Monday, 29 August 2011

‘Taking the Cross’ can be fun.

Sermon on Matthew 16: 21 - 28 and Acts 3: 1-16, St Matthew's, 28th August 2011

I wonder what your reaction to today’s theme is and in particular to today’s gospel reading was. Did you think when you heard Carolyn read the gospel reading: ‘That’s amazing’ or, ‘Mmm….very true… I have no problem with any of that’. Or did you think, ‘Yikes …that’s going to be difficult’ or even, ‘That’s appalling’. Friedrich Nietzsche says of such a passage: ‘Such things as this cannot be sufficiently despised’ and, ‘One does well to put gloves on when reading the New Testament’ . He, like many, have found this passage not just difficult but appalling.

Nietzsche particularly objects to Jesus saying to his disciples ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’. Now I do not wish to deny the importance of this verse, or even to soften its impact, but this is not the only thing Jesus says about discipleship. So this morning before coming back to it, I want to set this verse in context, by talking about discipleship in general, and Peter’s discipleship in particular.

Discipleship is – I think something we should be talking and thinking about at this time of the Church Year. The Church Year is organised around the life of Jesus. It begins, you’ll remember, with Advent, starting in late November, when we prepare for Jesus’ birth celebrated at Christmas. Christmas and Epiphany are followed by Lent when we prepare for Easter. We remember Jesus’ death on Good Friday, his resurrection on Easter Sunday and his Ascension 40 days later. The last thing we really celebrate in the Church Year is Pentecost, when we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps over the summer we should be thinking about what happened to the disciples after Pentecost.

Now this sermon comes at the end of a series of five sermons all based on scenes in Matthew’s gospel. And this final scene needs I think to be viewed in the context of those five scenes as well as in the context of what the bible says about discipleship in general To remind you of those five scenes.

First we had the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 (14: 13-21).
Secondly we had the miracle of Jesus’ walking on water (14: 21-36).
Thirdly we heard about Jesus’ confrontation with the Canaanite woman and the miraculous healing of her daughter (15: 21-28).
Fourthly – last week - we had Jesus asking his disciples who they thought he was (16: 13-20).
Fifthly – today’s reading - we have another conversation between Jesus and his disciples (16: 21-28.

Jesus was the main character in all five scenes but Peter and the disciples were also always there - in a supporting role. Peter – as the disciple par excellence if you like - is explicitly mentioned in three of the five scenes and implicitly in the other two. I’ll come back to those scenes in a moment

But first a word about Peter. You may remember we recently had a zone service which focussed on Peter. You may also remember that I facilitated the art zone. Two of the pictures were of the scenes from Matthew’s gospel that we have been thinking of. These two: Jesus walking on the water and Peter sinking – by an unknown child as part of the Children Illustrate the Bible Competition (Scene 2) and this one of Jesus presenting the keys of the kingdom to Peter – by Perugino (Scene 4).

It was very easy to find pictures of Peter by many different artists, all down the ages. This is because Peter appears in the Gospels so many times. Think for the moment about Matthew. He only appears three times in his own gospel and what he says on those occasions isn’t recorded. On the other had Peter is mentioned by name 25 times – in Matthew’s gospel alone - and on about half of those occasions we get to hear what he actually said. Peter of course represents all the disciples at times.

What struck me about looking for and collecting pictures of Peter was three things:

Firstly we get to see exactly what Peter is like as a person – particularly though the gospels. He is not just a faceless foil for Jesus. He is such an interesting character. A born leader, brave and decisive but loyal, caring –often demonstrably concerned about Jesus’ welfare - but also impetuous to the point of foolishness and of course, in many other ways, not perfect. At Jesus’ crucifixion his courage fails and he denies knowing Jesus. He’s very wise at times: he gets it. I think we generally think of the disciples as stupid but of course they weren’t, or not all of them. Peter argues with, even challenges Jesus, and of course he gets it wrong sometimes, as in today’s reading.

Secondly – from the point at which Peter meets Jesus - he does such a lot of different and exciting things. Being with Jesus for the three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry must have been an amazing experience. But of course it wasn’t to end there. He gets to meet the risen Jesus and see him ascend into heaven. Then of course he is present in the upper room when – at Pentecost - the Holy Spirit descends like tongues of fire on the disciples. And in Acts we hear more about his life after Pentecost – such as the story of the healing of the lame man we also heard this morning.

