As a Christian Quaker living in a post-Christian Quaker culture, I’m occasionally called upon to explain my Christianity to my fellow Quakers. I recently did this by saying ‘Jesus is the key that unlocks my experience of the world’. I was then asked ‘could you say more about that?’, and I didn’t really have an answer prepared! I’ve been reflecting on what my answer could have been over the Easter weekend, and thought I could share these rough reflections here.
Why Jesus the key?
There are two things at the back of my mind when I describe Jesus as ‘the key’. Firstly this is a traditional title for Jesus. In Rev 3:7 Christ is described as ‘the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens’, which is in turn a reference to Isa 22:22. You may be familiar with this title for Christ in the advent hymn ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’:
O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Secondly, in his book ‘Orthodoxy’, G. K Chesterton (1874-1936) describes how when a key fits a complicated lock, you known it’s the right key. For Chesterton, the complexity of Christian doctrine matches and makes sense of the complexity of the world. For me, the Jesus story makes sense of my experience both emotionally and intellectually. It gives me answers to my questions. It has a depth and breadth that seems to contain everything, whilst never feeling restrictive.
Some rough reflections
The expansive nature of the Jesus story is part of the reason I fumbled my reply. There is so much to say about it! On the morning of Good Friday, I spent time in silence working my way through the various aspects of Jesus’ life, making the following jottings (presented here unedited):
- Jesus shows me what God is like.
- In his birth I see that God favours the backwaters of society. God places the future in the hands of those trodden down by empire. God brings new life where humanity can do no more, for with God nothing is impossible. A brown, teenage asylum seeker births God into the world with the powerful cry of a prophet. When we say yes to God – when we cooperate with God – hope is born afresh.
- In his ministry I see that God favours the outcast, the disabled and diseased, the unclean. I see that the religious and political elite are often blinded by their own fear. I see that those who think themselves wise can often miss the point. I see that there is no divide between the political and spiritual. The kingdom is so near we can taste it.
- In his passion and death I see that God is with criminals, the guilty and innocent, the repentant and unrepentant. God is with the betrayed and abandoned. Even when we feel Godforsaken, God is with us. It doesn’t take much for a crowd to turn from singing someone’s praises to shouting for their execution. Those who expect salvation to come in the form of violent revolution will be disappointed. Being with Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean understanding him. The peace of empire is built on the crushing of innocent people. The world cannot bear the Kingdom of God. Saying ‘not my will, but yours be done’ is really hard, and costly.
- In his resurrection I see that God brings something out of nothing. Empire is impotent. God is with those whose hopes have been dashed. God surprises and is never where we expect God to be. We carry our wounds with us into the Kingdom.
- In his parousia, his arrival which began at Pentecost, I see the Spirit being poured out on all flesh. I see that the future is Christ-shaped. I see the possibility of a community gathered together in, and empowered by this Spirit, witnessing to this arriving future. There is hope for the whole of creation.
There’s so much more I could add, there’s probably stuff I’ve missed out, and ask me again in a year’s time and I might give a different response. Next time I’m asked to say more about my Christianity, perhaps I’ll begin with ‘this may take some time…’
A happy Easter season to all jollyquaker readers who celebrate it!