- Created on Sunday, 01 April 2012 01:00
- Written by Steven Chandler
I would have liked to write about my Holy Week holiday in Malta, but unfortunately the Herald deadline falls before we depart!
I am lucky, compared with many people, to be free enough to go on holiday. Many people do not have that freedom because of lack of money, caring responsibilities and many other reasons. We probably understand what I mean by freedom here, but actually "freedom" is a far more complex word and idea than we might realize. For example, could we regard Jesus' crucifixion as an example of freedom?
On the first Sunday in Lent I heard the Archbishop of Canterbury on the radio, preaching at Canterbury Cathedral School. He was talking about freedom. His message was surprising, but important. It was that our use of the word freedom, meaning to please ourselves and do what we want, is not the only meaning or the right one for us. The most important freedom for Christians is freedom to do what we know we should do.
The more common understanding of freedom is being free to do whatever we like. But that can easily interfere with other people's freedom. We know lots of people in the world do not have that freedom; indeed none of us can be fully free in that way. Freedom to do what we know we should doesn't sound anything like so desirable. But if we think about it we realize that lots of people around the world do not even have that freedom. But we are free to do what our Christian faith encourages us to do.
This type of freedom is to be what we most deeply are. Freedom to express our true spiritual nature. Another way of looking at this is that we have handed our freedom over to God, to free us to do what we know we should do.
So what has all this got to do with Easter? Well, another important idea very closely related to freedom is truth. In fact, Jesus said "the truth will make you free." This is more like real freedom than just pleasing yourself. Truth makes us free of falsehoods and fictions which surround us in everyday life. The world we know can smother truth; knowing the truth, the truth about what Jesus did for us makes us free of this suffocating blanket of expectations. Jesus was expected to lead his people to triumph, to be comely and commanding. To befriend the great and learned men of Israel. That was the expectation. He had the freedom to do that if he had pleased himself and pleased his society and family.
We know he did not He willingly handed over his freedom to God. That is still freedom; freedom that came from his knowledge of the truth. The truth that perfect freedom is achieved by handing our lives over to God, not by following expectations or our own immediate desires.
Before I finish I would like to raise another related issue; that there are always going to be only a few people that hand their lives over to God. Jesus was the only one who did that so perfectly. But the rest of us who are purposefully following a Christian path, however imperfectly, are few in number. That can be very demoralising. Does that not mean the church that Jesus established is dying out?
One of Richard Chidlaw's recent sermons addressed this issue. He pointed out that those few of us who follow Jesus, who know who God is, who know how to pray, have very important work to do here. I was also speaking to another minister at a meeting we were both at about someone we both knew who had been unwell. She said "I can't do anything to help directly, but at least I can pray; that's what I do.
She might have said; that's what we do. Priests and ministers do not have a monopoly of prayer, although this is a special part of their ministry. All of us Christians also have the freedom to pray. That is the important work we have to do here, and is a way of using our freedom for good. Jesus spent the time before his crucifixion praying, not just for himself but for others. You might also like to consider that the most important role of the Church that Jesus founded may not be to grow. Perhaps, to use the well worn expression, size doesn't matter. It's what those of us who are Christians do that matters, and of all the things we can do nothing is more important than prayer. We may have been practising this Lent?
So for those of us who do pray, our key role is to pray on behalf of those who can't or don't That is a proper use of our freedom and it is something we can do that makes those we pray for free as well.
Have a blessed and prayerful Easter.