The Easter Triumph
GREGORY DIX, an Anglican Benedictine monk, described a lifestyle during the middle years of the twentieth century that is still present today. As he reflected on the Eucharist as the pattern of a solution for a world falling apart, he described society as typified by an attitude of ‘self-regarding provision’. One fords it in those people who say ‘I keep myself to myself’; or ‘look after your own’; or ‘I never do anyone any harm’ (as opposed to doing anyone any good); or ‘You make your own bed, you lie in it’. Those options have at their heart a person’s own satisfaction and comfort before anything or anyone else, a looking for an easy life, and a low doctrine of sacrifice. It is an attitude plainly contrary to the Gospel, but is a popular attitude of our culture, popular with the media and encouraged by the pressures of the superstores.
The irony is that, despite the encouragement of this self-regarding attitude by the superstores and media, if church people appear to be self-regarding they will be rejected or ignored because we were baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. This introduced us into a way of living that cannot be practised without a way of dying. This way of dying is by no means an expression of resignation or despair. It is a constitutive element in a way of living without which neither can be living signs of the Spirit because it is through this that what is genuinely new emerges and grows. People who have been willing to respond to God in such a dying and rising way of living reflect its fruits in their immense humanity in which they are so much at ease with themselves and with others. A strong and confident faith radiates from them. ‘It is doubtful’ writes Michael Ramsey, ‘if any of us can do anything at all until we have been very much hurt, and until our hearts have been very much broken.’ This is the belly of the paradox into which baptism places the Christian in this way of living through dying. It is the way of the Risen Christ in which we already live, and in which the Eucharist nourishes us. This leaves no room for self-regarding provision.
These same thoughts should inform us as we prepare to vote in the General Election. In no way can a Christian opt out of this responsibility because politics affects peoples’ lives and we care about people. Christians see no distinction between the spiritual and material because it is God’s Spirit that breathes life into Creation.
It is one of the saddest features of the political scene today that the various parties seem concerned about the ‘feel good’ factor. Issues that do not affect the floating voter but are no less important in a Christian society, e.g. homelessness, become a forgotten issue in an election. Of greater concern seems to be lower tax rates. While one is not in favour of high taxation for the sake of it, nevertheless, what is of concern is the idea that the lowest taxation seems to be a virtue in itself, and that a successful economy is dependent upon it. At the last election the one party to include an increase of taxation in its manifesto for the sake of education, was the party that had no chance of winning the election in its own right.
It is not for me to tell anyone which party to vote for. However, surely it is right for Christians to remind themselves that we exercise our vote with the common good in mind. And if we are living in a real way through the art of dying, then we cannot vote from the perspective of self-regarding provision. If the criteria on which we place our vote is our own well-being, or those of a particular group in our nation, we will fail in our Christian duty. It may even be right to vote in such a way that will lead to being worse off in financial terms, if that will make better provision for more people.
We may disagree which party should be given the awesome responsibility of governing our land. Whoever it is, they will answer on the Day of Judgement for their decisions. We the Easter people must approach the exercising of our right to vote with the vision of self-sacrifice and devotion, so that not only the Church, but the nation can reflect the Christian way. It is self-sacrificing love that is the triumph of Easter.
Arthur Middleton is Rector of Boldon, Hon Canon of Durham and a Tutor at St. Chad’s College