I work in pensions…
No, don’t go yet! Please!
Thanks. Now, as I was saying, I work in pensions. Specifically, I work in the new business department of a wealth management company which processes new pension applications. In the UK it is currently the end of the tax year and, as a result, my place of work is currently busier than the person changing the list of candidates on the UKIP website. People are desperately trying to put as much by as they can for their old age without being hit for a big tax bill, something especially this year as the amount you can put in over one tax year is about to reduce. It’s amazing how many people leave these things to the last minute and, as a result, we have an immense amount of applications in which we need to process before 6th April. The whole thing is pressure and stress; the stress of not having enough put by for retirement, the stress of getting in before the deadline, the stress of keeping on top of the work, the stress of worrying what happens if things aren’t done on time…
Stress is a fact of modern life. I guess it was probably a part of life for many in days gone by as well. Some stree about work, some are stressed because they have no work. Some stress that they don’t have enough money, some stress that they have none. Some stress about friends and family, some are stressed because they are alone. Some stress about their home while others are stressed about not having a bed for the night. Some are stressed about their weight whilst others are stressed because they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. It can consume you, leave you feeling isolated and hopeless, as if there is no escape from your circumstances.
So, we rush around, hurrying about to try to get as much done in the shortest time possible because we worry what’ll happen if we don’t. We cram our lives so full of stuff that we don’t give ourselves time to stop, take stock and think. Being busy, doing things, making money, these are things we are expected to do, things we expect of ourselves, so doing nothing except thinking and reflecting are somehow seen as lazy and counter productive.
However, stopping and being still is exactly what we need to do much of the time, just to a low us to cope with what we have to do.
This is Holy Week, the time when Christians remember the sacrifice of Jesus’ death and resurrection. That death is something Jesus knew was going to happen. He knew how he would die and the suffering and shame that it would entail.
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:39-44 NIVUK)
Now, over the last week I have felt like putting my head through a computer screen, snapping at people who don’t deserve it and throwing all the paper on my desk up into the air in despair. I haven’t at any stage, though, prayed that the work be taken from me and sweated blood! It really is one of those events which makes you take a step back and realise that Jesus went willingly into this situation, but he was utterly terrified of it at the same time.
It’s not death that scared him. He knew that, ultimately, he would be reunited with the father. However, the sheer pain, anguish and humiliation he was about to endure was mind blowing. David Instone-Brewer wrote this insight into crucifixion for Premier Christianity Magazine. It tells of the pain and humiliation from a physical and psychological perspective. It would have been unbearable, and Jesus knew this. This came through in the fear of this prayer; to take the burden from him if there was another way. He knew, though, that there was no other way, and he said that he still submitted to his father’s will.
This is the first point of hope in a semmingly hopeless situation. Luke tells us that an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. I don’t know how that looked or how Jesus was strengthened by this, except for one thing. Jesus was still in anguish, but he kept on praying. Sometimes the times we most need prayer are the times we least feel able to do so. Jesus found the strength in the depths of despair to keep his eyes fixed firmly on his father in heaven, praying for strength and, as we read in John’s Gospel, praying for hid disciples and all believers, knowing what they will go through after his death.
Suddenly, I feel utterly self centred and ridiculous. I have felt under, what I perceive to be, immense pressure at work, then I see Jesus praying for others as he knowingly and willingly approaches the hardest thing any human being has ever had to face. This is astonishing, more so because he is doing this for each and every one of us.
The reason he is able to do this is the reason he is doing it. His arrest, his beatings, his flogging, his mocking, his walk to Golgotha, his hands and feet being nailed to a cross, his shame, his pain and his death were not the end. He cried out that “it is finished”, but it was only his sacrifice for our sins which was finished. There was still one more unbelievable act.
The fact is that hoplessness is temporary. In the case of Jesus’ followers it wAs only a couple of days long. Hopelessness was replaced by hope. The hope that only a miracle can give. Hope that only victory over death can give. Hope that is only there in the risen Jesus, talking to the women by an empty tomb.
Therein lies the whole point. Sometimes things feel hopeless, or just difficult to bear or too stressful to take. They aren’t, they never can be, because Jesus lives.
It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!