesn’t he have to support me in my hatred of Leslie Winkle?

And Penny shows that she is actually rather more intelligent than they give her credit for - and in some ways rather more intelligent than them - when she replies, ‘Because love trumps hate.’

Sheldon’s predictable repost is, ‘Oh, now you’re just making stuff up.’

And there you have the dilemma of the contemporary world. Because its heart is with Penny, and its head is with Sheldon. It wants to believe that love trumps hate. It wants to believe that love is ultimate. It knows that there is nothing more important in life than loving and being loved. It knows that to lose a job is bad, but to lose someone who loves you is of a different order. It knows that the human heart craves being loved. Since my parents died, I have had a recurring dream that they have moved and I don't have their forwarding address - and, whatever people's equivalent of that is, they know their own inner craving for love. They know that love is what makes the difference between living and existing. Their heart is with Penny.
But their head is with Sheldon, because they can see no grounds for believing that love does trump hate. Scientifically, they know that we came to be through a long, bloody process of violent competition. They know that love is a reasonably recent arrival on the cosmic stage. They know that love is an evolutionary by-product that tricks us into perpetuating the species (romantic love) and protecting the next generation until it is capable of looking after itself (parental love). (As Jerry Seinfeld reminds us, 'Babies may look cute, but do not be deceived. Remember why they are here: they are here to replace us!' We are tricked by our parental instincts into just passing on the DNA.) So, if we look to the past, love is a bit of a cosmic johnny-come-lately. And if we look at the future, we are assured that love will not last, because entropy will ultimately put paid to all loving.
Philosophically, they hear Richard Dawkins say that 'there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference' , and they have nothing to put up against that view.
Experientially, they know it isn't true that love always wins in the end. What about unrequited love? What about the person who rides roughshod over others to get to the top - and does? What about those parts of the world where people are brought up to hate the neighbouring nationality, and so no political effort seems able to draw them out of that destructive maelstrom?

Morally, they know that it is not  just observably the case that love always pays. There is often a cost to love that makes the decision about whether to pay that price  a matter of personal judgment rather than clear self-evident self-interest. In no obviously discernible sense does it pay for someone to look after their husband or wife with early on-set dementia, for instance.

So, is Sheldon right? Is Penny just making stuff up? Is her dictum that love trumps hate an unsupported assertion? After all, when students make unsupported statements in their essays, I write ‘Asserted, not argued’ in the margin. A friend of mine who does a lot of marking bought himself one of those print wheels, which have embossed letters round a wheel, so that when you run it over an ink pad and then over a piece of paper, that word is printed out over and over again. And the word he chose to have imprinted on it was ‘bullshit’ – which he would then run in red ink over selected passages of his students’ essays: ‘bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit’. Very satisfying. As a marker, I would have ‘Asserted, not argued’ put on my print wheel. It is amazing how often you need it.

So, should Penny’s belief that love trumps hate get the print wheel treatment? Is it not just unsupported, but unsupportable?

I suggest that it would be, if it weren’t for the doctrine of the Trinity.
One of the great spiritual classics of our day is of course My Ministry Manual by Revd. Gerald Ambulance, minister of St. Ursula’s High Pentecostal-Reformed Church in Lewisham. [Always good to refer to people from your diocese on these occasions.] Revd. Gerald gives us the benefit of his years of ministerial experience when he tells us ‘the twelve most popular questions I’ve come across in pastoral ministry, and the right answers:

Problem 1: I’m feeling depressed.

Answer: Nonsense! How can a Christian be depressed when God has filled the world with lovely things like redemption and theology and little baby birds? You must be totally ungrateful and a very bad Christian. Try counting your blessings. When I need cheering up, I just count other people’s blessings, but then I’m probably rather more spiritual than you. Anyway, it will all be all right when you are dead.

Problem 2: I have a really big problem, but it’s just too embarrassing for me to say what it is.

