Christ on Trial

How the Gospel Unsettles Our Judgement

by Rowan Williams

Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop Rowan Williams

Christ Church (Parish) Church

Westmorland Street at Charlotte, Fredericton

Wednesday evenings in Lent 2004

8:00 p.m.

Facilitator: Canon Jim Irvine


March 3 - Mark: Voices at Midnight

Mark's account of the Trial

Master and Margarita - Bulgakov

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There is a Time for Truth


March 10 - Matthew: Wisdom in Exile

Matthew's account of the Trial

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

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March 17 - Luke: Knocking on the Window

Luke's account of the Trial

The Outsider - Albert Camus

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March 24 - John: Home and Away

John's account of the Trial

The Trial - Franz Kafka

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March 31 - Our Witness: Believers on Trial

5 - A

Christians are good members of society in completely secular terms: they keep the law and pray for good order, but they do not see their obedience to the law as based on any conviction about the sacredness of the legal system or the lawgiver. Page 97f.

5 - B

Martyrdom only begins to make sense if you believe in an ‘invisible’ God, because it takes for granted that Christian actions are not directed at any visible reward. Page 98f.

5 - C

It is a style of thinking that is clearly foreshadowed in some pages of the New Testament itself; it becomes part of the emotional energy behind the worst kinds of Christian anti‑Semitism; it is, in short, an attempt to unlearn all that the trial stories of the Gospels are meant to teach. The hidden hand of God, the transcendence of God that refuses to compete with worldly power, is shown to be no more than a temporary arrangement. God will, fairly soon, step in to show that he is just as capable of violent success as any earthly authority. His kingdom is of this world after all. Page 102

5 - D

The use – the exploitation – of stories of suffering is a major element in the way Christians have organized and defended their life together, and it is another area in which Jesus’ trial summons us to trial too. Page 102

5 - E

We shall have to have a new Holy Spirit – and so a new baptism and a new Christ, or else ‘make a strange metamorphosis of the old; clap him on a crooked beak, and stick him full of eagle’s feathers, and force him to do contrary to that He was wont, and to that His nature is’ In truth, however, the Spirit is not changeable, and the characteristics he bestows on the Church are what they always were. To turn the Spirit into the consuming fire of violence is to deny the essential and unchanging nature of God’s work. Page 103f.

5 - F

There is such a fine line, it seems, between martyrdom as the acknowledgement and demonstration of a different kind of power and martyrdom as a bid for the same power, some­thing that will be a trump card in the struggle for control of the world. It serves to remind us of the fine line in all our experience between coming to terms honestly with what we have suffered and using our suffering as a weapon, a justifica­tion, an alibi. It is hard to be both truthful about our pain and careful about the temptation to cling to the position of victim. Nonetheless, that is the challenge: to understand that what is revealed in the martyr’s trial is also what is revealed in the trial of Jesus – the simple difference between God and the way the world organizes itself. Page 104

5 - G

Yes, politics is frequently about choosing where the cost will come, not about finding a cost‑free option. The Christian is certainly called on to take up the unpopular position of being the person who asks about specific costs, about the tragic element in public decisions – not to turn the screws of guilt, but to remind us that facing cost is the only adult way of understanding the full nature of freedom. The Christian may also be the person who has the still more unpopular task of saying that this particular cost is unacceptable in terms of social or international wellbeing or public integrity.

Such awkwardness comes, I would suggest, not from the conviction that we occupy a higher moral plane, but simply from the sense that we have to say what it has been given us to see, even when (as is all too usual) we possess little clarity about how to make a better job of it. We can at least ask that we behave. as and are treated as adults, capable of acknowledging the price we pay for our actions. Believers, shaped by the stories of the trials of their Lord and his witnesses, will know that the price of untruth is the highest price of all, for a person or a society. Page 115f.


Jesus and His Judges

5 - H

John sets … the world God loves, the world we are called to be at home in and with, against the world tidied and organized by our wills and imaginations. The consolation he pinpoints is that of not being where we are, inhabiting instead the world of which we are in charge. … Our concluding look at how the fate of Jesus’ judges might be imagined simply asks whether the cost of refusing the full scale of our own humanity can genuinely be thought of as outweighing the cost of the pain caused by embracing a reality we do not control. Page 134

5 - I

There is a Latin expression associated with late medieval and Reformation religious thought which sums up much of what these chapters have been about: experimentum crucis literally ‘the experience of the cross’, but also, by an obvious extension of meaning, the test, the ‘experiment’ of the cross, the way in which, in our own self‑understanding, the cross tries and probes us. One of the rather depressing things about a good deal of theology concerning the cross of Jesus is that it can give the impression (unintentionally, of course) of directing our attention purely and simply to what is done for us by Jesus’ crucifixion, thus directing our attention away from the question of exactly how that crucifixion is rooted in who and what we are.

To speak of it only as an ‘external’ settling of debts will not do. While it is essential to see the passion of Jesus as something that freely works, independently of our effort, to renew and heal us, that very healing and renewal come to their fullness only as we absorb in heart and mind what it is in us that calls out for healing. Hence the significance of reflecting on the history of the passion, and in particular on the stories of the trial. As we have seen time and time again in these pages, the question we are left with as we read is about who we are. The various ways in which we can ask Jesus who he is, summed up in the variety of ways he is cross‑examined by his judges, tell us where we are coming from, what it is in us that is afraid of the prisoner in the dock.

Once we have started to see how these fears work, we are better placed to see also how they are activated in our world, in our relationships. Part of the purpose of this book has been to suggest how the trial of Jesus is re‑enacted in our contemporary experience; how the experimentum crucis comes to us in the shape of the small and large crises of encounters with strangers and outsiders now; how it comes alive in the Church’s constant struggle not to become the object of its own faith; how it is as possible as ever today to betray for the sake of what we think is peace. Page 134f

5 - J

[W]e have largely lost any vivid sense of how the resurrection set a new agenda for the infant Church. Judging from the Gospel accounts, far from being first and foremost a simple fulfilling of expectations, a confirmation of what had already been said and believed, the resurrection seems to have been mysterious, baffling, something that threw expectations off balance and which carried its own sense of a call to trial and judgement. It was understood as a gift coming out of real and definitive darkness, loss and death, not a happy ending or a reversal of tragedy. If it is to be that for us too, we have to live through the process, not just rush straight on to the conclusion. Faith in the resurrection is necessarily related to the experimentum crucis, the ‘cross‑examination’ in which our untruths are laid bare to us and we lose the consolations of having a clear image of ourselves and how we stand before God. Page 136

5 - K

Our danger, therefore, is that we risk taking the resurrection for granted. We shall only experience the resurrection in its true strangeness if we can work back to the judgement of Jesus on trial. Page 138

5 - L

The Christian gospel tells us not simply that we are saved from sin or that our guilt is taken away – it insists that we shall find out who we are and what we may be in an encounter, a relationship. All human identity is constructed through conversations, in one way and another. Page 138

5 - M

One thing that is central to our encounter with Jesus on trial is our willingness to be silent, to let his silence work upon us, and to sense his gaze upon us. Luke has left us one searing image of this, when he concludes his account of Peter's betrayal with the words, ‘The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered.’ (Luke 22:61). Page 139

5 - N

The trial of Jesus, as I have said often enough, is about establishing his identity, not about gathering details on what he has done. … The Old Testament asks whether a human being can see God and live. These stories pose for us another question: whether we can be seen by God and live. Page 140


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Koelz - Thou Shalt Not Kill

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