Monday, April 17, 2006

He Is Risen Indeed

My father tells a story of his English lessons from his schooldays. A master asked a pupil to read a passage of Shakespeare, only to be met with a dull monotone. "Put some life into it, Peterkin!", he cried - but to no avail. The pupil was as uninspiring as ever. Eventually, at the end of his tether, the master pushed all the books of his desk on to the poor unsuspecting child below. Had I been in sufficient proximity to a stack of hymn books, that is what I may well have done yesterday at Westminster Abbey.

Easter Sunday is the day that life is put back into the Church. Despite it being arguably the most joyful occasion in the Church's calendar, however, and despite the fact that the Anglican Communion is an "Easter People" (as the sermon yesterday was so keen to point out), the best word I can think of to describe yesterday's sermon was, well, glum.

Glum, despite the fact that the resurrection of Christ is the story of the triumph of life over death. More to the point, it was glum, although there were up to 1,000 people at the service, many of them who must have been tourists, or people who rarely attended church. If ever there was a time that an uplifting, inspiring sermon was ever needed, then that was it. The church is really missing a trick when it gets services like that wrong.

Of course, Friday had seen something far more interesting - the "Manchester Passion", with the Easter story retold with the help of modern music. As can be expected with something like that, it met with some fairly sniffy comments in the newspapers. One letter that I recall bemoaned the fact that a service using modern music was the only Good Friday-specific programming shown by the BBC. I don't know if this is true or not, but what I do know is that the square in Manchester where it was performed was absolutely crammed full with people, and it didn't seem to be your ordinary religious audience, either.

Trying something different, like the Manchester Passion, seemed to bring out interested people in their droves. Moreover, it was performed very well, and almost certainly brought the message of Easter to a wider audience. The message of Easter isn't something to be proclaimed narrowly - it is a story of redemption for the whole of mankind. And in the light of repeatedly diminishing church attendace, those who want to spread the Gospel need to find new ways of getting the message out. If you gave me the choice of seeing the Manchester Passion, or listening to that sermon at Westminster Abbey again, I know what my choice would be. Only one of them has a hope of putting some life back into the church.