Answer: Come now, there is no need to feel burdened. All Christians have problems, however saved they are. Even I am sometimes tempted to be more humble than I ought. Remember, a problem shared is a new sermon illustration.

Problem 3: I’m confused about the Trinity. How can God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit all be God, if there’s only one God?

Answer: Look at it like this: once upon a time there were three little bunnies called Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail. One day a nasty man caught them and put them in a rabbit pie. They were still three rabbits, but only one pie. (Although the pie got cut up into lots of pieces, admittedly.) To put it in plain language that even a complete dur-brain could understand, the three persons of the triune Godhead are one in substance, but in three hypostases. If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to ask ... someone else.

What the doctrine of the Trinity is asserting is that the ultimate fact about existence is a relationship. The ultimate reality is the love between the Father, the Son and the Spirit. This is the most fundamental of facts. You can split the molecule, you can split the atom, you may even be able to split the quark – but you can never split the love of the Father for the Son, or the Son for the Father, or the Father for the Spirit, or the Spirit for the Father, or the Son for the Spirit, or the Spirit for the Son. So there is nothing so basic, so ultimate, or so surely founded and grounded as love.

People need to know that.

People need to know that love does trump hatred, because love is prior to hatred. Love is older than hatred. Love is more original than hatred. Love will outlast hatred. Love is essential in a way that hatred is not. Love is deep down things, in a way that hatred is not. All things are orientated towards Love. All things were created by Love.

People need to know that love trumps hate – ontologically.

People need to know that their instinctive knowledge that love is the most important thing in the world is not just a bit of clichéd folk wisdom – it’s a clue to the meaning of the Universe.

People need to know that the most important thing about them is that they are infinitely and eternally loved.

People need to know that they don’t have to earn that love – it is just given. It is just there. It just is. And that all the workaholic attempt to prove ourselves worth something is unnecessary. And all the desperately seeking nature of our relationality, all the desire to impress and to please and to get ourselves liked – are all unnecessary, as well as counter-productive and self-warping.

There’s a bit in Ally McBeal, when Ally says to the legal secretary, ‘Elaine, what did you get me for my birthday?’ To which Elaine replies, ‘Hello? Didn’t you notice that song I sang you at the party last night and which I dedicated to you?’ And Ally says, ‘Elaine, that was all about you. It was all about you being noticed. When are you going to stop doing everything in order to get yourself noticed?’ And there’s a long, sad pause, and then Elaine replies, ‘When I am noticed.’

People need to know that they are noticed – by the Eternal Love that made the world. They are noticed, and they are loved.

People need to know that, though human history is blood-stained, and though cosmic history is violent, yet there is an older history, a truer truth, a deeper magic, a more fundamental fact – that they and all people and all things were made by Love, and were made for Love. And that because everything is structured towards love, that therefore ultimately nothing that is good for one being is ever bad for another. That ultimately we are not in competition with any other being. That, unlike siblings who instinctively compete for their parents’ love, we have an infinite and eternal parent and there is enough infinity to go round.

And we only have that information in the doctrine of the Trinity. We only have that information in the new understanding of God that the experience of Jesus forced the Church to conceive, because only in the Christian doctrine of God is there a receiving and giving of love within the very being of God. Only in the Christian doctrine of God is God actually constituted as love. As Hans Urs Von Balthasar put it, ‘It depends on Jesus whether we dare to address being as love, and thus all beings as worthy of love.’

And some will say, ‘You don’t need the Trinity for that. You don’t need God for that. I believe that love is the most important thing in the world – not because I have learned it from God, but because I have learned it from the people who have loved me. I feel valued because of the people who value me. That’s enough. I don’t need the metaphysical superstructure.’

But without God, presumably popular people are more valuable than unpopular people. What about those we take services for at the Crem every week, for whom there are no mourners, save for one of us and the funeral director? Do they have no value?

And, without God, presumably we become less valuable when someone stops loving us. When my parents died, did I become less valuable because the two main sources of my love were no longer here to love me?