In Acts Luke tells us that Peter does various miracles, including raising a young woman – Tabitha – from the dead, gets arrested for preaching the gospel (twice), miraculously escapes from prison (once) and has an important vision about who the gospel is actually for. We last lose sight of Peter – as far as the Biblical record is concerned - at the Council of Jerusalem in around AD50 where we hear what he has to say in discussions with Paul, Barnabas and others about the extent to which Christians need to abide by the old Jewish laws. Oh then we also have two of his letters.

This summary of Peter’s life reminds us that life for Peter went on after his encounter with the earthly Jesus. It was not just the conversation with Jesus we heard about in today’s reading from Matthew – important as that was – it was more than that. I chose today’s second reading from Acts to illustrate this point.

Thirdly, in searching for pictures, I found that most of those pictures also have Jesus in them as well. The pictures are – perhaps not surprisingly - mostly of the Gospel stories rather than the stories from Acts. There are of course no stories about Peter in the Gospels that don’t also feature Jesus. Perhaps Peter’s denial of Jesus is an exception but even then Luke records that Jesus turned and looked at Peter after Peter’s third denial.

Of course we only really remember Peter because of his relationship with Jesus. Ultimately it isn’t really important what he was like or what he did, at least compared with Jesus. The gospel writers and the artists seem instinctively to grasp this and when talking about or painting Peter – it’s Peter’s relationship with Jesus that matters most.

So back to our five scenes from Matthew’s Gospel.

The first two scenes are miracles. The first the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Peter is not mentioned by name but presumably he is one of the disciples who anxiously point out to Jesus that evening is approaching and the crowd are getting hungry and then helps distribute the bread and fish to the people.

The second scene is the miracle of the Jesus’ walking on the water. Here Peter is explicitly mentioned as trying to emulate Jesus. Why on earth Peter gets out of the boat has never been clear to me and I missed the sermon when I presume Steve explained it. Perhaps sheer sense of adventure?

The third scene is both a miracle and a conversation. Jesus heals the Canaanite woman’s daughter but only after she has persuaded him to do so. Peter again is not mentioned but again presumably he was one of the disciples who came to Jesus to ask him to send her way.

The fourth and fifth scenes are ’just’ conversations between Jesus and his disciples (i.e. no miracles on these occasions) and in both conversations Peter plays a major role.

In the fourth scene which Steve talked to us about last week: Peter seemingly gets it right: very right indeed. He understands – perhaps indeed he is the first to fully understand who Jesus really is: ‘the Christ, the son of the living God’. In the fifth scene – today’s reading - Peter doesn’t get it all. When Jesus starts to tell the disciples what he is going to do: go to Jerusalem, be killed and on the third day be raised Peter tells Jesus that he, Jesus, is getting it all wrong.

Peter misunderstands the word ‘must’ when Jesus says ‘he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things’. Peter thinks that Jesus means merely that ‘he must’ in the sense that he intends to go. Peter argues with this intention. He assumes that Jesus has a choice. Jesus on the contrary knows that he really has no choice. On the contrary he knows he must go if his life is to have any meaning. Peter’s objection to Jesus saying this is, in a sense, the same as Nietzsche’s. It is appalling that anyone should choose suffering and death rather than life.

On the human level Jesus clearly still does have a choice. Perhaps this is one reason why he reacts so emotionally to Peter challenging him. ‘Get behind me Satan’ is not a rational response to Peter’s – quite reasonable objection to what Jesus has just been telling them. But Jesus calms down and tries to explain. What he says is this:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.’ It’s virtually impossible to explain this explanation without reducing its challenge.

But here is one thought: By cross – and taking the cross - Jesus doesn’t primarily mean suffering but sacrifice. When Jesus calls us to take up our cross he doesn’t means he is calling us to suffering but to sacrifice.

