LETTER FROM REV ROBERT BARTHRAM
"It’s not so good today: the sunshine has gone.” Barely a conversation passes in which the state of the British weather is not mentioned. In fact, it is usually the main conversation starter and often the only topic of conversation. I can’t say however that this has been the case recently, as so many first remarks have been about Ukraine as people have reeled in shock from what they are seeing on their TV screens. The events are not that different from those played out in Syria but the destruction of Aleppo was not so well covered by the media. Cast your mind back to 9/11 when people didn’t speak about much else or, as Viv and I do, the aftermath of the Hillsborough Tragedy when these events dominated our thoughts and conversations. The comments over the past weeks have been varied but more recently, several people have said to me that they are finding it difficult to watch the news because it is so horrific. I tend to watch TV news three or four times a day and at times have felt just the same. It is difficult to watch the repeated graphic pictures and descriptions of atrocities and then just return to the necessary and mundane matters of everyday life.
At the time of writing this letter, it is Holy Week and I recall some years ago the film The Passion of Christ produced and directed by Mel Gibson. It was graphic in its portrayal of the events of Holy Week and I know some found it too hard to watch particularly on the large screen of the cinema. The film was accurate in what it portrayed but the four Gospel writers did not do the same. They were not graphic. As one writer states, ‘The actual crucifixion is thus recorded with the utmost possible restraint', one reason for the restraint being that the details were all too familiar in the Roman world and there was no need to elaborate. Another reason was that the details of what happened were secondary to the fact that it did happen!
With Ukraine, the suffering of its people is a fact and to that, people around the world have responded. There has been an outpouring of compassion, with many collecting and delivering material or giving money for humanitarian help and many also offering to share their homes with refugees. Governments have provided military equipment for Ukraine to defend its people and some individuals have gone to help with that fight. For most of us there is so little we can actually do and we feel totally helpless.
With the horrific events of Holy Week there was little that Jesus' followers could do. Luke tells us how those who ‘had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching’ (23:49). Luke also tells us the women saw where Jesus’ body was laid. They then prepared to do what they could; preparing spices and ointments for the corpse but that was all they could do: they had been helpless to change the course of events. Sometimes there is so little we can do but then God did do something. The spices and ointments were redundant. Jesus’ death had been in reality a victory and God raised Jesus from death. There was a new creative act, which by faith in Christ we may share in. As people who live knowing a victory was won, we do pray for peace and justice in God’s world, for wherever there is a need for healing.
These are the words of the late Desmond Tutu from South Africa, when interviewed in 1986 and asked if he was hopeful about the future: “I am always hopeful,” he replied. “A Christian is a prisoner of hope. What could have looked more hopeless than Good Friday? . . . There is no situation from which God cannot extract good. Evil, death, oppression, injustice—these can never again have the last word, despite all appearances to the contrary.”
Yours in Christ,