And, without God, we have to glean every morsel of lovedness we can hoover up, and it’s never enough.

But, if the ultimate fact is love, then that person we take the service for with no mourners – they are of infinite value because they are infinitely loved.

And when my parents died, I was still infinitely loved.

And we don’t have to starve on the scraps of love that get randomly thrown our way. Like the widow’s cruse, like the bread and fish, there is always more. There is always an abundance.

That’s why I am confident about our mission. Because what we have to give is what people crave. Because the Christian gospel meshes so intricately with human need. The doctrine of the Trinity feeds the tap roots of our beings.

And our mission is to love them, so as to reflect God’s love to them. Our mission is so to love them that they find it easier to believe in God’s love for them.

But our mission is also to tell them of the nature of Being, of the surd of Love at the heart of reality. If we do not tell them of the triune nature of God, we leave them to starve off the scraps.

So that’s the first thing. I am confident about our mission because I know that only the doctrine of the Trinity can meet the desperate need for love in the human heart.

The second reason why I am confident about our mission is because I know that only the Cross can defuse people’s fear of meaning.

Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown
And things seem hard or tough
And people are stupid, obnoxious or daft
And you feel that you’ve quite had enough …

Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at 900 miles an hour,
That’s orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
A sun that is the source of all our power …
The Universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whiz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light you know,
12 million miles a minute, and that’s the fastest speed there is.
So remember when you’re feeling very small and insecure
How amazingly unlikely is your birth
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space
Because there’s bugger all down here on earth!

Mrs. Bloke: makes you feel so sort of insignificant, doesn’t it?
First Man: Yeah, yeah … Can we have your liver, then?
Mrs. Bloke: Yeah. All right, you talked me into it.
[A bit of Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, there, just to keep the more senior amongst us happy, and to balance out the otherwise right up to the wire topicality of my engagement with popular culture.]

People have always noticed how small and insignificant they are in the face of the vastness of the universe – and they have always been troubled by it. And that in itself is an interesting and surprising fact, because you wouldn’t expect it. If we are just finite and not made for anything else, if all we can ever hope for is a brief and miniscule existence, why would we have a problem with that? Why would it trouble us, if we have never known any other prospect, if nothing in us carried the memory that we were intended for more than this? After all, we have many longings and desires. We desire food, and that doesn’t mean that we won’t starve – but, as CS Lewis pointed out, it does mean that there is such a thing as food, and that we are intended to eat. We desire sex, and, again, that doesn’t mean that we will get any, but it does suggest that there is such an activity, and that we are constitutionally wired for such an activity. In fact, it is difficult to think of a universal human longing that is in principle unmeetable. Many of our longings are not met, but I can’t think of any that couldn’t be met.

And yet we long to have meaning in the face of our own finitude and mortality.  In the face of our crippling transience, we try to link ourselves in to something bigger than ourselves - something that was there before we came to be, and which will still be there once we are long gone.

The search for meaning is really a quest to push back the frontiers of our finitude. To mitigate the otherwise crushing nature of our insignificance.  Let me give you an example.

The famous funeral oration of Pericles – no relation to John Cleese, so far as I know – was a eulogy for all the Athenian youth who had been killed in battle that year. He wants to give their deaths some meaning. How does he do that? He begins by talking about their ancestors. By linking them in to a story that began long before they came to be. And then he goes on to speak of how those who have died live on in the memories of those who love them, in the fame of their heroic acts and in the continuing influence of their example. Trying to push the frontiers of finitude backwards into the past, and forwards into the future. Pericles is here tapping into a universal human need for meaning. A universal human need to be linked into a bigger story than their individual story, and into a bigger community than their own nuclear family.

The problem with meaning, of course, is that it can so easily be used to justify violence. And indeed, the whole point of Pericles’ funeral oration was to keep the Athenian nation onside with continuing the war against the racially inferior enemy.