The cross for Jesus did involve suffering but not suffering just for the sake of it: suffering as a sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice through laying down his life changes everything: it means for one thing that there is no longer any necessity for suffering. We certainly do not need to die on a cross. Jesus has done that for us. Death has been overcome so in a sense physical death is no longer necessary - difficult as that is to understand. (If you don’t like the word necessary’ try ‘final’)

But on the other hand discipleship does mean sacrifice. For to find life we need to lose it first –as Jesus says. Now this may sound all very dramatic. Sacrifice sounds a big word but need it be so big a deal. Translate it as ‘letting go’ and it doesn’t sound so scary. Let’s calm down and think of what it means in relation to the first four of the five scenes in Matthew we have been thinking of. They all involve a sacrifice – a letting go on the disciples’ part.

With the feeding of the five thousand the disciples have to let go of their anxiety about the crowd getting hungry. They had to accept that Jesus had things under control, more than just under control that he would provide, and provide he did, so that there was even food left over.

In the walking on water scene – Peter has to let go of his pride and reach his hand out to Jesus to rescue him. Although he thought he was a powerful leader he had on that day to lose some of his self-confidence.

In the encounter with the Canaanite woman Jesus himself has to let go of some of his assumptions about his ministry and the disciples likewise. He and they had to let ago of the idea that the Church was an exclusive club for people like us. Jesus challenges all our conventional beliefs about the way things are and should be. We need to let go of these of these beliefs. Peter recognises this when he acknowledges Jesus as the Christ, the son of the living God.

For Jesus himself sacrifice does mean suffering. But dare it be said – for us, sacrifice can be fun. If we give things up, we will get so much more back.

What did sacrificial discipleship mean in Peter’s case? If we follow his life - from the conversation with Jesus about taking up your cross into the future - we find that it wasn’t all gloom. OK there were some bad bits. His denial of Jesus and Jesus’ death were certainly low points! But there were good times too. His meeting with Jesus after Jesus’ resurrection joyfully restored his spirits and his purpose in life.

Obviously life didn’t stop, either, with Jesus’ ascension. Peter’s life goes on for at least another 20 or 30 years. His is an exciting life as I summarised earlier. His healing of the lame man, in Jesus’ name must have been fun. So too must have been his escaping from prison with the help of an angel. Did he sacrifice much to follow Jesus: yes of course. He left behind a lucrative fishing business in Galilee to preach the gospel. Did he die on a cross or did he die of a ripe old age. We don’t really know and it doesn’t matter.¬

So when Jesus calls us to ‘take up our cross’ is he calling us to a life of suffering as Nietzsche and indeed many Christians seem to think? No I don’t think so. He is calling us to ‘life in all its fullness’. This means that taking up your cross can be fun.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Sin and riots

Sermon on Romans 8 12-17, St Matthew’s, 14 August 2011:

I was tempted to forget about the Lectionary readings this Sunday and just preach about the riots of last weekend. But then I wasn’t sure I wanted to seem to be add ing to the cacophony of voices that are seeking to explain those events. As Rowan Williams says, ‘Seeking explanations, it is worth remembering, is not the same as seeking excuses' but still there is always a danger that one leads to the other. Nevertheless this week the riots have been at the fore-front of our minds for many of us and it doesn’t seem right completely to ignore them: so I won’t.

Before the riots erupted in our streets I had been planning on talking about sin this Sunday. What I wanted to say about sin is basically this: that sin may seem something powerful and intractable but this is an illusion because Jesus – through his sinless life, death and resurrection – changes everything. I had proposed to talk about sin because, for the last three Sundays our epistle readings have all been from Romans and all have all touched upon the twin – and in Paul’s view related subjects - of sin and death.

Two Sundays ago I talked about death so this Sunday it seemed appropriate to focus on sin. Of course sin is not a subject which is particularly fashionable in most of the circles I – and perhaps you - frequent. When I was younger most of the sermons I sat through seemed to be about sin but nowadays I rarely hear one on the subject. So here is one.

And of course the subject of sin is relevant to the subject of the riots. Theresa May described the riots as ‘sheer criminality’. She might well have said they were ‘sheer sin’, though perhaps she thought criminality sounded worse than sin. And sin is now, of course, a term that people reserve for use in church rather than in secular circles.

At this point it might be worth clarifying what I think sin is.

