Rector's April 2015 Letter

It’s God Moving in a Mysterious Way Again…

 

As we celebrate Easter this month, going from the solemnity of Good Friday to the joy of Easter Day, we remind ourselves of the topsy-turvy nature of the Christian message.  Early Christians were often mocked by their contemporaries for believing anything as ridiculous as that an all-powerful God would let his representative (much less himself somehow in human form) be tortured and die on a cross; a means of death fully intended to humiliate as well as cause a painful and drawn out death.

 

In one of his letters to the Christians in Corinth, St Paul says that the message seemed like foolishness to those who don’t believe.  And there is a very early piece of graffiti - which may be reproduced here if the magazine editors can cope with it! – which probably shows how true that was!

 

It comes from Rome, from a part of the Emperor’s palace that was at one point used to house the Imperial Page Boys, and probably dates from around 100-130 years after the death of Jesus.  It shows a figure with a donkey’s head fixed on a cross, with a man or boy raising an arm towards it as if in prayer, and the inscription says (in badly spelt Greek) "Alexamenos worships [his] God.”

 

We don’t know who poor Alexamenos was – maybe a Christian page-boy? – but clearly someone was giving him a hard time for his belief in a God who let his power be shown in weakness; who didn’t fight back, and whose words as his enemies nailed him to the cross was a prayer for their forgiveness.  Roman society did not believe in weakness, especially for boys.  It was recommended that boys should be taken young to the games at the Colosseum to see gladiators fight to the death in order that they should be toughened up and purged of weak emotions like pity.

 

We wonder often why God allows suffering to spoil his beautiful creation, and we will never in this life fully understand this.  But we can sometimes see how through God’s grace, the ‘Good Friday’ of suffering can lead to a kind of Easter resurrection.

 

The writer of the hymn ‘God Moves in A Mysterious Way’ was William Cowper, whose life seems to contain chapter after chapter of suffering.  He was bullied cruelly at school, like poor Alexamenos perhaps, and later suffered terribly from depression.  After attempting suicide, he believed he was damned until he was committed to an asylum and met a loving Christian doctor and poet, Nathaniel Cotton, who convinced him that God’s love and forgiveness was stronger than his despair.  He later came under the spiritual care of John Newton, who we know best as the author of ‘Amazing Grace’.   Newton thought it would be good for Cowper’s depression to collaborate on a book of hymns for their church, and in the end Newton wrote over 200 hymns and Cowper wrote 68.  Although he was again and again overtaken by depression, his faith comes through in the words of the hymn he wrote, which has been a reminder of God’s promise to all those who have sung it over the years:

 

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

 

May we all experience the power of God’s love and resurrection in our own weak places this Easter season.

 

Rev’d Karen Spray       01392 877400     church@revdkaren.org.uk


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