Many other purveyors of Meaning have done the same. Vladimir Putin was asleep one night in the Kremlin, when Stalin appeared to him in a dream. And Putin says, ‘Tell me what I should do, Uncle Joe. Things aren’t easy with all the trade embargoes – what should I do?’ And Stalin says, ‘Well, you must do two things. First, you must take the leading bureaucrats of every department out and shoot them all. And then, secondly, you must paint the Kremlin blue.’ And Putin says, ‘Blue? Why blue?’ To which Stalin replies, ‘Yes, I thought it would be that one you’d question!’

Communism offered the great march of history to be part of – but used that meaning to justify the Gulags and the Laogais. Christianity offered people the meaning of salvation history – but used it to justify persecuting Jews, burning heretics and excluding from universities all who would not sign up to Anglican doctrine. ISIS offers people the meaning of an eternal future – and uses it to justify the most appalling brutality towards outsiders.

So I deeply understand those who fear the whole concept of meaning, those who fear the big story, the big picture, the coherent account of reality, the metanarrative. It is an entirely understandable fear that, if you have a complete account of history, you will end up imposing it on others. As one post-modern writer put it, ‘All ideology wreaks of the death camps.’

Consequently, despite their longing for meaning, many people have given up on the big picture. They have given up on Meaning. And they have decided not to fit in to anyone else’s story but to create their own meaning. They are not going to be told what is the Meaning of their lives – not by mullahs, not by missionaries, not be commissars, not by anyone. They are going to determine that for themselves. That way, no one is going to oppress them. That way, they remain in control.

The dreadful preacher satirised in Alan Bennett’s Take a Pew sketch says, ‘Life, you know, is rather like opening a tin of sardines. We are all of us looking for the key.’ But many people today have given up looking for ‘the key’. Many people refuse to believe that there is one key that fits the lock for everyone – for fear that that one meaning will then be forced on us, regardless of who we are, and what we want.

The problem with that, of course, is that, if you create your own meaning, it’s smaller than you are. And the whole point of meaning is that it is bigger than you are and mitigates your smallness. The problem with making your own meaning is that it will leave you unconnected to anyone else. For your meaning may not mesh with my meaning. And the whole point of meaning is to bind us together in an overarching framework. The whole point of meaning is to mitigate our isolation from one another. And the problem with making your own meaning is that it tends to run out when you most need it.
So our generation is in a cleft stick with regard to meaning: we long for it, and we fear it in equal measure. Is there a way out of this cleft stick?
In Revelation 5, the narrator weeps and weeps that there is no one who is worthy to open the scroll that stands for the meaning of history. The scroll is that which would unfold the mystery of life’s meaning. And one of the bystanders tells him not to weep, because there is one who is worthy enough – not clever enough, note, but worthy enough – to open the scroll. And he’s told to expect a lion, though what he actually sees is a lamb, and one that has been slain, at that.

Jesus did not impose His agenda on others by force. Quite the opposite – He allowed others to impose their agenda on Him by force. He would rather be slain than slay. The Cross therefore defuses our generation’s fears, because Meaning that is based on Jesus  will not impose itself on others by force, because that is not Jesus’ way. It is His scarred hands alone that may be trusted to open the scroll, without forcing its contents upon us. So we need not fear the Meaning we crave. We may have Meaning, we may have that belonging to a cosmic story and to a transnational, transgenerational community, we may have that transience-busting belonging to something bigger than ourselves – and we may have it, not just from ancestors to descendants but from eternity to eternity. And we need not fear that the weight of this eternal story will be used to crush people into subscribing to it – for this is the man who allowed others to leave Him, to desert Him, to deny Him, to crucify Him, and all He did in response was to pray for them, to love them. If we are faithful to the Cross, we will never impose the story of Jesus upon anyone. A world-view that is focused on the Cross will never propagate itself by force.

Again, people need to know this.

Because people are being robbed of an awareness of their meaning and significance  by fears that the Cross defuses.

