The joy of carrying the red rope is that it forces me back to the simplest of Christian messages.
We are so often tempted to speak about the bees in our bonnets. The bugs in our bears. The latest controversy. The fad. The exciting theory. The theological equivalent of a red herring. The non-main thing. The peripheral. At best distraction. At worst, a cause of diversion and disunity.
But put a red rope on the ground at your feet as you rise to speak and you know you will have to talk about it. And when you do, you have to talk about the Blood of Jesus. The grace of God. Forgiveness and healing. The Father who so loves. The Holy Spirit who comes in his name.
The most powerful messages are the apparently most simple. Think about it. Think about the apparently simple messages that we long to hear. “I love you.” 3 little words. Explosive, dangerous, scary little words. Say them at the right time and to the right person they are creative, magnetising, connecting, dynamic. Say them at the wrong time or to the wrong person, they are catastrophic. But they are only words. Only little words. And we all think we know what they mean. They are deceptively simple. But decidedly powerful.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a version of those 3 little words.
On the cross, God was in Christ reconciling himself to the world. On the cross God was saying “I love you” in the most complex of situations. His simplicity cut right through all the mad complexity and brought clarity. Instead of replying to all the world’s clamouring of “Why? Why? Why?” He whispered, “Father forgive them because they do not understand what they are doing.” He went to the heart of the issue. Forgiveness. Love covers over a multitude of sins, and “I love you” says God… to you, to me, to each one of us, to all of us together.
That’s what the shed blood means. That’s what carrying the red rope us about.
As I think back over the last few months I see the grace of God in my having that old rope in my hands. I have been a number of interesting places: some overseas, Croydon, Doncaster, a joint church open air service on a village recreation ground in Surrey, a London Baptist church on the Sunday before the Queen’s birthday celebrations. At one church where I had been asked to speak I was feeling all confused as to what to say. Two days before the people of the U.K. had narrowly voted to leave the EU. I knew that everyone wanted to talk about it. Strong feelings on both sides were going to be present in the room. What should I say? What could I say and leave with God’s people united? Well, I was carrying a red rope. So I had to talk about it.
I had to talk about the tags attached to it. Each one either the name of someone wanting to associate themselves with Jesus or an expression of a cry for a loved one who they long to experience Jesus’ forgiveness and healing. Prayers written by people from the UK, Spain, Romania, India, Tanzania… and symbolising all the other prayers by each person everywhere who wants their life connected with Christ and their friends and family to find that place too.
I had to talk about the redness of it. The cost of it. The blood that Jesus shed. While we were still enemies of God, Christ died for us, the godly for the ungodly to bring us back to God.
I had to talk about the history of it. Rooted in Scripture:
In Rahab’s rope. A simple and yet strong enough symbol of faith that God could pluck her from mortal danger, add her to his people and place in the middle of his purpose. In blood red wine. That Jesus shared on the night he was betrayed. Saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
In the red cord that runs all through Scripture. In scarlet wool. In the blood of an innocent brother crying out from the ground. In the blood of circumcision. In the blood of thousands upon thousands of Passover lambs. In the blood of so many other sacrifices. In the blood of the martyrs crying out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” To the elders and living creatures singing to Jesus, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation… “
I had to – and this is probably the most important – stop talking and allow people to step forward and pray themselves.
Slowly at first. Then, as people see they are not the only one, a trickle of people coming to stand, kneel, bend, write. Some very much by themselves. Others together. Coming to pray. Or chatting about what they are going to write. Even the chatting a kind of prayer. Then laughter. Then tears. People praying for each other. People praying with each other. Some quietly going back to their seats. Some staying. Rocking. Trying to feel it as much as they can. Shaking. Little sobs. The gentle music of broken hearts… mending. The powerful music of passionate hearts pleading.