“IF ANY preacher had tried to impress you with the belief that some signs and wonders were near at hand, if he had tasked his imagination or his skill in interpreting the hard sayings in Scripture to tell you minutely what those signs and wonders would be, are you not sure that his anticipations would be poor and cold when compared with the things that you have heard of and almost seen?”
So wrote the Christian Socialist Charles Kingsley in apocalyptic vein in 1848. Across Europe today, there are troubling signs and stirrings; but the things that we have seen and heard, though they do pertain to the peace of a continent, barely compete with those of that year of revolutions. We do, however, recall that commentators called the political aftermath of the UK’s referendum in 2016 a coup. Without barricades and toppling thrones, it has, none the less, brought clamour, rancour, and a merciless exposure of the flaws in our party politics.
Many regarded this country somewhat complacently two decades ago as on the up; the contrast of Cool Britannia (a phrase in vogue then) with Brexit Britain is not a soothing one. Both designations are related to national self-image; and the humiliation of the world’s oldest parliamentary democracy which we are seeing is the outcome of a competition of self-images which is not finished yet. The Archbishops’ vision of resolving everything over a pot of tea is a splendid idea, but it seems, too, to reflect another self-image from a time of national danger several decades ago. The Church of England’s ressourcement of the nation will need to reach deeper.
To be positive, the long-awaited 29 March has arrived without general perturbation and confusion. But many of us — one thing that Mrs May did get right in her ill-judged television statement to the nation — are weary. This Sunday — Lent 4, Mothering Sunday, Laetare Sunday — is also known as Refreshment Sunday. In a penitential season, false self-images are broken that healing may come, though in God’s good time, not ours; but the shattering of illusions, though necessary, is a tiring business, and we are invited this Sunday to dwell, as the 1662 collect does, on relief rather than punishment; or, as Common Worship’s collect does, on delivery from the bands of past sin. “Rejoice, Jerusalem,” began the old Latin introit; and then the communion antiphon recalled that Jerusalem was a city at unity in itself. The eucharist provides the pattern for not only the Church’s renewal, but also society’s, in every crisis through which it passes — as the promoters of the parish communion in the Church of England were well aware. It is a renewal that begins with knowing that past errors do not have to determine the shape of the future.