I heard a story the other day of a Christian who had a friend who was a good devout Muslim. The Muslim asked his friend if he could go to Church with him so that he could see understand better what Christians do when they pray. So he came, and with his friend to help him, knelt in prayer and stood in praise throughout the service. Afterwards the Christian could see that his Muslim friend was puzzled by what he had seen and wondered what it could be that had confused him so much, so he asked him to explain.
The Muslim said “I thought that Christians believed that Jesus Christ was God?” “Yes we do”, came the reply. “And there in Church, I heard it said that Jesus was actually present among you as you prayed?” “Why yes, definitely” said his Christina friend. “What I don’t understand therefore” said the Muslim, “What I find confusing. Is why you ever get up off your knees? If I believed that God, that Allah, was that close, I would not just be on my knees, I would be flat on my face, and I do not think I would ever be able to stand up again.”
This conversation reminds us Christians how easily we take God for granted, how easily we forget how extraordinary our faith is. We do not just say that God exists, that this great Universe has a Creator. So far we are at one with the Muslims, but we say something that if we really thought about it is just mind-boggling. We say, that God, the God who is beyond and behind all that is, a power beyond all imagining, chose to come close to us, chose to become the man Jesus of Nazareth. But then we say something even more amazing. We say that in this one man, God chose to take on himself all the suffering and sadness of our human world, to suffer and to die in the most brutal and horrible way imaginable – for us.
And then we go further still, we say that this Jesus who died for us, who was God with us, is now alive and with us today, is close to us in everything we are and everything we do. We say that the death of Jesus is God suffering and dying for us now, not just in the past, but present with us now, loving us, supporting us, standing by us, whatever we have to face. This is the Easter message, that his death was not just a sad moment in the past, but a definitive action by God that is eternal, that exists for every single human being. As Jesus dies on the Cross, he is God offering himself to us. “Amazing lovehow can it be That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
In Catholic Churches on Good Friday, the priest actually does what the Muslim suggests should be the response of everyone to this amazing belief. He lies face down on the ground in humble adoration. But then he gets up, as all we Christians do, because Jesus comes to us as a living presence and says “Get up and walk with me, for now you are no longer a servant of God, but I call you my friend.”