Firstly of course it’s not just criminality in the sense of breaking the law of the land. There are some breaches of the law – like cycling through a red traffic-light - which are barely sins at all in my book and some sins – like sleeping with you best friend’s partner – which are not breaches of the law. But of course there is a connection between sin and law – God’s law if not man’s law. It might be worth pondering the extent to which one should reflect the other (but not today).

Secondly sin is not just, or even mainly, something we do. Rioting, looting, sleeping with one’s best’s friend’s partner, OK cycling though a red light are sins, sinful acts but they are not the whole of Sin with a capital S. Paul is clear that Sin is a thing – a powerful thing – encompassing, but more than, individual sins and that Sin like Death was a force which Jesus came to overcome. There are lots of verses in Romans which makes this clear e.g.: 6: 23 - ‘For the wages of sin is death; 7: 6 - ’Apart from the law sin lies dead.’; 8: 2 - ‘For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death’

Thirdly sin is not just something we as individuals are liable to do or liable to be caught up in but also something we collectively do and are caught up in. In this connection I think it is helpful to think of ‘collective sin’ as opposed to ‘individual sin’. And I am not saying that there is no such thing as individual sin, just that it’s not the only type of sin and collective sin may be more important than we generally think. A riot is, in a sense, a type of collective sin which is more than just the sum of the individual acts of vandalism and theft.

We begin to recognise ‘collective sin’ in relation to children. When our children behave badly we feel that it is our fault. Conversely, of course, when they behave well we feel proud. Of course we are not solely responsible for the way our particular children behave: we are not the only reason that they have turned out the way they have, but we are partly.

We may, in addition, feel partly responsible for the behaviour of members of our families: not just our children but our brothers and sisters, our parents, our partners. I think we can see this when we get embarrassed when people we love behave in a particular way. It is as if their behaviour reflects on us in some way.

Then again if we are in a position of authority, at work for example, we may feel responsible at least in part for the behaviour of those who work for us. Perhaps even those who work with us or over us. So we dimly recognise that when others sin we too are implicated somehow. If those people are close to us, or people who we see as our responsibility, then this is easier to appreciate but I would argue that if we could but see it applies to everyone.

In the Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky [p335] there is a monk called Father Zossima. Here is an extract from a passage towards the middle of the book where Father Zossima is dying and preaching to his disciples. ‘If you sin yourself and grieve unto death for your sins or for your sudden sin, then rejoice for others, rejoice for the righteous man, rejoice that if you have sinned he is righteous and has not sinned. If the evil doing of men moves you to indignation and overwhelming distress, even to a desire for vengeance on the evil-doers, shun that feeling. Go at once and seek suffering for yourself, as though you were yourself guilty of that wrong. Accept that suffering and bear it and your heart will find comfort, and you will understand that you too are guilty, for you might have been a light to the evil-doers, even as the one man sinless, and you were not a light to them.’

Now we probably feel indignation at the riots. It’s natural and right to do so. They are something which we should feel concerned about, even horrified by. But then the temptation is to look around for someone to blame for them – to feel indignation at the evildoers, in Father Zossima’s terms. Clearly the rioters had a hand in the riots. I am not denying that. But then so did their parents. And then there is the education system, the police, the Government. And what about ourselves? Do we not bear at least some responsibility?

Seeing sin as something bigger than just individual acts of bad behaviour makes sin out to be more pervasive, less easy to ignore, to distance ourselves from, perhaps more important than we have tended to think recently but also surely different to the way the world sees generally sees it. Because Christ has overcome sin, sin for Christians is transformed.

In my sermon two weeks ago I talked about death without talking about sin. And yet in Romans Paul cannot seem to mention the one without the other. There is I think at least three important relationships between the two.

Firstly and most obviously sin and death are connected because one leads to the other. The Genesis story of ‘the Fall’, to which Paul alludes in Romans on various occasions, tells us that in a cosmic sense sin leads to death but we can also see this from our own experience. Sin is destructive of people’s lives, both of the perpetrators and victims. Sin, in its worst expression, leads to the complete destruction of life, to death. It is surely not incidental that the riots began with the death of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, and led to the deaths of Shahzad and Harry Hussain and Musaver Ali in Birmingham.

