Last year on Good Friday I gave a talk at church. It’s the first talk I gave since a horrendous experience giving a talk back when I was 15. So it was a proud moment for me, and I spoke about two of my passions, faith and climate change:
(Content: faith and climate change.)
“Gary gave me Mark 15:40-42 and 47 to reflect upon:
“Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. (…) 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.”
When Gary initially gave me this passage, I thought, what’s this about then? It didn’t seem to have any relevance to our modern lives, in fact quite the opposite. In the UK, we have never lived lives as seemingly divorced from brutal and unnecessary death as we do now. I’m 32, and I’ve only been with one person as they died – my granny, and she was 85 and in hospital. How could I relate to these people watching the untimely, tragic execution of their loved one?
And then, earlier this month, the Beast from the East struck – an unseasonably cold and vicious storm – at the same time as the Arctic was experiencing it’s mildest winter probably ever. And I thought, I do know a little about how these women feel.
See, when I was a child my dad studied sustainable development. He became very afraid of climate change and it permeated everything about our home life. From when I was 12, he spoke to me about believing that we as humanity would not manage to avert an imminent apocalypse of our own making. And from that time, I have had this feeling of watching the world dying and being unable to do anything – just as these disciples watching Jesus die must have felt trapped, powerless, grief stricken and unable to help.
We might be largely removed from the sight of death in modern Britain, but we are not removed from our contribution towards causing it, potentially on a larger scale than the world has ever known.
These women who sit beside Jesus in his crucifixion are not all of his disciples, they are not even part of the famous twelve. One of the famous twelve has already betrayed Jesus to death. Another has betrayed Jesus through abandonment. It seems that only a small minority of his followers are willing to stay with Jesus through his suffering.
Two thousand years later, I feel like Judas in his betrayal more often than I care to admit. I make choices all the time, knowing full well that my choice is not choosing life for my children’s generation, for the poorest in the world, or for the animal species dependent upon us for so much. Our society tempts us, doesn’t it. Just buy the cheap outfit. Just buy the flight; the new car; the heavily packaged food. It even has a way of telling us that these things are for our best.
I have also been Peter in this moment. When I was younger, I ran away. I tried all sorts of things to forget about my responsibility towards God and his call. I shopped, I spent time with friends, I took nice holidays, I had a lot of flings, and I drank. I drank a lot. In some ways it was easier.
And yet I have also been the women. I have sat with my knowledge, I pay attention to the changing of the seasons – to the increasing storms, to the confused weather, to the earlier unfurling of the blackberries. In the short term, it has been much harder. I have felt unable to bear it. But in the long run, I am coming to feel a lightness for allowing the grief space in my life.
As I’ve thought about this passage, and I’ve thought about the recent storm, I’ve asked myself, who will I be, now?
Jesus’s disciples encountered a crisis point when Jesus went to the cross. Which way would they turn?
Peter at this time chose to turn away, to deny knowledge, in the hope that he could cling to his life as it was. The women, on the other hand, chose to accompany Jesus to the cross. They sat with him in his suffering, and they bore the weight of his death and transformation alongside him. The presence of these women at the cross gives me tremendous hope. They remind me that even as flawed human beings we can have the courage to go to the deepest suffering of the world. That there are always the helpers, the courageous people who do not turn away.
Later, Peter shows me hope too, as he returns to his call to follow Christ. He reminds me that even though I do at times turn away, I always have the choice to turn back and follow my heart again. He reminds me that it is normal and human to want to cling to life as it is, to deny change, to be confused. And we see through the rest of Peter’s story, that when he turns back to God, God is able to use him powerfully, even amongst all the broken humanity that we all share.
The earth is once again at a crisis point. Will I choose to deny my knowledge and turn away from the earth in it’s suffering? Or will I bear witness to the pain, the grief, the unknown? Will I sit with the earth as it labours towards death, even as I cannot know whether it will rise again?
Can I walk with that, even as I look at my children and know I cannot promise them a future? Will I bear that weight and allow it to transform me – clinging not to my life, but allowing myself to be changed into something more? If I do, I can take comfort that it was those who did not turn away, who stayed and witnessed and allowed themselves to be broken too, who were first to see the risen Christ.
And when I think about these women, watching all their hopes and dreams die upon a cross, I feel solidarity with them. I feel a sense of connection to them, even across two thousand years. I sit with them, and as I watch death, I too hope for new life and resurrection, even against all the odds. And is it Jesus or is it my delusion who whispers, follow me. Stay. Build.
The position of these brave disciples beside the cross – female, lowly, not even part of the twelve – reminds me that the kingdom of God is upside down. It reminds me that those who are in positions of power and superiority can and often do turn away from their responsibilities. They run, they hide, they court short term fame and the continuation of life as we know it above doing the right thing. Just as Peter and Judas did at this time.
But the women show me that I need to stick true to my values, to the things I know deep inside are right. They remind me that the call on a Christian is not to an easy life. That even those who society scorn can see clearly and know God. And they remind me that even when I feel overwhelmed by the pain and suffering in the world, that just showing up and acknowledging and then continuing to show up is perhaps all God needs me to bring after all.”