Mind the Gap

The Rectory, April 1998

On the London Underground they are very keen to point out to you that there is a space between the train and the platform. Now obviously this is for safety reasons and because, not unreasonably, they do not wish to be sued by "a sprained ankle with lawyer". Have you noticed though how the recorded message, activated as the train comes to halt in the station, actually sounds less like a warning and more like an incantation. Mind the Gap, Mind the Gap, Mind the Gap… Here, you begin to think, is mysticism. Here is an important message with deep meaning that I should repeat like a mantra until it yields up its spiritual knowledge - until I suddenly see the light and become a devotee happily chanting Mind the Gap to uncomprehending friends (who hope a strong cup of Yorkshire Tea will bring me to my senses again and rid me of the influence of that naughty city).

The worrying thing is, you see, that I really do think that the "gap" is of spiritual significance and that we miss its importance because it seems to us just an empty space where nothing happens. The gap I am thinking about at the moment is the one between Good Friday and Easter Day which, if we refer to it at all, we call Holy Saturday. I think by neglecting this gap we limit our understanding of the cross and the resurrection. In a sense their meaning lies in the space in between them.

Holy Saturday is the day when Christ lies in the tomb. He is held by death. He is trapped in the isolation of the grave. He has fallen into the gap between dying and living. There is a strand of the Christian tradition that relates Holy Saturday to the mysterious words of the creed "He descended into Hell". There is a profound and most hopeful insight here. In Jesus’ death and resurrection we celebrate not just a personal triumph for him but a liberation for all humankind. In his death Jesus enters the world of the dead and the condemned. We see here just how deep and total is the self-giving love of God in Jesus. There is nowhere in the hell of human existence, and beyond, that the love of God does not penetrate. Those in the hell of condemnation and isolation are enfolded in the love of God. Those who have died in despair are touched by his presence for he has come to join them, to be with them also. Those who have fallen into the gap of non-existence are met by the love of God in Christ. This "harrowing of hell" as it came to be called in medieval times was often depicted as the triumphant Christ bursting open the torture chambers of hell and robbing the devils of their prey.

So the gap of the silent tomb reveals the depths of Christ’s self giving and that nothing and no one lies beyond the reach of his saving love. And it shows us that Easter Day celebrates the flooding into the world of a love so great and so deep that it is

...powerful enough to heal every wound, to recover every waste, to break down every barrier, to unlock every prison, to forgive every transgression, to unite everything at odds. There is love enough to flood every heart, to raise everyone dead and lost.
Martin L. Smith

The danger is that if we miss the gap we miss the immensity of God’s love and saving work and reduce Easter to something banal and worldly. So Mind the Gap, for your salvation lies hidden there.

Leslie Morley

St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 24th March 1998