I was watching a Television programme about early Britain last week. Of course Stonehenge figured largely. The camera showed the 5000 people who gather there each year to watch the sun come up over the heel stone at dawn. There were ‘druids’ and ‘new agers’ and simply a great mass of young people. Some had camped there at the site overnight, some had got up early to drive there. There was a great feeling of excitement around the campsite, and lots of cheering as the sun came up.
I am also put in mind of the Australian A.N.Z.A.C. day celebrations. In Melbourne, the main service of memorial of the landings at Gallipoli is at 5.30 in the morning. Thousands of people come out to be part of the dawn service. Increasingly too, people are making the journey to Gallipoli itself, and again, are camping out overnight to be part of the dawn service. Invariably a politician from Australia makes the trip to Gallipoli to be there.
I have sat up all night manning a barricade which was designed to stop a motorway opening, which was going to deliver thousands of cars a day into a bottleneck in the inner city.
At a more mundane level, I have seen people fishing in lakes and rivers at 5.30 in the morning. I have seen streams of cars driving up to the snow or to boating locations, to arrive by 7.30 am from distances which are at least two hours away.
It is in these observations that one can see people’s hearts (treasure) laid open. Have you heard the phrase ‘What gets you up in the morning?’ Well these observations say ‘Watching the sun come up at Stonehenge, A.N.Z.A.C. Day, and Sport.’
Can you see where I am going? What kind of a message would it send to our community if before the Easter Dawn Service we all camped out in the park around the fountain. That would be some kind of a witness don’t you think? There would be excitement for young people, a sense of anticipation for older ones. There would be a great feeling of community.
And what would all this be in aid of? Not a natural phenomenon, not sporting or leisure activities, not a memorial of the dead, but the celebration of the resurrection of the one in whom ‘is LIFE’. This is the person (Jesus) who was the cause of the resetting of our calendar. Various rulers have demonstrated their glory by naming months of the year after themselves (July and August, for example) or by starting the calendar over again (Mohammed, the Jewish Calendar, various dictators). But for the ‘West’ our years are numbered because of Jesus. That is a measure of His importance.
I would love it if we could make this Easter the same kind of event in Territet as other events, which to me are of lesser importance. I think that one of the difficulties that we face in the Church is that the value of what we do is so much a part of us, that then we become a bit ‘domestic’ in our Christianity. Decisions are made on the basis of convenience, so that devoting time to worshipping God has to fit in with what is convenient to us, rather than our letting the times of God be the determiner of our lives. Remember, it was the courage and strength of the Christian martyrs which was a very strong ‘witness’ (that’s what the word ‘Martyr’ means) for the power of God to the pagan world. ‘Who would true valour see, let them come hither, one here will constant be, come wind come weather!’ (Not, I will constant be, if there is nice weather!)
To ask you to take this step may seem strange. I am aware that many people live in difficult domestic situations. I am aware that we are getting older. I am aware that to pay due regard to one’s family duties is also an important part of life. Being a Christian is not an easy vocation, especially for lay people who have it harder than clergy in some respects. But I am also convinced that an increased commitment to the celebration of our one big festival in the year will help us to make the cultural change that is necessary for us to continue to be a faithful witness to the Power of God in Jesus for the up-coming generations in this area.
A member of the congregation gave me a quote from Gary Nicolosi, Rector of St. James’ Church, Westminster.(See the notice board). He says ‘Parishes continue to decline because the hard work of cultural transformation has not taken place. If we only improve what they have been doing, they will die. We must change or go the way of the dinosaur. Our Churches need to be known more for their passion for Jesus than for their strawberry teas, book sales, bazars and concerts.’ It is not that these things are bad, and that here we need them, to keep going. But do you hear what he says? Not that we only need to be known for our passion for Jesus, but that we need to be known more for that, than our fund raisers. That is why I put ‘Dr. Paul’s Question Stall’ into the sale. That is why we need to think of ways to introduce our congregation and our programmes to the ‘sale customers’ as well as our jams and books.
But I am very encouraged by how you are responding so far! At some groups I have led, people have said ‘We are so glad to hear more about the faith from you’. Great! I have, for the first time in my ministerial career, had people say to me ‘I would like to deepen my faith, have you got a process that we can come to? Yes we have. It starts at the start of the Academic year this year.
For the first time in my ministerial career the ‘Watch of the Passion’ has been started from the 4.00 am time-slot and I have been asked that if people can’t get here early in the morning, or in the middle of the night, can they do it at home? (Yes, but you can also sleep over here!).
I have, as I wrote last week, had a great time of sharing weith the Chaplaincy Council, where, as Gary Nicolosi also suggests we are working toward ways of entering a time of ‘sanctioned experimentation. ‘ If things don’t work, we will change them back. But it is important that our mindset be that we try out new things and are willing to give ourselves to them for a period. Otherwise we will never know, and we will go the way of all flesh.
It is this kind of cultural change that I was called here to do.