Monday, April 09, 2007

Holy Week & Easter Retrospective

I think it's fair to say that the Holy Week programme at St Thomas', Lancaster, where I worship is one of the most interesting and creative I have come across. Basically it's a series of meditations at 7-30 am & pm each day (except when there is another major service). These are written and given be members of the Church, along with Sue and my missus (who plan the week). The physical context is great - drapes from the balcony make the main are of the church smaller. The focus is a cross made from rough wood, illuminated by a red filtered spot, and artwork around the drapes, drawn by someone from church.

The theme this year was the shadowy characters of Mark's Gospel, and so the art was of shadowy people - simply drawn in charcoal, who surrounded us. This combination of words, image and silence is probably not what most people associate with a church carrying an evangelical badge. On Good Friday, it all comes together with 6 prayer stations where images and objects depict 6 characters from the meditations in spaces under the two balconies behind the drapes. Then people gather in the centre of the Church around the cross for new meditations (this year focussing on the three women at the foot of the cross).

My contribution on the soldier, using Vietnam images, seemed to work quite well on Tuesday. I tried to describe a soldiers life in words that could have applied to a Vietnam soldier or a Roman ("Strongest army in the world", "you get to go to places you've never dreamed of", etc.) Juxtaposing the crucifixion narrative with an image from the My Lai massacre was especially poignant to a degree I hadn't really anticipated in preparation.

The bit I really wasn't too sure about was the use of 'Universal Soldier' at the end. I didn't want it to appear a pacifist rant, but actually it works well. The point I tried to convey was that we always carry some moral responsibility for what soldiers do on our behalf, and we can't completely morally isolate ourselves from the soldiers in Mark's account. I always hated those passionate talks about the cross where the preacher says it was us who drove in the nails. However, I wanted to explore the idea that soldiers then and now are to some extent always acting on our account. And, we do what they do in different ways.

By the end of Good Friday, everyone was exhausted and with no evening service, we went to see "Amazing Grace", which was much better than I feared. I know it has been criticised for being very white-focussed, but then it sets out to tell the story of the political and personal battles of the day, which were all in a white world. It could have been nauseatingly sentimental, but the strong cast manages to avoid that danger quite effectively. Like all bio-pics, it bends history (Fox actually died in 1806) and shifts the emphasis somewhat away from Clarkson, but still worth seeing.

Apparently they decided not to show just how quickly Wilberforce married Barbara Spooner (6 weeks from meeting her) and I seem to remember he was the only person to be given three cheers in parliament. Obviously credibility would be stretched by such real events!

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