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I will glory in the Cross5 months ago
In this week’s ReSource Blog Paul Harcourt, the National Leader of New Wine, invites us to walk slowly through Holy Week to get a right balance between a theology of glory and a theology of the cross, maybe especially so for charismatics. As he explains, “the path to glory and resurrection comes by walking the way of the Cross.”
One of the challenges of the last year has been the sense that things have been slow to change, and indeed that, when we thought things were getting better, suddenly we seem to be going backwards again. I think that has been one of the reasons why so many of us have found the third lockdown so hard. It feels as though it has been going on forever. Even when we have a “roadmap” that promises the relaxation of restrictions at some point in the future, we are never quite sure whether we can trust it in this uncertain world…
Yet, of course, that is precisely the point. The world is uncertain! Jesus said, “in this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Learning to live within that tension of realism (about what is) and faith (about what will surely be) is central to our growth as disciples. And, in that regard, the rhythm of the Christian liturgical year is a powerful training tool. Whilst we are always “an Easter people, and alleluia is our song”, as Saint Augustine said, at the same time we travel through the Lenten season of preparation and we approach Easter’s message of resurrection through the reflections of Holy Week.
A theology of the Cross
In a famous sermon, the great Reformation leader, Martin Luther, contrasted what he called “the theology of glory” with “the theology of the Cross”. The natural, unredeemed tendency of the human heart is to gravitate towards the various “theologies of glory”. Deep down, we believe that God is revealed in the powerful and perfect. We expect therefore, as those who faithfully follow him, that our experiences will reflect that, and we try to avoid or minimise difficulties and pain, concluding that these cannot be from God and therefore must be fought. We can easily become over-confident about our progress in sanctification.
Worst of all, we can embrace a triumphalism or over-optimistic sense of the Church’s progress. Assuming that “strength” is better than “weakness” is perhaps what led Judas to try and force Jesus’ hand. It may have led to the crowds to cry for Barabbas rather than the true Messiah. In society, particularly when times are hard, it creates a fertile breeding ground for despots and demagogues. And, sadly, with what we see exposed of the sins of some Christian leaders, placed on pedestals far above that which their character warrants, it isn’t always that different in the Church.
I wonder whether, as charismatics, we need to travel slowly through Holy Week more than most?
Guard against triumphalism
We are so thankful to God for our understanding of the renewing work of the Spirit, and for the transforming experience of God’s presence. Our faith has been opened up to the possibility of miracles, signs and wonders, and we have learned to rejoice in the signs of the kingdom breaking in. But there is always the danger of therefore denying suffering, or of confusing someone’s anointing with the Lord’s approval.
We should never settle for less than life in the fullness of the Spirit’s power, but we may need to guard against triumphalism or simplistic expectations. In pointing us to a theology of the Cross, Luther reminded us that the moment when God was most fully revealed was not in glory but in weakness and brokenness. What humanity would never have guessed – God’s solidarity with us, his willingness to bear our sin because of his love, his perfect faithfulness – that was not seen in transfiguration but, paradoxically, in crucifixion.
Walking the way of the Cross
Alongside the signs, wonders and miracles, perhaps even more so, we need to value the perseverance, self-sacrificing love, and obedience of faith that the Spirit inspires. This is not at all about silencing the “alleluia” song that burns in our hearts, nor about reducing our expectation. We are to be neither optimists nor pessimists – instead, we are realistic….but about the big picture, where the path to glory and resurrection comes by walking the way of the Cross.
Don’t try and jump from Palm Sunday to Easter Day! Walk slowly with Jesus through every aspect of this Holy Week.