That Thursday…That Friday…

“Men and women are different after all!” So I discovered or re-discovered  a few days ago. Not long ago I changed my car. It has one of these trip computers. I was trying to explain to my wife what a wonderful thing this trip computer was. She asked what it could do. I told her with great excitement that it could tell me my current and average fuel consumption. I proceeded to read the figures out to her with a wonder approaching awe! There was a sort of blank look came over her face. There was not the slightest flicker of being impressed! Anyway, men and women are different in so many ways. In fact we are all different in some way from one another. If I can be male again, I was thinking today of different makes of car that share the same chassis yet can look and indeed drive  very differently from each other despite having the same foundation on which they are built… I feel such a draw to wax lyrical and give endless examples, compare prices, performance and so on, but I realise that to some of you, in a way that escapes me, all that matters is a car’s colour, and so I will allow the purpose of this blog to constrain me, so please don’t yawn! Keep reading….

As believers in Christ, we share the same foundation, Christ Himself, but there is a unique shape that is “me” as I live from that place of being deeply rooted in Him. He makes of His people, His church,  a community in which individually and together we are allowed to truly discover and become who God made each of us to be. However, the foundation is indeed the same, and that means there are certain things which are common core for every believer. Yesterday was Maundy Thursday. I am so grateful for my long standing but seldom seen friend, Mike Clarkson, who posted on his Facebook page an article about what the “Maundy” in Maundy Thursday actually means. The person who wrote it is an Anglican, who knows about liturgy and all that stuff, so I guess as a Presbyterian I just have to trust him on this! The word comes from the Latin “mandatum” which simply means “commandment.” On what we call Maundy Thursday, Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples, and so many churches celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion on that day. However as well as doing that, He gave His disciples a commandment. “A new commandment I give unto you, that you  love one another as I have loved you.”

There seems to be a new boldness and confidence coming about in Christian witness today in the UK. There is a fight on for the right to believe and the right to express what we believe and share what we believe freely. That fight needs to happen, but I hope it is  married to a fight to the right to obey this command: “Love one another as I have loved you.”  This according to Jesus is the best way to convince the world of who He really is. There is an inherent danger in our rising confidence and willingness to be combative in defending Christian belief and rights: The danger is that is what we become known for and nothing more. Would it not be good if you and I and our churches were known not only for the beliefs we fight for (and sometimes fight over) but also for our love for one another. That is what Maundy Thursday is about.

But today is Good Friday. I am writing this article at the time of day when as Jesus hung on the cross, darkness covered the land. On this day when we stand on holy ground,  let me push the boat of this blog out  a bit further. Maundy Thursday was not the end of what Jesus taught about love. He  was still to show the full extent of His love. I am not simply meaning the love He showed by dying for our sins. Even in the church today there are those who deny that Jesus died for our sins, or that He even needed to do that. Well, there have always been false teachers leading people astray and always will be. (Maybe God is calling you into the ministry of a denomination that seems to have lost its biblical roots. If He is, then respond to that call. It wont be an easy fight, at times you will feel great distress, but the main thing to remember is that God will be with you.) But I  am expecting most of you are humble enough and in good mental health which knows the reality is that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and that we need a Saviour.   Most of us reading this bog probably believe that Jesus died to take away our sin, whatever the important additional understandings  we want to attach to the cross – and there are indeed other rich truths that the New Testament itself teaches about the cross. Today, however, on this Good Friday,  I am thinking of the love of Jesus in relation to those who crucified Him. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He has the right to say to us, “Love your enemies.”

It is hard to get closer to the core of what it means to really follow Jesus than this: He calls us to show the love of God to our enemies. However they may have come into that place where that is the right appellation to use for some people, in loving them and seeking to do them good as we can, we show the love of the Father who sends his sun and rain on the just and the unjust. Communion on Maundy Thursday may remind me of the mandatum, the commandment, to love my fellow believers. Good Friday’s mandatum calls me to love the enemy, whoever that may be.

I have mentioned before that one of the great influences for good in my life and ministry  was a Pentecostal minister by the name of Hugh Black who is now in glory. When he was younger someone shot his dog, a dog he loved very much. By the grace of God he got to the place where he said to God he was prepared to forgive the man, feeling perhaps that God would commend him for reaching that place. God spoke to him and said, “I am not asking you simply to forgive him, I am asking you to love him.” Hugh Black said that when he started to love that man, “He had no more power over me than a fly on the wall.”

So while applauding the muscular Christianity that is arising in it ability to challenge unbelief and the eroding of Christian rights… I am concerned. Almost every good thing has its flip side when it has no constraints. Let’s not mock our enemies, making them or their  ideas and object of derision. I was listening on line to a Christian apologist . The Christians in the audience applauded the answer he gave to a young man who asked him about the Christian view of homosexuality. He gave  what many of his audience would have considered and indeed I myself would consider a true blue bible view on that question.  But if I had been the questioner, I think I would have felt small and stupid – rather than just small, which I am!  Somehow, though it was weeks ago that I watched that evangelical tub thumping, I cannot get the image of that nervous young questioner out of my mind.  I somehow feel he was the object of God’s great compassion… and still is. I wonder what God thinks of these debates when Christians go home feeling self satisfied by their debating victories or the victories of one of their apologetic champions? When the Christ of Calvary is living  in our hearts, our enemies will not simply provoke us to debate or worse to derision. Rather they will put us in touch with the love of the God who so loved the world that He gave us His only son, the God who while this world was still at enmity with Him, sent His Son to die for us. It is not enough for a Christian Apologist or any of us simply to be smart.

Let’s  ask the Christ of Maundy Thursday and of Good Friday to help us more and more to get to that place together where the love of Christ constrains us in our behaviour to our fellow believers, and how we speak and act towards the world. Without river banks a river can spread and destroy. Without the constraint of the love of Christ, the new found rising confidence to engage with the world may well reek destruction rather than bring life. What is constraining you?

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