Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Our duty and our joy, at all times and in all places


Something quite marvellous is happening across the UK this spring. At nine o’clock on Sunday evenings, an estimated nine million of us are sitting down in front of LineOf Duty—and revisiting it at the water cooler on Monday morning.

Not literally, of course. Anyone who is employed in the kind of workplace that has a water cooler is still working from home. But Line Of Duty is a prime example of the water cooler phenomenon, that shared experience so powerful it spills over into our everyday lives. Thanks to social media we don’t need to wait until Monday morning, we don’t need to wait at all. On the other hand, we are made to wait a full week for the story to be carried on. This feels almost counter-intuitive at a time when so many of us have turned to streaming on demand to get through lockdown (Jo and I watched all eight series of French drama Spiral between Christmas and Easter). And yet that water cooler phenomenon relies on it, on a necessary mass of us watching this together in time, even if others will be catching up later.

In a world of engaging at our own convenience, we are reminded of our need for a collective experience—and one with drama, and a good measure of confounding mystery, and a cliff-hanger to boot.

There is much to reflect on here, as one called to curate the things, the good news, of God—to present the gospel afresh in each generation, within and beyond the Church:

the joy of shared familiar liturgy (in the case of LOD, technical policing terms in general, and Ted Hastings’ Ted-isms in particular);

an appreciation that not knowing what is going on, indeed not having a clue, is not necessarily a barrier but can in fact be a positive, where we are drawn deeper into mystery;

the central importance to our wellbeing of experience shared in time with other people;

a forensic attention to our motivations and behaviour, with brutal honesty and some wisdom as to how much to share with whom;

the kind of conclusion to our shared hour that propels us back out into the world wondering how things will unfold, and buzzing with our thoughts, our personal investment, to share.

It is not that church (or, more significantly, the gospel) is, or ought to be, like watching Line Of Duty. It is not that those who like LOD might like church. It is simply that those who believe in something greater than the welcome distraction of a good tv drama might have more questions to ponder than easy answers. Something quite marvellous is happening across the UK this spring. Those with eyes to see, take note.


Thursday, April 01, 2021

Five crosses

That piece of church furniture we call the altar—the table at which we make our memorial of Jesus’ offering up of himself once for all, and, in response, offer up our own sacrifice of thanks and praise—is marked by five crosses, one in each of the four corners and one at the centre-point, recalling the five wounds of Christ on the cross: the nail-piercing of his wrists and ankles, and the spear thrust up through his ribs to burst open his heart.

For most of the year, these crosses are covered by a fine linen cloth, but on Maundy Thursday we strip the altars bare, exposing them until the altar is made ready again to celebrate on Easter Sunday.

This photo is of the stripped altar in the Lady Chapel at St Nicholas’. I love its elegant, elongated form.

These crosses, beautifully tactile, usually hidden from view, are just about my favourite piece of symbolism in the symbol-rich Christ-shaped imagination of the Church. Our hands, our feet, our heart, none of which escape wounding, are to be conformed to his likeness. What we do, where we go, and what motivates us, not for our glory but, for the most part hidden, one with him. Our mandate, to love one another, as he has loved.