One of the most intriguing ideas in science fiction is the idea of time travel. It’s a theme that has resulted in a rich vein of novels and movies, some better than others of course, but each built on the question, “What would happen if we could time-travel?” Two of my favourites in this genre are Dr Who, and the classic 1980s trilogy of films, the study of which should be a part of every Saints’ education, Back to the Future. The Back to the Future series is particularly thought-provoking, as well as being enjoyable, because it asks the question, what happens, in the future, if you change something, even something small, in the past?
Of course, in real life, there is no going back to the past. If you make mistakes, you can’t go back in time and stop them happening. There are other things you can do: you can decide not to make the same mistakes in the future. You can apologise for your mistakes, if you’ve hurt other people, but you can’t go back and un-do the mistakes. You might be able to fix up the problems that your mistakes have caused, but you can’t make them disappear. Time-travel for human beings hasn’t been invented.
All you can do is ask for forgiveness and believe, truly believe, that God forgives you.
Our focus on Good Friday is on Jesus’ death on the cross. The traditional Christian statement is that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, so that we might be reconciled to God. What does that actually mean?
On the cross, Jesus refused to fight violence with violence. He refused to play the games of everyone around him, and in doing that, in living peacefully, right up to the end, he broke the cycle of violence and revenge. He broke the whole system of being hurt and seeking revenge.
He was someone who refused to dignify violence and threats by responding in the same way. He refused to give violence a place in his world. In the end, on the cross, it is his very action of refusing to respond to violence with more violence, which then breaks the cycle of violence.
CS Lewis’ novel, which more recently became a film, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, captures this beautifully. In the work Aslan is the Lion, who represents Jesus. CS Lewis was quite deliberate in his thinking that Aslan represents Jesus. Even as Aslan is tied up and is about to be sacrificed by the White Witch, even at the last moment, CS Lewis writes, he could have risen up against his captors and destroyed them. Yet he chose not to. CS Lewis is saying, through his character of Aslan, that Jesus refused to respond with violence, even though death was threatened.
But it is difficult not to seek revenge when someone hurts you or threatens you. It can be hard to forgive. I think it would be tempting for the Coptic Christians in Egypt to desire revenge at the moment. They have just seen many people killed and two of their churches destroyed this week, having already had their Cathedral in Cairo attacked in December. You can’t get a much darker day than that, if you’re a Christian in Egypt. They are experiencing something of what Jesus experienced on Good Friday.
But Jesus’ death of the cross breaks the cycle of violence and so brings the possibility of forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. The cycle of death is broken. Forgiveness is offered, eternal life with God beckons. On the darkest day in the Christian calendar, even on that day, Good Friday, there is the promise of the light. There is always a new day. Jesus has broken the cycle of death. The light always returns. Even in the darkest hour, the light is not far away. There is no going back in time, but if we are reconciled to our past, if we accept God’s forgiveness, then we can be optimistic about our future: a future which is full of God’s love now, and which points to a life with God forever.
The Reverend Dr Theo McCall