(A thousand year old image of the risen Christ in the Republic of Georgia, damaged by bullet impacts, courtesy of the soldiers of Comrade Stalin. Photo taken October 2015)
I’ve been thinking.
“He is risen!”
The words announced in countless churches each Easter Sunday. The response “He is risen indeed!” following naturally from legions of lips. Spoken with conviction, it is comforting to hear it and to respond, surrounded by people of shared beliefs and a common faith. They are not just words. They’re a statement of trust and, to me anyway, a profound mystery.
Now it has to be said that not everyone shares Christian faith or beliefs. Certainly not the Russian soldiers who expressed their contempt in a tangible way on the above image. Others prefer their bullets metaphorical. Not that they are any less contemptuous.
Faith can be a fragile, tricky thing. Ask anyone who claims to have it. While we erect our defences to repel boarders, if we are honest (and that’s a big ‘if’), having faith of any sort can be a messy, risky business. And not just for the supernatural variety! My secular agnostic and atheist friends, who sometimes disparage my faith, do not always acknowledge their own faiths. It may be in other, non supernatural, areas, but they have it, along with the fragilities and risks that go with all faiths.
Be it faith in science, human logic, rationalism, personal relationships, material possessions. . . or our own ability to manage things . . . even in our own ability to cross the road safely . . . I just can’t imagine any person lives entirely without faith of some sort, in something.
Nevertheless I am tempted to feel sorry for myself now and then. My faith is challenged in all sorts of ways and I don’t always like it when I see how fragile it is. Things are not going the way I would like them to. The rule book doesn’t apply the way I think it should. People can be unkind.
I can feel the temptation to pull up the drawbridges; to separate and protect myself from those who do not think as I do.
On this Easter Sunday, and in the midst of all these thoughts, the image of the bullet impacted risen Christ above speaks to me. I become aware of a profound and transcendent mystery that makes the fragility and vulnerability of my tiny faith seem superfluous.
The Christ in that image does not conform to my expectations. He does not reassure me or exhort me to shore up my faith and to paper over the cracks. My certainty is not important to him. He does not promise a strong faith to me. Instead he offers me a vision of damage inflicted by contemptuous Russian soldiers maybe 70 or so years ago. Bullets that completely missed their mark, then, now and always.
The Christ in that image speaks a message that transcends my expectations and my need to be in charge. He speaks of a truth that matters more than differences of opinion, the categories we create for each other, and the walls we build around ourselves. That truth does not depend on the strength of my faith or the certainty of my convictions. It is, and will always be, stronger than bullets and will outlast hate and contempt.
The Christ in that image suggests a direction quite different from what I see myself sometimes taking at present: To try to build bridges rather than walls; to try not to fear contempt and ridicule of my ideas and my faith, as some things just don’t matter; and to try not to be discouraged by the fragility of my own faith and abilities.
The risen Christ is still amongst us despite the bullets, and countless other attempts to destroy him and his message. The risen Christ transcends bullets, and even manages to thrive despite my own fragile faith.
What a mystery!
Glory be to God!
On those insights, on this Easter Sunday, my faith can relax a little.