People need to know that there is an eternal story that longs to include them, that invites them to contribute to that story, to make their mark in that story, but will never compel them to be included, that will respect the very freedom that God gave them, that will suppress nothing that is truly them, that not only mitigates their mortality but removes it.

So our mission is to live uncontrollingly, to respect the freedom of others, to lead in a way that does not crush, that does not use force – even of personality – to get its own way. To lead in a way that invites and includes the contributions of others. To live uncoercively, so as to help defuse people’s fear of power and their fear of meaning and their fear of God. To live

But we shall do that, only imperfectly. So our mission must also be to point people to the Cross where they see how God leads, how God loves; where they can see what strength looks like; where they can see God’s utter respect for the freedom He has given us; where they can see the lamb-like vulnerability that is actually true authority.

So I am confident about our mission because I know that only the doctrine of the Trinity can meet the desperate need for love in the human heart.

I am confident about our mission because I know that only the Cross can defuse people’s fear of meaning.

And thirdly, I am confident about our mission because I know that only the Resurrection can give people the hope without which we wither.

 So, the conversation in the pub dries up a bit, and one of the regulars tries to jump-start it back into life by asking an intriguing question of the other drinkers. ‘Okay,’ he says, ‘the day comes when they put you in your casket, your family is gathered around – what would you like them to say about you?’ And one of the other drinkers says, ‘Well, I would like them to say, “Gillian was simply one of the finest surgeons of her generation. She was able to save the lives of patients when no one else could. She developed techniques that are now standard practice in hospitals all over the world.”’ Another one says, ‘I’d like people to say, “George was just the best father anyone could hope for. He was fun, generous, wise, always there for us.”’ And the third one said, ‘I’d like them to say, “Look! He’s moving!”’
Our generation is no more at peace with the prospect of dying and bereavement than any before it. World literature is at one in its horror of how death terminates the contribution of every individual, guillotines their relationships, and haemorrhages the meaning of our existence.

Let me give three examples.

The first is a poem by Edna Vincent Millay, called Dirge without Music.

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind.
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go, but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains – but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter and the love –
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled,
In the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind.
Quietly, they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Secondly, there is a section from Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book, Lament for a Son. When his son died in a climbing accident, he wrote this:

What do you say to someone who is suffering? Some people are gifted with words of wisdom. For such, one is profoundly grateful. There were many such for us. But not all are gifted in that way. Some blurted out strange, inept things. That’s OK too. Your words don’t have to be wise. The heart that speaks is heard more than the words spoken. And if you can’t think of anything at all to sayeHe, just say, ‘I can’t think of anything to say. But I want you to know that we are with you in your grief.’ Or even, just embrace … But please: Don’t say, it’s not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think that your task as comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. ... I know: People do sometimes think things are more awful than they really are. Such people need to be corrected – gently, eventually. But no one thinks death is more awful than it is. It’s those who think it is not so bad that need correcting.

And then, thirdly, a haiku by the Japanese poet, Issa, when his second child died: ‘The world’s but dew, the world’s but dew, and yet … and yet …’. He recognises the ephemerality of all creaturely existence, but he is not reconciled to it.

And I am immediately struck by the deep congruence between how these poets and thinkers experience death, and the New Testament understanding of death as enemy.

God never says, ‘Let there be death’.
It has no positive place in His purposes.
It does not belong in His world.
Death in biblical thought is that which God assaults.
Death is enemy.

Just as we never see Jesus declining to heal someone on the grounds that the suffering was doing them good, so we never see Him acquiescing in death – except, arguably, His own, and even there He prayed against it, and sweated blood at the prospect of it. And at the tombstone of Lazarus, He breaks down in grief and anger. The word that is used is that which is used of warhorses as they go into battle - He 'snorted in spirit'. Jesus is angered by death, and He declares war upon it. Even though He knows He is about to raise His friend back to life, He is outraged. Because for Him, death should not be. It should not occur. It has no place in God’s good world. It is a distortion and an obscenity, and He sets His face against it.

