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God has to die


John 20.11-18
‘God has to die,’ said David Peters a former army chaplain who served in Iraq. The God we learn about in Junior Church, who always keeps us safe, who can overcome everything that life could possibly throw at us, who makes sure that love and goodness always come out on top, ‘has to shatter into a thousand pieces, die, disappear or change.’ Only then can our belief in God survive the bad things that happen. Only then can we find a grown-up sort of faith.
When he was serving with the army, Peters was inspired by 'Paul Tillich, a German American theologian who’d also served as a chaplain - but during the first world war. The carnage of that war and its heavy psychological toll pushed Tillich to the brink of his faith and beyond. Tillich hit rock bottom and... came to see God as ... a god who met him in darkness when the other version of God had proved trivial and inadequate.'
Shattering into a thousand pieces sounds like a bad thing, but actually it can be a joyful thing, a transformation, a new beginning. That’s what’s happening in the picture. The old picture of God, to whom nothing bad can ever happen, is being shattered and out of the pieces emerges a new God who not only dies but is raised to new life. He meets us in darkness, in the darkest times in our lives. And it’s like an explosion of light and colour, an explosion of joy.
That’s what Mary Magdalen found when she went to the garden to visit Jesus’  tomb. Her old vision of Jesus, as the person she could hold onto and who would protect her, had already been crushed on Good Friday. But she still wasn’t ready to let go when she met him, apparently alive again, outside the tomb.
Her old way of thinking about Jesus had to change and be left behind with his folded grave clothes. It had to be shattered into a thousand pieces and put back together again in a new way. But that was wonderful. It was exciting. It was good news. It changed Easter from a sad time into a glad time, a celebration that still goes on.
The Old Testament writers understood the same thing about our idea of God. The Old Testament scholar Oldi Moravi [1] says, they ‘never saw the experience of suffering as an excuse to remove God from the picture, even if it meant making God accountable for his promises.’
On the Cross, God really did die. The disciples’ old way of thinking about him, and about Jesus, was shattered into a thousand pieces and they had to start again, believing in God in a completely different way. And on the Cross God made himself accountable for the ups and downs of our lives by sharing what it means to be in despair, to face injustice and to be tormented by terrible pain. Now we can have a faith that’s fit for purpose, an Easter faith.

[1] Guidelines, The Bible Reading Fellowship, January 2017

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