Yesterday evening came the news that the U.S.A. had dropped ‘the mother of all bombs’ on Afghanistan. I recoiled from the phrase, as I recoiled from the deed, because it jarred with what I believe we are celebrating today: the merciful love of God expressed through the sacrifice of Calvary. But why did it jar so much? And does the fact that it did jar throw any light on what ‘the sacrifice of Calvary’ means?
I find the phrase ‘mother of all bombs’ peculiarly offensive. Mothers, in my experience, however much they may reject or fail to live up to the ‘motherly’ stereotypes of past ages, are not killers. They are givers of life, even at the risk of their own. Fathers are allowed the swashbuckling heroic role in defence of their young; but for mothers there is the infinitely messier and rather less glamorous role of nurturer and protector. While Dad does battle, not with the dragon black exactly, but with attacks on the family from outside, it is usually Mum who has to deal with most of what is involved in keeping everyone clean, fed and otherwise civilized within. Thinking about that, I realised yet again why Julian of Norwich is so insistent on the motherliness of God. It is not that she was a feminist avant la lettre. It is that she saw in Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary an act not so much of heroic boldness as of supreme nurturing; and maybe we need to think about that today, when there is so much strife and bitterness marking both our public discourse and many of our private lives.
Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross isn’t noble. It’s squalid. It’s as squalid and brutal as any IS ‘execution’ we read about today. Christ gave himself up to death, to powerlessness, in a way that some might describe as wimpish if it were applied to anyone else. If that shocks us, well and good. It means that we have stopped looking at the crucifixion as a sanitized story of how good triumphs over evil. We have dropped the comforting narrative of control, i.e. that Christ was really in control of the situation, the one who really had power, and allowed ourselves to understand the horror of it all. Christ abandoned his power and laid himself open to the fury of the mob screaming ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ He trusted his Father, but he didn’t know the outcome. He ventured all for us: that we might be saved, that we, grubby little sinners and shirkers that we are, might be one with him in joy and bliss for all eternity. I don’t like the idea of dropping ‘the mother of all bombs’ on anyone, but today I thank God for ‘the mother of all sacrifices’ made on Calvary.