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Sons and Saviour

28 March 2013

Philip Welsh reads Holy Week talks

Lost Sons: God's long search for humanity
Michael Sadgrove
SPCK £9.99
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"THIS book is about a disturbing theme: how children can be lost." So begins Michael Sadgrove's eloquent exploration of eight stories from Genesis and early Exodus, highlighting in each case the motif of the lost son, and linking each story with an aspect of the Passion of Jesus, the Son lost and found. "Abel is 'lost' by being murdered, Canaan by being cursed, Ishmael by being abandoned, Isaac by being bound for sacrifice, Esau by being supplanted, Joseph by being betrayed, and Moses by being hidden. The first primeval son, Adam, is lost by being exiled."

Lost Sons is an expansion of Holy Week addresses given in Durham Cathedral, and its approach is persuasive, if occasionally straining to accommodate within its paradigm such disparate material as the cursing of Canaan - an ingenious recovery of an Old Testament bit-player - and the novella-length saga of Joseph.

But the author knows not to overstate his case, as he invites us to see "how knowledge of these stories might subliminally colour our reading of the Passion", and is nervous of the "typical preacher's ploy to turn narrative into exhortation".

Sadgrove has clearly done his scholarship, aware, for example, of the aetiological function of some of these archaic stories as accounts of origins. But he wears it lightly, in a concern to read each story on its own terms, to "step inside the horizon of the narrative". He acknowledges his debt to a "reader-response" approach, which focuses not on the inherent properties of the text, but on the reader's interaction with it, and particularly with the gaps and indeterminacies of the story, in which readers may find room to actualise the text as their own.

This is especially fruitful as Sadgrove concludes by looking at the inconclusive account of the resurrection in Mark, the most reticent of the Evangelists. "Mark's Easter is about things not seen: 'he is not here.' His faith is in the gaps, the silences, the hints. . . Mark's great gift to the Church is to refuse to make it too easy for us. The empty tomb is not the answer, but the question." 

The Revd Philip Welsh is Vicar of St Stephen's, Rochester Row, London.


SISTER Beda Brooks OSB, in The Resurrection Garden, considers
the resurrection and its power in 19 meditations. They have different formats: some are written as poems, others in prose; some ask questions; others tell stories (St Pauls, £7.95 (£7.15); 978-085439-772-3).

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