Secondly sin and death are both something we have difficulties in acknowledging, particularly when it comes to ourselves. They are both taboo subjects. Death because we are afraid of it. Sin because we are ashamed of it. The temptation is always to see them as something that other people might be susceptible to but not something particularly relevant to ourselves.

But for Paul the deepest connection between sin and death comes because it is through Jesus’ death that sin is conquered. Here is the verse just before our epistle reading: ‘If the Sprit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.’ And the first two verse of our reading: ‘So then brethren, we are debtors not the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. ‘

Or in other words: because God raised Jesus from the dead, we are no longer to live according to our old sinful ways. But we have no choice in the matter because if we are driven by the Sprit (as it says in the next verse) we are automatically made children of God – living by a different set of perspectives and indeed rules: ‘If children then heirs…provided we suffer with him in order that we might be glorified with him.’

And here we are back to Father Zossima who suggests that it is only through our suffering that we can we fully appreciate that we are somehow responsible for everything. Here he is again: [p333] ‘Do not say: “Sin is mighty, wickedness is mighty, [the] evil environment is mighty and we are lonely and helpless and [the] evil environment is wearing us away…” Fly from that dejection, children! There is only one means of salvation , then take yourself and make yourself responsible for all man’s sin…for a soon as you make yourself responsible for everything and for all men you will see at once that it is really so, and that you are to blame for everyone and for all things’

Paradoxically perhaps that is only though seeing ourselves to blame for everything that we become free of that blame though the power of Christ’s death. One of the consequences of this is that the Church might consider holding a national day of repentance for the riots: for the rioters, their parents, their teachers, their neighbours, their neighbours’ neighbours, their local councillors, their MP’s, for everyone in fact.

So to summarise: sin in general and the riots in particular may seem beyond our comprehension and without possibility of anyone doing anything about them but this is an illusion because Jesus – through his sinless life, death and resurrection – has already broken the power of sin and this changes everything. The first step in doing something about the riots is for everyone to repent!


Sermon on Romans 6: 3-11 and Matthew 5: 20-26, St Matthew’s, 31st July 2011

There is an obvious connection between today’s epistle and gospel readings summed up by the first verse of the gospel reading which comes in the middle of Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Jesus said unto his disciples, Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven’. Remember that the Pharisees were considered by Jesus’ listeners to be good, morally upright, people –not the hypocrites we have come to think of them as being.

This verse from the Sermon on the Mount is mirrored in Paul’s instruction/advice to the Romans: ‘Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin.’ In other words we Christians are to lead lives that are exemplary, even though, or even because, our lives have been transformed by Jesus dying on the cross and rising again. As Paul says in the verses immediately before our epistle reading: ‘What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound. By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?’

The problem here is that what Jesus and Paul are saying here doesn’t seem to be borne out by what we observe. Christians do not appear to be any better people than non-Christians. They do not appear to be more righteous than the Pharisees or dead to sin. But I am not going to go into this conundrum today – or at least not tackle it directly – instead I want to say a little about what Paul is saying in this passage about death and dying.

You could say that Paul is not really talking about death as humans experience it in today’s passage from Romans at all. That Paul is explaining how the death of Jesus should change the way we lead our lives; that when he is talking about seeing ourselves as ‘dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’ he is using death as a metaphor for some sort of altered state prior to our actual death.

Well this may be true but nevertheless Paul does, I think, say some useful things about our actual deaths along the way – because he clearly does not regard death as a wholly negative thing: or rather that now Christ being raised from the dead – death is, no longer, a wholly negative thing

Now death is a subject that we don’t often talk about - perhaps because we do tend to think of it as a wholly negative thing and therefore something we would rather not think about let alone talk about it with other people. And this is slightly odd because we know that if we think and talk about something then we can see it in a clearer light and it become easier to think and talk about. This in particular applies to things we are afraid of. And death is something we are often afraid of.

There is perhaps more discussion about the process of dying these days: with the increasing concern that modern medicine sometimes seems to prolong the suffering that sometimes precedes death – but there is still not a lot of discussion about death itself: the outcome of the process of dying.

But death itself is perhaps something worth thinking about before we get there. Someone recently told me that she thought it was harder to think about death the closer one came to it so perhaps on this basis we should think more about it.

