'The Shadow of the Galilean' by Gerd Theissen (SCM 1987) imagines the response of well-meaning local and imperial officials to the latest provincial prophet. Andreas, a young, privileged idealist is caught up with Zealot rebels and forced by the ruling authorities to spy on them and others, including John Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth "to discover whether (he) was a security risk". Andreas says "I never met Jesus on my travels through Galilee. I just found traces of him everywhere: anecdotes and stories, traditions and rumours. He himself remained intangible. But everything I heard about him fitted together. Even quite exaggerated stories had a characteristic stamp. They would not have been told about anyone else in this way" (p 129).
Passion liturgies read in places where Christians gathered last Sunday (tiny symbolic Palms waving hesitantly from the pews) put this same Jesus at the centre of a great world-changing drama. Yet most citizens and festival visitors in Jerusalem could be challenged in the words relayed poignantly in Bach's Matthew oratorio "Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?" (Lamentations 1:12)
Archbishop Bernard and I will be walking through the streets of Birmingham city centre on Friday, the day we remember Jesus' death by crucifixion. Roman Catholic and Anglican, together with Christians from many denominations, we walk united in our faithful response to God's offer of his Son, sure that "now is he time of God's favour, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2).
For most office workers, retailers and shoppers this small procession of witness with its strange wooden cross will be no more than a curiosity in another day of ordinary existence.
Not under old Roman rule nor framed by outmoded religious tradition, they and the whole population are now governed by the dominating strengths of Market forces and fluid morality.
Could the rumour of Jesus who claims to be Christ once again be stirring in their minds and hearts? Will you and I as people of the Way, so act in the power of the life, death and resurrection of the Saviour of the World, that others may "wake out of sleep"? (Romans 13:11).
Putting our Easter faith into practice requires honesty and courage. The rumour of Jesus was communicated by both words and actions. He who has the words of eternal life also has compassion on the poor and the sick, the rich and the oppressed, the powerful and the weak.
The statesman Abraham Lincoln recognised that he had flaws as well as talents. Akhil Sharma relates a story that holds together the human dilemma of suffering and joy. "When his beloved son died, instead of sinking into grief, Lincoln spent each evening with a friend and member of his cabinet and they would read jokes to each other from a book." Sharma says "To me, this is a supreme example of how one can be unhappy and simultaneously aware that delight remains in the world." (Guardian Review 28.3.15 p5).
As we Christians continue to tell our story and Jesus' story may we behave radically. In the turmoil of a 21st Century General Election season in the UK, let us pray and propose a vision of costly grace that reconciles persons with themselves, people with their neighbours and policies with the common good.
The Rt Revd David Urquhart
Bishop of Birmingham