A Reflection on blame

Friday, 17th April 2020

A Reflection on blame

The news is full of the spat between Mr Trump and the World Health Organisation. Here is an argument about how you explain what is happening to us and, perhaps, about who is to blame. Facts are contested; there is more than one story being told. This is just what happens in a crisis. We try out different stories and, if it is going badly, we look for people to blame. Any historian will tell you that big and ‘difficult’ events take a lot of explanation. We rarely agree about the causes of great catastrophes (all those books I had to read about the causes of the English Civil War). In difficulty, we divide and we separate this from that. No surprise then, that this pandemic invites us to find new ways to divide and offers up different stories to tell. It is yet another temptation to part company; a temptation we have to resist. I would say this, of course, but now we really need to think about Easter and about the story we tell.

When the poet, U A Fanthorpe, wrote about Christmas she told us that this was the moment the Before turned into After. It is a great poem and it must be a mistake to argue with a great poem, but I do wonder if it might be Easter, not Christmas, that is the moment when Before becomes After? The routines we know so well, the cards and eggs, the church services, and the familiar celebrations, give Easter day a cosy and familiar feel. The trouble is that Easter is not cosy and it should never feel familiar. Easter is dislocating. The women on the way to the tomb went looking for a dead body. They were wrong. The angels asked, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen’. The Easter story is a struggle. Mary Magdalene did not recognize Christ at first. Thomas refused to believe. The disciples on the Emmaus Road walked deep in conversation with a man talking about himself and still they did not see. At Easter, disciples struggle to adapt; there were missteps and confusions.

We do not say it often enough, or clearly enough, but Christian faith is only possible because it wrestles with difficulty. Ours is a story that had to accommodate the unexpected; had to be hammered out in minds learning to see things differently. On that road to Emmaus, the two disciples admitted that their hopes had been crushed. They talked about being ‘astounded’. They then listened as Jesus put the story back together for them, ‘beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures’. Jesus took what they knew, or thought they knew, and helped them see it differently. He did that by looking back and looking forward. Here, surely, is the moment when Before turns into After. Easter is the moment that we learn to tell the story afresh. Our familiar, rehearsed expectations of failure and loss will be overturned. The story we live inside, the one we think we own, turns out not to be our story at all. God has a different conclusion in mind.

We can only celebrate Easter because men and women who once were anxious and bewildered made the effort to stitch together all their experience, leaving nothing out. They resisted the temptation to divide reality up. They refused to describe the world as a competition between winners and losers. The Easter story holds together life and death, the past and a very different future. It is the same task now. We have to make these terrible events part of our story, we have to accommodate this, learn from this, be made stronger and better by this. This is no time to fall out.