is God’s first word to us ‘Yes’ or ‘No’?
Here’s a good Lenten question: is God’s first word to us ‘Yes’ or ‘No’? This is the kind of
thing we ponder here in the chancellery, when we aren’t racking our brains over whether
it’s a brown bin week or a black bin week. And because we are Anglicans, the answer is of
course ‘that depends’. It depends on our whether it was brown bins last week. And for this
we must trust either to our memories (‘I’m sure I can remember wheeling the black bin
out last Wednesday morning!’), or to the testimony of our neighbours (peering out across
the Close to see what the bin colour consensus is), or in the last resort, going on the Council
website and checking the collection timetable.
If you are a preacher you will already have seen that I am concocting an elaborate sermon
illustration here. Does God greet us with a Yes or a No? Our answer will be coloured
by our memory of how God has dealt with us in the past, the testimony of others, and also
God’s Word. After weighing these up I find I come down on the side of a resounding
‘Don’t know’. I can see a case for both. It is a ‘no’ in the sense that we are finite and creaturely,
and can’t approach God any more than we can pick ourselves up in a bucket; and a
‘yes’ in the sense that like the father in the parable, God comes running to meet us.
The Yes and the No hold one another in check. The No is that plate glass window we
run smack into because we hadn’t spotted it was there. It brings us up short. It’s a blow
to the ego, an affront to our self-image, to our Christian faith, even. It is the collapse in
house prices, our parents dying, being laid off, finding a lump. Above all, it is suddenly
knowing-really knowing-that only one thing is certain in life: we are all going to die. We
need to hear the No. We probably can’t really know the Yes fully without it.
The Yes is curiously enduring and persistent; patchy, but never finally absent. Or it
never has seemed to be to me so far. If you can sing confidently, ‘Bold I approach the eternal
throne!’, good for you. I can’t say that resonates for me. What if there’s nothing? What
if it’s No? But we do have a great High Priest, who has gone on ahead, facing the worst,
even when the Yes was withdrawn and he was utterly forsaken. With
him in mind, the bold approach wouldn’t be a swaggering, ‘I’ll have
that crown now, if you don’t mind.’ It would be more like a little girl who
spots Mum waiting at the school gates and runs and runs till she’s safe in
her arms again.