Once the gun had gone it took about fifteen minutes for my wave to reach the actual starting line and while shuffling our way forward it struck me what an extraordinarily privileged slither of the world’s population we represented. Apart from a handful of speedy Africans at the front of the race, we were a group of healthy and wealthy Westerners. Lots of Spaniards, yes, but with many other European nations represented, plus a crowd of other Westerners. All of us were wealthy enough to enter the race, get to and stay in Barcelona for a day or two, and healthy enough to tackle a 26.2 mile circuit of the city.
By global and historical standards, this made us very unusual, and incredibly privileged.
Barcelona is one of my favourite cities. It’s a great place for the privileged to visit: it’s beautiful, the food is fabulous, the culture is rich. But there is also a lot of visible poverty, with far more rough sleepers and beggars evident than I am used to seeing in the UK. The Spanish economy has taken a pounding in recent years, and this is reflected in the numbers of people living on the streets. The police keep moving people on, but the privileged visitor enjoying the sights and experiences of Barcelona can’t avoid seeing the reality of poverty.
Often it is easy for those of us who are wealthy and healthy to assume that that is how it is for everyone. Yes, we know there is poverty and inequality out there, but we can insulate ourselves from it, by choosing who we see, and where we go, and the things we do.
Easter is an intrusion upon our self-contained, self-confident lives. The image of a bloody saviour suspended on a cross interrupts our safe and sanitized existence. It is an offence, that image; and an offence that this is how the saviour appears. He doesn’t look like one of us. He looks like someone we’d never want to be, someone we’d rather pretend wasn’t there. He doesn’t look like a healthy and wealthy Westerner.
Yet it is this very saviour who we are to imitate if we are to find true life. That, like him, we are to be generous, not selfish. That, like him, we are to be humble, not proud. That, like him, we are to trust in God, not in our own resources. As Paul urges the Philippians,
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Easter breaks in on us all, rich and poor, healthy and sick, European or African. It shows how we are all in need and how that need is met only in the cross of Christ. It is a shocking message, that the Word became flesh, that Jesus was humble, that he was obedient, and died.
Two of Barcelona’s most iconic buildings are the Camp Nou and the Sagrada Familia, both of which I ran past on the marathon. One is designed to draw eyes downwards, to the athletic achievements of twenty-two superstars; the other is designed to draw eyes upwards, to contemplate the greatness of God. Easter, too, pulls our eyes down – down with the shock and the shame of the cross, a thing so horrid we avert our gaze. And it pulls our gaze up, as we cannot help but look upon him who was pierced, and as we wonder at the resurrection to incorruptible life.
Privileged marathon runner, or impoverished rough sleeper, we are brought together by the cross. We gather around the one born in the likeness of men, as he gathers us to himself: the proud are brought low, and the meek lifted up.