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is God’s first word to us ‘Yes’ or ‘No’?

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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even when the Yes was withdrawn and he was utterly forsaken.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.

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