Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bishop of Norwich on Jade Goody

Bishop of Norwich,Rt Revd Graham James used his Easter message to explore some of the issues arising from the life and death of Jade Goody and to suggest what it all mean for the rest of us. Article originally published in Eastern Daily Press Good Friday 10/04/2009

A few people die very publicly. John Paul II was one. Jade Goody was another. The Vatican managed the Pope's death with dignity. Max Clifford managed the media for Jade in the final weeks of her life. To his credit, he brought dignity and order to the task.

I can't say I'd taken much notice of Jade Goody until then. I don't think bishops were her target audience. Her marriage to Jack Tweed seemed to me a bit like a media circus. Then something happened which surprised me. Her two boys were christened. And Jade was christened too. Unlike her wedding, conducted by the leader of a fringe church, it was the local curate who baptised Jade and her children without any great razzamatazz. Apparently she said to Max Clifford: “I want to get christened. I want the boys to be christened. I want them to know Jesus; that's how we'll stay in touch.”

I'm sure plenty of people were cynical about Jade's christening. They may have thought it was one more event to excite the tabloids. But the tabloids seemed to be more puzzled by it than excited. Jade didn't get christened in order to be cured. She was well past that. She didn't talk about fear of hell as if baptism might prevent some awful judgment on her. It was more to do with Jesus defeating death. She got that right.

Most people don't associate christening with death. With infants it seems like a celebration of life. But Christians have always talked about those who are baptised “being made one with Christ in his death and in his resurrection”.

I had a very vivid experience of this a few years ago at Center Parcs. Our children were then teenagers. We stayed with another family at Longleat, paying rather a lot of money to exhaust ourselves with endless sporting activities. I needed a rest when I got home.

Thanks to my children I found myself sitting at the top of a huge water chute. It dawned on me that I was rather old for hurtling down a long wet tube, but there was no going back on it. Down I went. I plunged into the pool below with arms and legs flying in the air. I thought I was drowning. Then I realised I was only in about two feet of water, so stood up thankful still to be alive.

Then I had a theological experience. It's an occupational habit for bishops. I thought this was just like being plunged into the waters of Christ's death in baptism and rising to new life with him in triumph.

Of course, some of our churches - Anglican ones included - do practise total immersion baptism. It's a vivid symbol of dying with Christ to rise with him. We can't live without water. It's the very basis of life. Yet too much water drowns us. Water can be the means of death. What gives life also takes it away.

On Good Friday, Christians believe the life taken away from Jesus was given by God again as a promise of new life for us all. Even in a society like ours Jade Goody, an icon of secular celebrity, embraced this faith. That she did so when she was dying comes as no surprise.

Hospices and palliative care units are often places of life and hope. Where the reality of death is acknowledged, people seem more keenly alive. But dying can be hard work. The Christian Church refers to Christ's suffering and death as his 'Passion'. In origin that word relates to sacrifice. Yet we use 'passion' to speak of love as well. Love and sacrifice go together. If someone loves you they'll want to bear your suffering.

Some years ago a young man of great promise and talent had a serious accident. There didn't seem much hope for him. He was brought to London and eventually underwent a very complicated brain operation performed for the very first time. The whole procedure took seven hours. It required uninterrupted concentration on the part of the surgeon. A small error might have proved fatal.

The operation turned out to be a triumph. Afterwards, though, the surgeon had to be led out of the operating theatre held and supported by a nurse almost as if he was a little child guided on the way. He was exhausted. Utterly spent. Emptied by the experience.

That's what Christians believe the love of God is like. Jesus on the Cross exhausts himself to the point of death for love of humankind. Jade Goody seems to have been one of countless millions to have glimpsed this truth. It lies at the heart of the Easter story.

A very happy Easter to you all.

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