Its Good Friday and the most solemn , reflective day in the Christian calendar. One of the products of having a 6-year-old daughter attending a church school is that you are often called to answer some metaphysical questions on God and Jesus. Over recent months these questions have ranged from where does God Sleep to why does God allow bad things to children. This was after the Haiti earthquake.
She also makes up hymns on a keyboard the most plangent being one that began O God, help,help,help,help and she insists that we say Grace at mealtime.
Personally I think that’s its important that Phoebe has knowledge of the Bible stories for without a grasp of the Christian Tradition how can she understands much of Western Art, Literature and Music. Without knowledge of the Bible how do you deconstruct the work of Bach, Caravaggio, Milton or Rembrandt?
In such circumstances I thought that I would re evaluate my relationship with Jesus. I have always been drawn to the historical figure of Jesus as a revolutionary figure rather than the treacly rather spruced up figure that I used to see in the Methodist Sunday school I attended in Boothen.
I even made it to being a choirboy at the local church in Abbey Hulton although I did not take much notice of the service as I used to read a bird identification book under my cassock.
When I was 17 or so I was “converted” although in my case the conversion did not happen on the Road to Damascus. In my case it was the A6 on the road to Matlock since that brief infatuation with the evangelical movement I have maintained a deep scepticism with sometimes surfaces as the case of the Bethel City Church proved.
I enjoy visiting churches and cathedrals. I have visited most medieval founded Cathedrals in England with the exception of Rochester. I have seen the chapel of St Francis- my favourite saint- in Assisi. I have smelt rosemary in the Greek Orthodox monastery above the cave in which the Book of Revelations was written on Patmos. I have sat in the amphitheatre in Ephesus where St Paul preached. And above the most spiritual pace for me was the white sand of Iona.
I am or at least think I am a spiritual person but cannot make the leap of faith. Its partly rational and its partly embarrassment but mainly it’s the Christians
Part of the problem with Jesus is that Christians tend to get in the way. As I have explained before I regularly attend church and it is a truism that church going leastways in the Church of England is a middle class interest and a rather straight laced one at that. I went to an Easter Sunday service in Aldeburgh in Suffolk a few years ago and it’s was one of the more unwelcoming occasion I can recall.
It’s also an issue with me that the emphasis that some Christians give to sexuality over more pressing issues. Last June Churches in Leek arranged for the Bishop of Stafford to visit one lunchtime and answer questions in a local pub. I was always think of the Mencken comment that a Bishop is a figure who reaches a higher position in the church than did Jesus Christ. I went over and rather predictably someone asked a question of gay clergy. I forget what Bishop Gordon Mursell had to say. I was next and simply pointed out that a child in the developing world dies every 16 seconds of preventable disease, we have global conflict and environmental degradation and yet the Church or anyway its members have this obsession what adults do in the privacy of their homes.
But there remains the figure of Jesus and as I said its Jesus the revolutionary figure that I have the most regard for. Jesus the advocate of the oppressed, the vulnerable and the marginalised. And I see Jesus in the form of some of the great Christians of the 20th century Archbishop Romero of El Salvador murdered at the high altar by rightists 30 years ago, Thomas Merton peace campaigner and monk who reached out to eastern religions and Dietrich Bonhoffer the opponent of the Nazis who was hanged by them in the closing days of the war.
But it’s the representation of Jesus in the Pasolini film Gospel according to St Matthew that makes the most resonance dedicated to the peasant Pope John XX111. Christ becomes, in the hands of the Gay Marxist intellectual Pasolini, an expressly political figure – a serene, utterly self-contained messenger who recruits his disciples and preaches with a passion identifying completely with the poor and suffered for them.
I’ll be working at the supermarket this afternoon in the jostling, impatient crowds and I’m sure that the message of sacrifice and redemption will be completely lost on them