by Karen Turner.
In the last couple of months I’ve been facilitating a Zoom book group for some students who wanted to explore what the New Testament says about women. They are from diverse backgrounds and often don’t agree with one another and so the conversation has been rich. The students from more conservative churches speak about their belief that God created a universe of order, and this applies, for them, to pattern of male headship that was pre-ordained for human flourishing.
We’ve learned to listen well to one another and so I’ve tried to sit with their conviction that, not only does God create order, but God rejoices in a particular kind of order. Even without knowing anything about Bach’s musical rules of composition, or without deep knowledge of maths or science, I can see that creation is delicately balanced, creatively woven with relationships, and that it miraculously is, when it might not be, held in God’s hand.
But I find myself resisting the idea that God is quite so orderly. And, although I want God to bring peace to places of conflict, reconciliation to broken relationships and forgiveness to the chaos of my own sin, it’s hard to see ‘order’ as God’s motivation.
Perhaps another student story expresses something of God in this. I attended a student-organised vigil about sexual violence this week where there were hundreds of students and strong language and emotions as people went up to the open mic to share their pain and their anger. I’d spotted a quiet Christian student I knew in the crowd and asked him later about his experience. I was astonished by what he said. ‘After you left, I decided to go up to the mic and to pray for everyone. There was so much hurt; I wanted them to know that God cared.’
I’ve been remembering another vigil this week – the first Easter vigil I attended, in my early 20s, living in a Christian community. So many things were new to me: the Easter fire, the paschal candle, the epic readings, the alleluias, the incense. But I think it was the jarring congregational bells that made the biggest impression – the jangling signalling a new reality that felt slightly terrifying.
We generally keep the startling part of Easter out of greeting cards and songs, preferring instead a picture of calm after disruption, life beginning again. We are quick to put the chaos of Holy Week behind us and move on, everything back in order, even if that order is actually a totally new reality.
I wonder if Judas’ betrayal was an attempt to bring on the new world order he’d heard Jesus talking about? Perhaps following Jesus was more chaotic than he could cope with; crowds, healings, confrontations, moving from place to place, impossible to predict or budget.
Little did Judas know that further disruption was coming: earthquakes, angels, bribes, heavy objects moved, ‘unreliable’ witnesses, lack of recognition, apparent ghosts, walking through walls, fear, and of course, lots of doubt. Doubt, everywhere you turn. But also belief.
Our lives together can be messy, but maybe there is a way of seeing this as a sign of life. Ian Mobsby recently summed up for me the whole purpose of rules for community life by saying ‘we create structures to stop people from hurting one another’. [i]
Christian community isn’t about controlling people nor is it about creating order for the sake of it. It’s certainly not about establishing power roles. We can’t guarantee that people won’t be hurt, but order might help us to be kind, and to protect the weak, and that’s the only reason for rules; choosing to live in a way that isn’t blinkered by our self obsessions.
The household codes in the New Testament, and the references to the ways that worship should be conducted show that order was a concern of the early church. However, I wonder if these statements say more about the enthusiasm and life of those communities, rather than, as we might see it later, a need to exercise control. If there is an emphasis on order, it’s only because there is so much apparent life in the chaos. There would be no need to talk about order if what they were experiencing was a traditional hymn sandwich.
We have plenty of order. I wonder if what our churches might need most, post-pandemic, is less fear of chaos? As Mike Pilavachi says, ‘It’s messy in the nursery but it’s neat and tidy in the graveyard’. [ii] Jesus greets his friends with peace after the resurrection, precisely because this is what they don’t have, and this is where we can meet him, too.
3 thoughts on “Easter in Order and Chaos”
I think that one of the joys of the Christian life is that I don’t really know from one day to the next where or what I will be called to do. I’m a mere man of 78 and grateful for good health, family and friends. My life will appear chaotic because my day might include making numerous phone calls to people who I know are struggling in one way or another as well as to others who are on the pastoral roll at church. I might feel that I should sign a petition asking that one of the Windrush generation who has legitimate reason to be granted UK citizenship actually gets to receive it or I might write to the Editor of The Guardian asking if people of good will should deal with Amazon because, in my opinion, that company is, at its core, cruel even though it enables Christians, if they have dealing with it, to order something today and receive the product tomorrow!! I might even feel called to write an email to Theology Everywhere although I’m not trained theologically except by a life time spent in the world and in the church – in that order is important.
I feel that Christ demands involvement for me in both the secular and the sacred and requires me not to differentiate unduly. If we aren’t prepared for the chaos then things don’t really change and that adds to the perspective of many outside the Church that thinks churchgoers are not against change as long as nothing alters(altars)!
One of my favourite hymns is ‘Blessed Assurance’ which, I feel in some cases, is perhaps ‘Blessed Insurance’ because knowing Christ is sufficient and doesn’t entail challenging injustices in the world. I can never sing the favourite hymn of many ‘Great is Thy faithfulness’ containing the chorus line ‘All I have needed Thy hand hath provided’ without thinking of all those in this world who couldn’t honestly sing it unless I do what I can to ‘level things up’ as we are constantly told is being done.
In short for me Christianity brings Challenge and Comfort with the emphasis on the Challenge. I feel this is a parallel message to Easter in Chaos and Order
Thank you Karen. I found that very helpful – especially the quote from Ian Mobsby.
My thanks too! Helpful to appreciate what our response should be to chaos, especially in these chaotic times. Wondered if I might add that somewhere in the gap between order and chaos is the question of how we deal with change. It is no use pretending that the church has reached an ordered state and nothing needs to change – that is the path to a diminished relevance to people’s lives. As the Covid experience has taught us, we have to embrace change and deal with chaos, and this also applies to our church life.