Loss of Nerve?
Dear Parents, Guardians and Friends,
Just outside the Cathedral on the second Sunday of Easter, I greeted someone with, ‘Christ is Risen’, expecting the reply, ‘He is risen indeed. Alleluia!’ However, both of us had only just left the Cathedral Eucharist, during which the Dean, Jonathan Greener not only preached about the greeting ‘Christ is risen’ but encouraged us to give the response. It’s worth remembering that we’re only at the beginning of Eastertide, which comes to a close on 5 June at Pentecost. [50 days after Easter] Coming back to Exeter Cathedral School many of the kind greetings I’ve experienced are in the form of a question. ‘Did you have a good Easter?’, suggesting, at least to me at any rate, that Easter is now over. My sense is that open religious expression seems embarrassing for many and for others it has no established place in the psyche anyway.
Jonathan Greener, in his sermon, told us of his experience of Romania, where he had been for several extended periods of time, so much so that he speaks the language. The greeting and reply ‘Christ is risen. He is indeed indeed. Alleluia’, he told us, is said constantly by Romanians throughout Eastertide and not just in churches and in their beautiful Orthodox liturgy. That’s not altogether surprising as 93% of Romanians are Orthodox Christians. The Easter Greeting if you said it to someone in an aisle of Sainsbury’s, you would possibly be looked at with a bewildered face suggesting that you had taken leave of your senses.
The UK, of course, is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural with the accompanying religious histories and practices. The result is that the Christian churches, particularly the Church of England cannot make the assumptions they once did about their place in society. As Chaplain of Exeter Cathedral School, I cannot make assumptions about Christianity in the individuals lives of the children. This has led, perhaps, to what some have described as a ‘loss of nerve’ among a majority of Anglicans. The more confident Churches are the more evangelical churches, where there is greater willingness to speak about spirituality and religion both in and out of churches. Alongside that, of course, is the increased interest in and practice of spirituality without necessarily any religious content – that puzzling distinction being made between religion and spirituality.
However, I myself am not sure about this ‘loss of nerve’. For me, what’s called confident Christianity is always in danger of encouraging what might be called propositional persuasion. In other words, telling others, or at least proposing that others might at least consider adhering to Jesus Christ. This ‘missional’ approach has a long history and some of it has led to a more caring society. On the other hand, there are those who live the Christ-like life who would not be promoting that life as a matter of persuasion. That has its dangers too in what is increasingly the privatising of religion and/or spirituality. However, the inner quality of Christianity might be put like this: Christ is already with you, no matter what you do or don’t believe, and my humanity is about listening to you and learning from you. There’s a leak of clarity in that, but also the making of creative space; not an approach shouted [or sung] from the roof-tops. It is lived. So when I say quietly to myself, ‘Christ is risen’, while being with you, I’m opening myself up to God’s presence in all you are. However, I confess to a fear of ‘public’ declarations. Is it fear? Is it because of the measure of doubt in my own inner life? Perhaps.
So what about the Easter Greeting? A young Ukrainian man, on Easter Day itself, accompanied his wife and child to the Polish border as refugees. They were, of course, terrified. He had to stay behind for some form of military service. As they parted with enormous hugs, he said to his wife in Ukrainian, “Christ is risen’. His wife and the child knew exactly how to reply. And that was in the middle of circumstances, where it’s perhaps difficult to feel much hope, let alone give the word ‘Resurrection’ much content. Defiance? Maybe. More importantly, it was an acknowledgement that Christ’s death and resurrection are taking place in that incident, including the darkest ones any of has seen or read about. Christ living right at the heart of what some call ‘good’ and ‘evil’. ‘Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia’.
It is not a loss of nerve to whisper it!
With best wishes,