The last journey with the red rope in 2016 was quite a challenge. A mixed nationality group was committed to visiting commonwealth graveyards while touring the museums and the historical sites in a region of the world that has been and still is a bit fraught. At the same time Christian groups across the region had organised 48 hour prayer meetings to coincide with the group’s journey. It was thought by those organising things that those travelling may be able to represent their nations in symbolically repenting of the injustices of the past; apologising for the large quantities of tears and blood that have been shed in the region over multiple generations. An interesting week.
During the days before I left I was wondering how I should approach my own involvement. I had come to understand that my relatives had been intimately involved in some of the previous conflict. So I was feeling that I was right to have committed myself to join in. I was also thinking about the Red Rope that the Holy Spirit seems to have encouraged me to take to most places I have ministered over the last 2 years. I was sure it should be part of what I was there to do but there were a few complications. The rope has become very heavy. Labels that represent people’s prayers have now been tied on to it in the UK, Romania, Croatia, mainland Spain, Tenerife, India and several thousand in Tanzania. Not only is it half a piece of hold luggage but it is very hard to explain when arriving at an airport if stopped by customs. Saying I am carrying a prophetic symbol representing the Blood of Jesus will not go down well in some of those environments. I have rehearsed explaining in other ways – possibly explaining that I am artist and that the rope is a piece of community art!? But I was not sure that was appropriate for this trip? I was feeling I needed to travel light. Possibly only hand luggage. So, what to do?
As I prayed I felt I should take a reel of red cord. This would be the same message. In the invisible, real, spiritual world it would represent and connect to the same reality. I could cut some if and leave it in places. I could offer a small length which people could to take with them, tie onto themselves, tie somewhere in their home or church or community or just keep as a bookmark reminding them of what the Lord had spoken to them. I understood this in principle but on previous occasions when I had taken that approach I had left home with a strong sense of how I would use the red card symbol when I arrived. In this case I felt I had no idea. This concerned me and so I kept praying about it. Moaning to the Holy Spirit that he did not seem to have told me.
Into one of these times of prayer I felt I received an answer. It did not solve the problem. He simply seemed to say, “I will tell you what to do with it as we go along.” At the time I did not realise how important that approach was going to be. Because of it the Lord was going to allow the use of the prophetic symbol to not be a thing I brought to the group I was praying with. Instead of that I would share a few thoughts with a few members of the group and then say I don’t know how it should be applied or use. This immediately opened the door for others to contribute their thoughts, their “prophetic suggestions”, and so allow us all to be part of it.
The first day of our prayer tour we were scheduled to visit the first of 6 Commonwealth graveyards. Our aim was to pray through the region under the title of “A Better Word” based on Hebrews 12:24 which says Jesus’ Blood speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. It was a profound idea. In the region much blood had been shed. Local blood. Foreign blood. Oppression, slavery, war, invasion, counter attack. Blood. Some represented by the graves in the Commonwealth graveyard. Most of those were foreigners. Some shed with no memorial. Most of those were the poor and oppressed used, unthinkingly, by foreign powers to make their empire building projects come into existence. All that blood in the ground. It speaks. It cries out.
Then there is the blood of Abel. He was the first human being to be murdered in the Bible. He was one of Adam and Eve’s sons. He was murdered by one of their other sons, Cain, his brother. After he died and was buried by his brother a strange thing occurred – Genesis 4:9.
Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’
‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’
The Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.’
Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.’
But the Lord said to him, ‘Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.’
Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.
So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
The verse in Hebrews about Jesus’ Blood speaking a better word than the blood of Abel is based on the words, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”
Some think that Abel’s blood cried out to the Lord for vengeance and judgment to fall on his brother, but I am not sure that is what the Bible implies. You will notice that the Lord’s words and actions towards Cain include revelation of God (God going to him to talk with him), limiting of deserved judgment and protection against the consequences he has brought on himself. Even the “mark of Cain” is not a judgment but a sign to others that they may not attack Cain or, if they do, they will risk the judgment of God themselves. So, if these are the results of Abel’s blood crying to the Lord we have to assume that the blood was crying out for these things. Not vengeance but mercy, revelation, truth, loving confrontational sin, another chance, protection. This peace loving brother was crying out, even beyond death, for the Lord not to hold his brother’s sins against him. Cain remained under judgment but, in response to his brother’s intercession, the Lord is looking for an opportunity to commute his sentence and one day to redeem him.
And then there is the book of Hebrews, which states that Jesus’ Blood speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Abel’s blood was saying some wonderful and merciful things. But Jesus’ blood, when it speaks, is better and goes far further in bringing forgiveness, mercy, redemption and transformation.
As we approached the first Commonwealth graveyard I started wondering what word the blood of these soldiers and military families was speaking from the ground. It is rare for a soldier’s last words to be, “Father forgive them they don’t know what they are doing.” They may not all be crying out for vengeance but they are usually committed to fighting back. Jesus’ blood speaks a far better word than these people’s blood. But how to express that in a way that was spiritually powerful and yet sensitive and accepted by all involved.
Those who were leading things had decided that we should lay a bouquet of flowers in each of the cemeteries. Attached to it would be a decorated label with the reference of the verse from Hebrews and the words, “A Better Word”. In the bus I took out my red cord and was instantly asked by those around what I had it for. I explained a bit about the red rope project, that it was a symbol representing the blood of Jesus and the fact that I felt I should ring cord here instead. I was then asked what I was going to do with it. I said I didn’t know but felt that the Holy Spirit would make it clear as we went along.
“Well you should definitely tie some onto each bouquet we lay in each of these graveyards,” said the lady sitting across the aisle from me. And so it started.
If I had already got the plan then nobody could have contributed. By not knowing it created space for it to become our thing, rather than just my thing. For the body to function properly there has to be a role for every part. The key for other parts to find their role is to make sure there is a need for them. That need is often experienced as a feeling that you are not prepared and do not gave everything in place. We have to battle to be happy about that and not rush in and fill all the gaps with our own ideas and own efforts.
At the cemetery, 5 minutes down the road, we all got out of the coach. One person cut the rope. Another tied it decoratively onto the bouquet. Others went prayer walking around the ranks of graves. Those leading moved towards the cross in the middle of the grassy plot – the traditional commonwealth graveyard cross that is fashioned to look like a sword. Others spoke expressing gratitude to those whose job it was to tend the shrubs and grass – which is a rare thing in that country where desert is more common than gardens. Eventually we all gathered in the centre for a ceremony of laying the bouquet. And then the person leading asked me to say something. So I shared the thoughts (just like I have written above) about why what we were praying and proclaiming in this place was a better word than the blood of soldiers, sailors and aircrew. It was even a better word than the blood of Abel. It was the best word. The blood of Jesus. Crying out for mercy for us all from the ground of this earth. And then we laid the bouquet, the tag with “A better Word” written on it, and the red cord tied around it.
The theme of our week had been established. It had a magnificent symbol that would progress through the week. The details of that symbol and its meaning had only come together in the last few minutes before it had to. It had come forth from us as we came together. And it was good. In fact, it was better than if it had come together before.
There’s more to write about that extraordinary week but I have already written more than most blog readers can handle in one sitting. So I will keep it for another time.