My grandchildren came to visit this weekend, and as always, within seconds of their arrival, my house was turned upside down. Pens, paper, paint, glue and glitter were out. Sitckers and jewels adorned their artwork. Then toys were dug out of toyboxes and everything was scattered. Children bring with them mess and a whirlwind of activity. ‘Messy church’ acknowledges this as we allow creativity into church services, often giving children the opportunity to learn about Jesus in age-appropriate ways that inevitably involve mess!
I don’t much enjoy mess and yet I see that it’s an inevitable and necessary part of life. This doesn’t just apply to children, however. All of life is messy. Birth involves blood and bodily fluids; there will be many accidents and spillages throughout life (the tablecloth never stays very clean when my grandchildren are here, but they’re not the only ones who spill!) Relationships are often complicated; there is the pain and mess of our mistakes and failures which can radically affect our lives.
I find it reassuring that the Bible is so honest about the mess of life. Sin has messed up God’s original plans and we are unable to tidy up after ourselves and repair the damage. The Easter story reminds us that God sent a Saviour to deal with the mess of sin. His death was messy, painful and bloody. Afterwards, there was the mess of having to deal with a dead body over Passover (rather akin to dealing with death when the bureaucracy closes down for a Bank Holiday in this country.) I love how we see the women going to the tomb on that first Easter Sunday because there were still things to sort out and deal with. We often think of death as the end, but in actual fact, death brings with it the chaos of administration and the hectic busyness of sorting out a funeral service and dealing with the minutiate of life for those who are left behind. I can remember sitting in the funeral director’s the morning after my Mum died being shown a catalogue of funeral caskets and flower arrangements and wondering how any of these details mattered! Yet all of these things have to be dealt with; decisions have to be made.
Life is messy, often unpredictable, rarely comfortable and never as neat and tidy as we would like, however organised we are, however good we are at planning. But the truth is we have a God who was prepared to get His hands dirty to save us. He did not watch from afar. He did not leave us to get on with it. Easter is a time when we remember the painful intervention of death into the story, but that is not the end of the story. The resurrection of Jesus reminds us that there can be hope in our messy lives. I imagine the resurrection caused a lot of mess too – imagine the Roman guards having to explain why there was no body in the tomb! Imagine how hard it was for the Pharisee Saul to adapt his theology so that a man who died on a cross could actually be God’s Messiah! Mess is there, everywhere, but as everyone who does messy artwork knows, the process of creativity is messy but wonderful in what it achieves. May we embrace mess instead of trying to flee from it and understand that God is there with us (‘Immanuel’), even in the mess.