FAST-HEADING FOR HOLY WEEK

FICKLE, THOSE CROWDS. Fickle. I can perfectly believe that a Palm Sunday event happened around Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem, even if the evangelists did later engage in a smidgeon of poetic licence. Easy enough to believe, because all that palm-waving and racket can be seen in towns and cities all across the world, most days, to this very day. Fickle crowds on the look-out for some poor soul who can be commissioned to sort life out for us. Some poor soul who’ll be clobbered – maybe crucified – if it turns out they’re not all they’re cracked up to be – a condition, an imminent state of affairs, for crowd-acclaimed messiahs, for scapegoats appointed by malcontents, that’s guaranteed certainty. Fickle crowds, religious capitals, fickle (some might say dim-witted) churches are not always very nice places to be. (To a new parish priest in this Diocese, a few years ago: “Well, be warned, you won’t be at all popular if you give a sermon. On Easter Sunday you’re supposed to read out the names of everyone who’s given a lily!”) …

Christmas – Holy Week – Easter, year-in, year-out, another round of Church busy. Bishops, priests, you and me, what are we all hoping to see? Will we cheer? Will we mean it when we “sing Hosanna” – and if so, what for? Will we welcome this  odd-looking “King” one minute and then in the next bolt the door? Who’s being crucified this week? What’s our “Holy Week” going to be for? Will it turn out to have been a challenge to our own fickleness? Will we blush and protest too much that we waved no palm, we were never hoodwinked, carried away, never, ever, meant anyone, anywhere, any harm?

I’m more than a little interested in these questions because I both love and – at times – hate the Church with great passion. Even after a lifetime’s close involvement I’ve been shocked and sickened by some of the responses to the truly Christ-like Archbishop Rowan’s appointment to what must surely be a dream job for him. Soon it’ll be someone else’s turn to sit in Augustine’s Chair:

Next time, could we please have an Archbishop of Canterbury who believes and articulates both privately and  publicly, confessional Anglican faith and morals? …

wrote one correspondent to the Church Times of 23rd Marchinducing stomach-ache in me from that day to this. May the Lord God come to the aid of Rowan’s successor, and that right early, but I give notice that I think my heart might break if such a person starts glibly bleating about “Bible-believing Christians” because they’d almost certainly count me – a “let’s take the Bible seriously” kind of a Christian – out of their respectable “Bible-believing” society – and many thousands more of us would be all lined-up to see another enormous exodus out of the pews, to heaven knows where, anywhere would do, “just so long as it’s not a church”. Goodness there’d be a lot of palm-waving on enthronement day though, and plenty of Make way, make way …

More than a little interested in what Holy Week’s going to be for, because, being a parish priest, there’s no avoiding the dark side of Christian communities, my own included. One of the sadder aspects of the life of a vicar concerns the number of awful stories – all clerical ears must quickly get used to hearing – about the disloyalty, cruelty and vain-glorious fantasy engaged in by some who would count themselves “pillars” and numbered amongst “the great and the good”. One of our ‘treasures’ recently announced, spittingly, “I hate baptisms!”. One of the guests at said Baptism asked me “aren’t Christians supposed to model The Good Life – life in all its abundance? God help me. If that guy’s the model I’ll stick to the golf course, but thanks very much anyway. Even I can see that you’re really trying. Such a shame that a few half-wits spoil the whole.”

Holy Week will have rendered Christ’s Church very great service indeed if, come Easter Sunday, the “half-wits” among us, myself included amongst these, had spent a little time examining our dim-wittedness, examining the words we sing and say and pray, blushing a little at the ridiculousness of our fickle palm-waving and bureaucratic busy-bodied-ness, and asking what Jesus of Nazareth could possibly have been modelling, could possibly have been getting at if it turned out to be true that he said “you will do greater works than these” and “I am the Way”.

Church Times preview in my email Inbox promises an interview in tomorrow’s paper with ‘after-religionist’ Richard Holloway, former Bishop of Edinburgh. Thank God and hooray. That’s the first piece I’ll turn to. The title alone of his Doubts and Loves tells me that this man, at least, knows something about the road to Calvary, and quite a bit about Resurrection – along the pathways of “a more excellent way”.

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