And of course the Resurrection of Jesus itself is the ultimate sign of God’s hostility to death.

In Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, a dinner party is in full swing when the door bell goes. Geoffrey answers the door:

Geoffrey: Yes? Is it about the hedge? Look I’m awfully sorry but …

Grim Reaper: I am the Grim Reaper.

Geoffrey: Who?

Grim Reaper: The Grim Reaper.

Geoffrey: Yes, I see.

Grim Reaper: I am death.

Geoffrey: Yes, well the thing is that we have some people from America for dinner tonight, and …

Angela: Who is it, darling?

Geoffrey: It’s a Mr Death or something. He’s come about the reaping. I don’t think we need any at the moment.

Angela: Well, don’t leave him hanging around outside, darling. Ask him in.

So they ask him in, whereupon he tells them that he has come for them. ‘Take you away. That is my purpose. I am death.’

Geoffrey: Well, that’s cast rather a gloom over the evening, hasn’t it?

At which point, the American guest says, ‘I don’t see it that way, Geoff. Let me tell you what I think we’re dealing with here: a potentially positive learning experience.

To which Death replies, ‘Shut up! Shut up, you American! You talk and you talk and you say, ‘Let me tell you something’.  Well, you’re dead now so shut up!’ (He then says some equally rude things about Englishmen, but they’re not nearly so funny.)

The Resurrection shows that death is not fully or properly seen as a potentially positive learning experience. It is not ‘the final step in the Master’s plan to bring us safely home’ as one Oxford undertaker’s brochure put it.

It is not ‘kind and gentle death’, despite what the hymn says.
It is that which God opposes, and will one day undo.

What we can offer Issa is to join him in his unreconciliation to death. All things, says St Paul in Colossians 1, are reconciled by the Cross – but death, he says in 1 Corinthians, is simply destroyed. Death is unreconcilable.

What we can offer Edna Vincent Millay is to join her in her unresignedness towards death.

What we can offer to Nicholas Wolterstorff is to refuse to downplay death.

What we can offer to those we serve in their grief is a recognition of the should-not-be-ness of what they are going through. We can face the full horror of it with them and for them, because we know that death is not just enemy, but a defeated enemy.

That is what we have to offer Issa.

That is what we have to offer our generation – not the playing down of death, but its defeat and its extinction.

Again, people need to know this.
They need to know that we experience it as they do.
They need to know that we, too, experience it as enemy.
They need to know that we are not the defenders of death.

But they need to know too, about the Resurrection of Christ.

Because the knowledge of death’s defeat is transformative of life. It does not take away the pain, but people need to know that the pain, though terrible, is temporary.

Such was the impact of the Christian message of the resurrection of Christ that it changed the very way we spoke about death. The word that was previously used of a graveyard was 'necropolis' - a city of the dead. After the Resurrection, it came to be known as a 'cemetery' - a place of sleep. Because death, though awful and demonic, is not permanent.

People need to know that. People need to know that death, though a hiatus in our relationships, is not the termination of them.

I am confident about our mission because I believe that the doctrine of the Trinity reveals the desperately needed truth that love is not peripheral, but the point of it all.

I am confident about our mission because I believe that the Cross defuses the fears of our generation and frees them to have meaning.

I am confident about our mission because I believe that the Resurrection of Jesus sets the implacable and victorious hostility of God over against the enemy of death that otherwise makes a mockery of our relationships, our lives and our hopes.

I am confident in our mission because to be loved, to find meaning and to have hope are utterly basic to human flourishing - and they are only fully found in the eternally loving, temporally (and temporarily) dying and gloriously recreating God we meet in Jesus Christ.


River out of Eden, Phoenix, 1996, p.155.

My Ministry Manual by the Revd Gerald Ambulance by Stephen Tompkins, SPCK, 2002.

Eerdman, 1997, pp. 34-5.