Is Anyone There?

The Light of the World

Here is one of three versions of this painting by Holman Hunt. One, first exhibited in 1854, is in Keble College, Oxford; another, painted in 1856, is in the Manchester City Art Gallery and the third (1904) is in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Which version this is and why the artist painted three versions is not what is important here.

It was inspired by these words from the Book of Revelation 3:20.

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will sup with him and he with me.”

The door hasn’t been opened in a long while — weeds are already growing across the step and up the door. The people inside are completely self-sufficient, independent individuals who have no need of outside help.

Just like today. We are all shut up in our own homes, not even allowed to invite anyone in and dependent on the Internet for health and happiness. Fitness on-line is the big new thing. We are allowed out to shop for essentials. What are “essentials”? Food, obviously, and medicines. Bicycles, surprisingly. Churches? No, of course not. Mental health is of great concern but it seems that spiritual health couldn’t matter less.

The Right Reverend June Osborne hammers on the doors of Llandaff Cathedral before her installation as Bishop five years ago.

Nobody is going to answer the door for you, this time, June. That’s because everyone has left for the time being. Your worry, now, must be whether anyone will come back when they are no longer locked down. June’s Church in Wales profile describes her as ‘ground breaking’.

Closing her cathedral over Easter, if not ‘ground breaking’, is certainly unusual and sadly she is not alone. All bishops throughout Britain are obediently bowing to political and scientific advice and shutting up shop.

Until this century cathedrals and churches were where you went in times of trouble. It’s also where the clergy were, to comfort and console you.

This is the Church of England in 1866:

‘My curates were ill, unable to do any duty – I had been up for several nights running to two or three in the morning, attending to the sick, and more especially to the timid and fearful, – who would not go to bed for fear of ‘the pestilence that walketh in darkness’ – Wearied and at my wits’ end as to how I could possibly help my Vestry through their arduous duty, I had come down to a late breakfast at nine o’clock, when my servant announced Dr Pusey … he offered to act as my assistant Curate to visit the sick and dying … and to minister to their spiritual wants’. [The Revd S Hansard, quoted in Liddon’s life of Pusey]

The Church of England, 2020: ‘We are in a time of great fearfulness. The numbers of those becoming seriously ill and dying is increasing. It therefore remains very important that our churches remain closed for public worship and private prayer.’ [The Archbishops of Canterbury and York]

Now we’re in a time of great national crisis and what is the reaction of the Church in Wales and indeed the whole national church? Lock the doors and retreat to the safety of a recording studio.

A friend who has a medieval church on Exmoor had to send his churchwarden to the local iron-monger to buy a chain and padlock since no key could be found and no one could remember any time when the church had ever been locked.  Certainly, during the Black Death churches were not locked and who knows how many people benefited from being able to go to a sacred space to say their prayers

We are in deeper trouble than anything we’ve seen in over 70 years and our modern, liberal bishops are spineless and clueless. They tell us they are forward thinking, enterprising, enlightened, but they can’t find a way of working with politicians and scientists to devise ways in which committed Christians can go to church on Easter Sunday.

Perhaps Good Friday Meditations, alone at home or alone with Skype, will prove deeply satisfying, since all they need time and peace. 

No Eucharist on Easter Sunday will be devastating!

Modern Anglican bishops are extremely creative when it comes to anything to do with sex and gender. Couldn’t they be equally creative and imaginative and devise a plan that would allow those who care to receive the Body of Christ on April 12th 2020. Otherwise, I suspect, that will become a date of infamy throughout the Christian world.

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