One thing I have learnt recently is that death and what happens after death are not the same thing. Some people seem to fear the former and not the latter and some to fear the latter and not the former. Some people fear both, some neither. My father I think, really did, whilst claiming to be an agnostic, fear what was going to happen to him after death. I don’t think I ever said anything to him which allayed those fears. Nor perhaps could I ever have done so. For myself I am not afraid at all of what will happen to me after I die –but like many of us I suspect – I am afraid of the process of dying and I am not at all sure about death itself.

As Christians we should – of course - not be afraid of what is going to happen to us after we die. This is because we have assurance of salvation. How can we be assured of salvation? This is of course a big topic –perhaps for another sermon. I do not think we can know for certain what will happen to us after we die but I do know we should not be afraid of what is going to happen. Paul says later in Romans [8: 14] ‘you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear’

Whilst we should not be afraid of the consequences of death I do not think we can know what those consequences will be. Will there be life after death? If so will that life be anything like life as we now experience it? Billy Graham said this week that he was looking forward to meeting his friend John Stott in heaven – John Stott having died on Wednesday. Now I am not at all sure we will meet our friends after we die: possibly we will, possibly we won’t. The Bible, unlike Billy Graham, is remarkably ambivalent on the subject.

But, as I said, the Bible is clear that we should not be afraid of what will happen to us after death. Paul sort of says this here – at least by implication -when he says here: ‘But if we have died with Christ, we believe we shall also live with him’ but he says this even more succinctly in his first letter to the Corinthians: ‘O death where is thy victory, O death where is thy sting’.

But not being afraid of the consequences of death is not, of course, the same thing as not being afraid of dying. We might be assured that there is nothing to fear from the consequences of death but this does not mean that we are any the more likely to come to terms with dying. The suffering that some people experience during the process of dying is something that is natural to fear: just as we fear suffering that doesn’t lead to death. Not all deaths are accompanied by suffering but many are. Since I know I am going to die (unless Christ comes again in my lifetime) then it is natural for me to hope that my death will not be accompanied by suffering.

But what of death itself? When the process of dying is complete and life as we currently experience it is extinguished. Are we supposed to fear that? Or are we supposed to come terms with it. Death is after all something that is inevitable. If something is inevitable then what is there to fear?

It is worth pointing out at this point that prior to Christ’s death and resurrection death was a totally bad thing. Jesus came, in part, to conquer death.
But Jesus’ death and resurrection clearly didn’t lead to everyone living for ever so when Paul and others talk of Jesus conquering death they clearly mean that Jesus’ death and resurrection transformed the way death affects us, changed its consequences. But does this mean that death was turned it into a good thing? I don’t think I can fully answer that question.

It says in our epistle reading today, ‘Christ being raised from the dead will never die again, death no longer has dominion over him.’ But through his resurrection Jesus not only overcame his own death he transformed the effects of death in general. In our epistle reading Paul says that ‘We were buried with him by baptism into his death’. That is when Christ was buried in the tomb we were buried with him. In a sense our death and burial – like that of Jesus - is transformed into a thing of the past. Perhaps this is easier to grasp if we think of death as losing its finality. For that to happen, says Paul, we must be baptised and then we may come to believe death has thereby been conquered, death has lost its sting.

So death has been transformed by Jesus’ death and resurrection but does that mean it is now a good thing. Why I think Paul is saying or implying death is not a totally bad thing is that, he says that we too must, in various senses die, if we are to be united with Christ. Death is, if you like, a final surrender, a final giving up, and we must in the end surrender everything to gain everything. Paul says: ‘For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall be united with him in a resurrection like his.’ That is to live the new life which Christ’s resurrection promises we must in some way share his death - a paradoxically victorious death.

Is this to all minimise the horror of death? Paul hasn’t forgotten the loss of everything, the abandonment by everyone including God himself - as Jesus’ death entailed and we are somehow to participate in. But Paul insists that because of the resurrection this loss, this abandonment is not final as it was but in fact the prelude to new life because ‘Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father, we too might walk in newness of life’.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? It seems easiest to repeat what Paul says a few chapters later in Romans, ‘If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’