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Leader comment: The body of Christ, broken, mended

by
06 April 2023

EVIL exists; and Holy Week, with its invitation to plunge once more into Christ’s painful last hours, forces even the most comfortable and protected believers to confront this truth. It is a week when congregations are perhaps reluctant to be outgoing. Far better to direct outsiders to wait till Easter Day, when they can experience the joy of the resurrection story — and when the church looks at its loveliest. But a religion that acknowledges evil’s existence — and the cost of overcoming it — has a better chance of capturing the attention of someone who has suffered bereavement, say, or a broken relationship, or one of life’s many disappointments, than one that makes light of their experience and gives the impression that its adherents have got life sorted. The crowded, extravagant, chaotic Good Friday processions in Southern Europe and elsewhere suggest that other cultures understand this better.

People who lack a religious belief deal with evil badly or well depending on character, context, and opportunity. Despite the stories that believers tell one another, many handle it well, responding resiliently to their own misfortunes and generously to others’. In some instances, this can be ascribed to the way in which Christianity has shaped societies over the centuries, leaving what a former Prime Minister called a “moral compass” even when fellow-travellers are fewer. Another view, however — not necessarily the one expressed by Frank Field in this week’s issue — is that humanity is fundamentally good, and that people will behave well if they can escape or resist the corrupting influences that exist in the world. Christ’s encounter with the rich young ruler in the Synoptic Gospels, or the reassurance given to the unprodigal son, suggest that our Lord loves capable people like this.

But his attention is elsewhere. Those who can navigate between and around this world’s ills are not at the top of the agenda. His priority is the people who end up on the rocks: the younger brother, the widow with the missing coin, the lost sheep. We know now how trauma can change brain chemistry, thus perpetuating the damage caused, and hindering, possibly preventing, recovery. Yet society in general finds it hard to love people whose personalities have been altered by abuse, illness, neglect, or other forms of harm. Not so the Jesus who said of those who crucified him “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Christians are at their most Christ-like when they support the hungry, the sick, and prisoners — people who, scripture emphasises, are also Christ-like.

The message of Easter is one of rescue. This cannot be accomplished without the involvement, generosity, and advocacy of all who form Christ’s body in this world. The Church’s effectiveness rests on the fact that, like Christ’s physical body, it has been pierced by evil and yet, despite all that it has suffered, works on for the glory of God.

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