H was at the now infamous ‘Sharia’ speech last week, and thought the Rowan Williams was really good (despite what the press said). Today I had my chance to hear him, though on a completely different subject. He gave the Lent Lecture to the ministers (lay and ordained, which is how come I got to be there) of the Diocese of Winchester. I went with some trepidation, not expecting to understand half of what he said, and quite possibly to disagree with him on some things (if I understood them.)
I have to say Rowan Williams was brilliant – totally outstanding, understandable, engaging, orthodox and human. In the morning he spoke on the Resurrection (well the lectures are designed to prepare the ministers for their Easter messages). There were several things in what he said that really struck me, and I suspect will stay with me:
* “Jesus opens up a place for us to stand in relationship to both God and the world… we occupy Jesus identity in the world before God” I’d never thought about our relationship with God and Jesus in these terms before: humbling and exciting at the same time.
* Looking at the historical core of the Resurrection story he talked about how the stories of the Passion in the Gospel of Mark (the first Gospel to be written down) are all detailed, like a route-map of Jerusalem with lots of illusions to prophesy and patterns recognised from the Old Testament. In contrast Matthew’s account of the Resurrection are “abrupt, confused, vivid and unpolished” – a new kind of story telling that does not fit with the expected pattern but rather “pressed into existence by the facts”. In other words what you might expect if it inaugurated a new age. Fascinating – well at least I thought so.
If possible the afternoon session was even better. Titled: “Risen Today” it tried to deal with how the Resurrection impacts on people today, and was followed by an extensive question and answer session.
* The Resurrection shows that the world really can change – something happened in history that changed the world, proving it’s possible for things to be different; giving Christians justification for being a nuisance and wanting a tidier world, a world that doesn’t have to be as it is.
* If Jesus is risen then there is a human destiny – our dignity liberty and glory are so that we are proper companions for Christ. Isn’t that just the most amazing idea?
* Prayer is allowing God to happen in us – the action God desires to do in us to bring us to life – letting God be God (rather than us giving a shopping list) – the suggestion was that we might need to do a bit of spring cleaning in our lives to give God a clear route!
* All liturgy probably needs decluttering – not necessarily less words, just more spaces between them.
Along the way we discovered that Rowan Williams is a fan of Fawlty Towers and the music of Mozart, specifically the Magic Flute. He also showed himself alert to the need for careful answers to tricky questions:
Q: What would you do if they found the bones?
A: Become a Quaker!