And then this gorgeous black girl, early twenties I should think, stood up and spoke to me, "Sir", she said, "do have my seat". I pretended to say no, but she just smiled even more brightly and said, "No, I insist, you must be worn out dragging that case. Do please sit down".
I was on the shuttle going from central London to Heathrow. It was the very first time a younger person had stood up so that I could sit down. I was embarrassed, but the young lady was right, I was worn out. I thanked her and sat down. As things turned out she had to stand all the way to the airport and still had the grace to give me another broad smile as we went our separate ways. Of course I remember it. Not only was I relieved to sit down, but as she was so good-looking I was also, well, you know, a little bit buzzed.
And now I'm here thinking, why isn't life more full of buzzes like that, and why don't they go on happening when we think we've lost it? We're all human aren't we? Well I am anyway and even if it isn't exactly evidence of this, I am happy to admit that the memory of that young lady's gesture entertained me throughout my flight. No wonder I now discover that several years later I have still not deleted her from my memory bank.
You enjoying this? Good. But be warned, I'm now going to talk religion and as you know, religion can be a right spoilsport. Heavy, stodgy, not at all cheerful as Good News should surely be. So why am I going to drag religion into such a nice little reverie? Well, the truth is, and this may surprise you, it doesn't need much dragging.
Yes, I will admit that when she stood to offer me her seat, my mind did not instantly turn to prayer, still less to theology. You'd hardly expect it to do so, would you? But on and off since then that little incident on the shuttle to Heathrow has given me a way into thinking and talking about the work of Jesus.
Organised Catholicism has special words to describe the work of Jesus; words such as Redemption, Salvation, Atonement. I think these words are important. I think Church teaching is important. If we did not have these it might well be that we would get carried away with some personal insight that entertains us. Let's be careful out there. Let's not find ourselves thinking that we have outgrown the language of the faith in which we were raised. Humility seems a safer approach. And yet...
I've also met religious professionals who seem absorbed by their own learning. Jesus told us not to judge others so I will not do so, but it is hard not to think that some of the learned ones can talk correctly about the work of Jesus and still leave their hearers cold, untouched by the sheer goodness of the news they bring parcelled up in the language of orthodoxy. Whatever we say about the work of Jesus, we've got it wrong if it does not come across as Good News; does not fill us with gratitude.
This is where the memory of that young lady's kindness on the Heathrow shuttle still helps me. She saw me burdened and took my place. She put herself among those who stood so that I could rest. Early on in the Gospels, (Mark chapter 1) Jesus heals a Leper, someone who, because of his disease, could not mix with other people, but had to stay outside, away from the general mix. The consequence? Because he cured the Leper, Mark says, "Jesus could no longer go into a town openly but stayed outside in the country." In other words Jesus had not simply cured the Leper, he had taken the Leper's burden upon himself; swapped places with him.
Why do we call it GOOD Friday? On that day we do not remember some sad misfortune that befell the good man Jesus; life can be unfair to everyone. No, on Good Friday we remember that Jesus took our place. He saw that we were burdened and took that burden upon himself. Of course there have to be "correct" words to describe this gift from God, but whatever words we choose, the work of Jesus should give us the biggest of all buzzes for just when we thought we'd lost it, he paid the cost of our living.