Surefish's Easter reflections have been written by the Rev David Lawrence, a URC minister in Watford and former editor of Reform, the magazine of the URC
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Best not to be a hero. It seldom works out well.
Live heroes usually need to keep looking over their shoulder, waiting for the moment when the rest of us decide to prove that they’re really no better than we are. Dead heroes are, well, dead.
When Jesus threw down a gauntlet to the powers that be (or that were) by riding into Jerusalem on that donkey, I suspect he’d already learned enough about crowds to understand that they are a volatile commodity.
Up to now he had always managed to dampen people’s expectations – today he was deliberately ramping them up. When you generate that kind of excitement, you either follow through or you pay the consequences of disappointing the mob.
But then, Jesus had come already prepared to pay the consequences.
This week saw the anniversary of another dead hero who signed his own death warrant. Thirty years ago Archbishop Oscar Romero in effect announced that he was ready to face down the corrupt and repressive power structures in El Salvador.
On March 23rd 1980, in one of his regular radio broadcasts to the faithful, this once-conservative priest who had come to embrace the suffering of his people, appealed to the army to remember that they were one with the peasants they were killing at a rate of thousands every month.
The following evening, while conducting a funeral mass, he was killed by a single shot from an M16 rifle. Minutes before, he had reminded his congregation of Jesus’ parable of the seed that must fall to the ground and die before it can find new life.
And if you want a heroic irony, how about this? Remember Jimmy Carter, the simple peanut-farmer President from Georgia who also happened to be a self-made millionaire, possessed a degree in nuclear physics and had helped to develop his nation’s nuclear submarine programme?
For many of us, Carter’s indefatigable pursuit of peace in some of the world’s worst trouble spots and his willingness to question his own nation’s imperial ambitions have made him a hero over the last two decades.
In February 1980 Carter was President of the United States and Oscar Romero wrote to him to beg for the cessation of the huge programme of US aid to the Salvadoran armed forces.
His letter had no apparent effect – though Carter did suspend the programme when, later in the year, a lay worker and three nuns, all US citizens, were raped and murdered by Salvadoran National Guardsmen.
The programme was later resumed by Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan. So the gun that killed Oscar Romero may well have been paid for by Jimmy Carter.
Live heroes are almost always more ambiguous than dead ones – but maybe we should try the role on for size before we shout ‘Crucify!’