STUDY NOTES FOR 1/13
Clowns, at their best, can act as ‘holy fools’, who (by showing up our human weakness and stupiditities) teach us much about sadness as well as laughter, about fear as well as joy. Indeed, because of this capacity of the Clown, some Christians have in the past talked of Christ as the ‘Cosmic Clown’: as someone who exposes our human nonsense, touches us with his vulnerability, and shows us the pain we hide behind our smiles, and the holy smiles that can yet be found in the midst of pain.
Well that, it seems to me, is more risky. For after all, as more sober Christians worry (unnecessarily) about the ‘Clowns Church’, there may be the danger of trivialising the Christian message, and losing its serious content. To describe Christ as the Cosmic Clown, may then, it is argued, seem to reduce him to a figure of fun, a helpless onlooker rather than a powerful saviour from sin.
living as we do at the end of the twentieth century of the Christian era, we must be more than ever aware of sin and evil in the world and the apparent inability of Christian faith to make much positive difference. The monstrous terrors of genocide in the Holocaust and Pol Pot’s Cambodia, the horrors of innumerable world and local wars on a scale of destruction hitherto undreamt of except in nightmares, and the systematic torture and oppression of human beings throughout the world - all these (not to mention the pollution of the Earth), beside our more immediate troubles, tend to make for such sombre despair that it is difficult, if not impossible, to believe anymore in a God of Love, never mind an Almighty Power making for Righteousness. And so in our present world we face a situation of unprecedented unease in our personal, social and international relations: an unease made worse by the end of old-style Communism and (however misplaced) the secular hope it kept alive in the possibility of a better world. All around us we are faced by a lack of true hope.
Or, to put it more negatively, we are faced by meaninglessness. Nothing tends to make much sense any more, does it? The old links between people are disappearing and, throughout the world, we seem in danger of falling back into barbarism. Why? Why? we say again and again, and we rarely find an adequate answer. Why are these things happening? Why, here in our own region, does a man go into a school classroom and stab a young girl to death? Why do neighbours who for years have lived in peace in Yugoslavia suddenly turn on one another with such astonishing savagery? Why, with all our scientific and technological advances, do we feel increasingly bored and purposeless (if we are young), fearful and worried (if we are old), or generally powerless to change the circumstances of our lives and world? Well, these are big questions indeed, and even if we had the time and the inclination this morning, I’m not sure we should get very far with them. For whilst some have more identifiable political or social causes, others are much more debatable or elusive - and they seem a long way away from the death of a young man, in quite different circumstances, in a quite different world, long ago.
.....and yet, and yet.....and yet perhaps at root, the meaninglessness that our present day questions create or reinforce amongst us is not so far from what we encounter and reflect upon this morning. My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? cries Jesus from the Cross. This is not far, is it, from our present day cry: where are you, God, in the midst of our despair and horror? Where is God indeed?
The death of Jesus on the Cross is indeed to my mind in one sense truly the death of God - or rather the death of an understanding of God that believes that God is just like the great things of this world, only greater still. You know, like the age-old children’s argument ‘My Dad’s bigger than your Dad’, the idea that God is like the powers of this world only bigger and better, and that He could if He wanted) come down and knock the block off his rivals. No! That understanding of God must be seen as dead and buried with Jesus’ death and burial, never mind the problems of the world we live in. That kind of God is a dead God, and no wonder we (and others) feel meaninglessness and hopelessness if we still believe He might be there to bail us out - though He doesn’t seem to want to. That’s clearly not the God of Jesus, though some might still like to believe it.
So where is the God of Jesus then?.....Where He (or She or It or whatever you want to call God) has always been of course: right there on the Cross, and in you and me and in every one else who will look on and understand and change our lives accordingly, who will take up the Way of the Cross ourselves and so share in the loving purpose of God. Can we believe this? Can we believe that God is truly found in the crucified one, in the one who disdains the power and wisdom of men, and employs only the weapons of love, what to the world is only ‘foolishness’? Can we believe that hope and meaning and true peace are really only found here -: in the painful nailed strength of outstretched hands? We wouldn’t be the first to find it difficult, if not impossible to comprehend - as we heard in our Old Testament reading this morning:
Who would have believed what we now report? Who could see the Lord’s hand in this? .....He had no dignity or beauty to make us take notice of him. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing that would draw us to him. We despised and rejected him, he endured suffereing and pain. No one would even look at him - we ignored him as if he were nothing.
On April Fool’s Day we are permitted to play the fool for a while, as a welcome relief from the seriousness of life perhaps? Later however we must return to reality. But on this April Fool’s day we see another kind of foolishness. This is not a foolishness which takes us away from reality, but rather plunges more deeply into it. For God in Christ Jesus is not a kind of Cosmic Joker, playing terrible tricks on us as we do to each other. God in Christ Jesus is rather more like the true ‘holy fool’, calling us to face and share the pain of life and through it conquer in joy. For to take up some thought of Jean Vanier, as every holy fool knows, clowning is so very life-giving and powerful for the powerless: ’We may be amazed by the acrobats. We may be terrified by the tigers. We may even be enchanted by the elephants. But it is only the clowns we really remember and treasure. For in the whole circus it is only the clowns that we can we can really love. It is only the clowns that touch the young, that enliven the old, that turn our tears of hate and sadness to ones of laughter and joy...and as in the circus, so in life, there can be no real show without the clowns, no show without love’.
The Cross reminds us that Clowning (the acting out of love) costs. It reveals the sorrow as well as the joy behind the mask of God - but it also reminds us that love conquers, that nothing can prevent the Love of God from touching hearts and transforming sin and pain. So do not wipe the white powder off your face, or worry about your funny features. Add some more and clown a little, rejoicing in the wondrous foolishness of God.