I have been reflecting on the preparations we do collectively, both as a community and individually, for our own journey towards Easter and Good Friday, which culminates in the death of Jesus and thinking about how we as Christians companion him and share his journey. We acknowledge we are unable to reach the resurrection without going through the crucifixion.
I have been struck in recent days by the journey which Andrew Chan and Myurun Sukumaran are experiencing as they move towards a likely death by firing squad as convicted drug smugglers.
One of their companions over the last few years was asked how the families and the individual men are coping with death so imminent, and the reply was ‘through love’ and the description talked about sharing food, touching and speaking, listening and being present; it was extraordinary…..and how hard that must be in such dreadful circumstances. Yet this was the example Jesus gave to us as he walked his very lonely road towards his crucifixion.
The Gospel of Matthew Chapter 6 points us to some practices and thinking to which we need to pay attention and which might be helpful for this Lenten time regarding being faithful. In this text, there are three practices which Jesus talks about: giving alms, praying and fasting. Jesus comments on the private practices and motivations between ourselves as individuals and our relationship with God.
In such practices, we need to ask ourselves, why do I behave and act in a particular manner – who is it I am setting out to impress or please?
What comes to mind is that perhaps that is My Self, my own Ego driving particular visible behaviours; it might be those around me in church, my friends and neighbours who I want to impress or convince, or it might be the wider community as I think I have an image and profile to maintain. Sometimes it is very hard to work out why we behave in particular ways, when our egos are strong and healthy and have a say in everything we do and think.
The image I have is of a sunflower that tracks the journey of the sun across the sky, constantly adjusting the way it is facing to ensure it is maximising its reflection on the sun; and so it should be with us in our relationship with God – and if we are not God-facing, then I suspect our God we are tracking is our ego, our reputation, and our status. We are managing our self-belief into a self-serving motive. Is our God, a God we’ve created in our own image? Is our God simply our idol of self advertisement and actually ‘a selfie’? Jesus asks:
‘Where is your treasure, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ (Matt. 6:21)
In Corinthians, Paul also lists some ways we might know if we are living lives as Christians (2 Cor. 6:4ff):
‘Great endurance in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech and the power of God.’
However, we live in a country where we don’t get locked up for being a Christian, generally and we are not scorned particularly such that it causes hardship; we don’t lose our jobs, our homes, our families or our lives by being a Christian.
Yet someone asked me jokingly, ‘if you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?’
I stood in court a few weeks ago, listening to the magistrate discussing whether or not to provide a spent conviction or a full conviction for eight Christians who had been protesting peacefully and lovingly over the treatment of asylum seekers and children by this country.
I thought, the reality is, all of us have spent convictions throughout our whole lives, spent by God through God’s love and abundant Grace, poured out by the Holy Spirit to invite us and encourage us to see beyond what we judge as failures and instead to see God’s love, and experience it without any limits; we don’t have to be worthy, successful, make a show, or be anything other than who we are.
Lent is time for reflection, finding time to be quiet and thoughtful, to be with God; a time to think about what it means to be a Christian, a Christ follower, a believer and disciple, on a journey towards the death of our selves.
We need to spend time stripping away some of the masks we wear as parents, siblings, community members, workers, leaders, and start to take them off, layer by layer, because, as Paul reminds us as Christians:
‘We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying and see – we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything’ (2 Cor. 6:8-10).
Is this not indeed a journey to be engaged upon as a companion and Christian disciple?