25th March 2018
Living in the story
The academic form of training that I undertook for ministry in the Methodist Church was a course rather than going to college. This meant that we were only in college approximately every other month for a weekend (Friday evening to Sunday afternoon) and the shared study time between college weekends was a weekly tutorial in a local small group, at the tutors home. Apart from that our only significant time in college was ‘Easter School’ which was a whole week in residence during Holy Week.
The institution I attended was based in Sarum College in Salisbury, but the institution itself was the Southern Theological Education & Training Scheme or STETS; an ecumenical setting founded by the Anglican, Methodist and United Reformed churches. One of the great joys and blessings in being based in a building in an ancient cathedral close is that it can generate a great sense of tranquillity. Even before the dramatic and concerning events that have put Salisbury in the headlines recently, the walled and gated close could feel cocooned from the city that lay just beyond the walls, let alone the turmoil of the wider world.
So the gift of Easter School meant that in the early part of Holy Week as students we were engaged in academic study and activity, whilst as the week progressed, we became more enmeshed and immersed in the spirituality of living in the passion narrative of Holy Week. You might be able to imagine the richness and diversity of events that would happen in the close and in the city as well as the cathedral under the shadow of that dramatic spire.
In one of the three years we were there we had the opportunity to do some street evangelism which meant we decided to dramatise the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). In our retelling of the parable some of the actors were dressed in disposable hooded white coveralls. As we walked through the streets to where the drama was about to be performed onlookers grew increasingly excited. Not because of what we intended to do but because they were mistaken about who we were. The people going about their shopping assumed because of the GM protesters that were frequently in the news at that we were protesters about to cause a commotion. They were disappointed when they realised we were theology students.
As we move from the wilderness contemplations of Lent, into the subversive, disruptive drama of Holy week, maybe we should be thinking about the story of a disruptive protester king who people expected to be something different from what he was. Here was Jesus, a king of a different kind, who some people expected to upset the powers that be and the status quo as an almighty conqueror, rather than the sacrificial saviour who overturned tables literally and symbolically; a case of mistaken identity.
Be it the sacred cities of Jerusalem and Salisbury, or the sacred places of our own lives, are we prepared to inhabit his story as Jesus disrupts ours, not by force but through sacrificial love? It will mean a journey through jubilant palm branches to rejection; overwhelming pain, cold cruel nails and splinters stained with blood; to the tomb bursting freedom that lies beyond! Are we ready; as if we can ever be ready to live in his story, so that he can breathe new life into ours?
Blessings of peace and grace.
Rev Nigel Rodgers