​Bishop's Message: Christ on the Cold Stone

5th May 2020

One of the most arresting images of Neil MacGregor’s National Gallery Millennium Exhibition ‘Seeing Salvation’ is the 15th C statue of Christ seated on a stone awaiting Crucifixion. The art historian is reminded of the Bible verse from Lamentations 1:12 ‘Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow’. He quotes Emile Mâle ‘The seated Christ thinks and suffers. This art has to express the profoundest moral suffering imaginable and link it with the extreme of physical suffering.’ (‘The Image of Christ’ p120.) Holy Week 2020 is interwoven with devastating personal, national and global loss and grief arising from the COVID 19 pandemic.

The culmination of Lent this year, in which I trust we were still able to retain some of our planned spiritual, moral and physical reflection, not least on the sustainability of the planet, has a profound sense of Lamentation. ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?’ (Psalm 42:5). Part of the sadness for Christians, including ordained ministers, with closed church buildings, is echoed by the Psalmist who is sustained by the memory of ‘going with the crowds and leading them in procession to the house of God’ (Psalm 42:4).

Yet even in potentially paralysing restriction the cry of woe is immediately redeemed by a gift of the Holy Spirit ‘Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God’ (Psalm 42:5). That hope, while exercising restraint to protect the vulnerable, is expressed in prayer and support for front line workers and for those most at risk from the virus, by sustaining our own households peacefully under unexpected strain, by supplying the housebound and poverty-stricken with food and medicine and reducing isolation by keeping in touch by phone, WhatsApp, Zoom and other digital communication. It is a hope undergirded with self-control and unselfish exercise of compassion. Will we also, as Her Majesty the Queen advised, take time to reflect on deeper meaning and purpose?

Jesus Christ, in whom God reconciles all things, was taken from the cold stone and lifted up on an execution tree for our Salvation. Let us take up our cross, accept His forgiveness for sin and purpose for life in new community, looking forward to a joyful resurrection.

Rt Revd David Urquhart
Bishop of Birmingham