Archbishop's Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4
Friday 25th March 2005On Good Friday, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, gives his Thought for the Day.
Twenty five years ago yesterday, Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador, was shot dead at the altar of a hospital chapel. He was fully aware of what risks he was running; for some years, he had denounced the massive injustices of Salvadorean society and the brutal intimidation practised by government. He knew the efficiency of the death squads he had so frequently castigated from his pulpit.
He hadn't started as a radical; at first his appointment had been seen as a depressingly safe one by churchpeople committed to resisting the corruption and cruelty of the government. But the more he saw of the reality of life in his country, the clearer things became. The killing of one of his friends and colleagues was a watershed for him: he faced the worst and knew he had nothing more to lose once he had accepted that he was risking his life. His own assassination was a catalyst, shocking and shaming a whole nation.
It's a story that points to the hard truth Good Friday reminds us of. When goodness appears among us, it brings out the worst, not the best. It provokes unreasoning hate and mindless violence: whether it's Romero or Gandhi or Martin Luther King, something very deep and disturbing is uncovered or unmasked. And only when evil is lured into showing itself in plain colours can judgement be passed upon it.
Which is why Jesus in St John's Gospel talks about how his work and teaching will make things worse in the short term. People who have been complacent in their blindness are challenged, and they react with murderous anger. So it has to be: there is no short cut to change. Romero's death is a sort of image in miniature of what Christians want to say about the death of Jesus. He drew out from both the religious and the political authorities of his day their hidden agenda, their hidden terror and denial of God. But somehow, he did more, he challenged us all to recognise that most of our human lives are shaped by this urge to deny or escape God. Pilate and the high priests are just exaggerated versions of something we should be able to see in ourselves. As the hymn says, he paid the price of sin. And because of this exposure and judgement, everything changed.
A human martyrdom like Romero's may shock people into change for a time. But the Christian claim is that the shock of the cross does more, telling us just how close we are to Romero's murderers. Yet if Jesus's death is the act in which God himself lays hold on the hidden evil and fear, and declares that it cannot win, the world is different. If we trust what he is and what he does, a new possibility opens up. Today we know that no death squads will finally succeed in defeating God's justice and God's love. But only a death can show us this.