Taking a note from television, readers are advised the following content may be disturbing. At least I hope it will.
Not that you are about to be shocked by startling revelations but discomfited, I hope, by reminders of old thoughts tucked safely and sleeping comfortably in brain memory banks. It will not be the first time I have used another man’s words to stir a little discomfort in my own comfortable pew – and hopefully others.
A hundred or so years ago Anglican parson Studdert Kennedy, was plucked from a comfortable living in the beautiful county of Worcestershire, given officer status as an army chaplain, and assigned to the muck and rubble of Europe as it ripped itself apart in World War One. It was his job to bring comfort to a generation of young men as they lay dying of unthinkable wounds – and strengthen the resolve of those who survived,
The survivors gave him a nickname – “Woodbine Willy” – derived from the cigarettes he always offered the badly wounded before his prayers for mercy and salvation. Other chaplains in the field thought the title denoted disrespect for white collared clergy in general and Chaplain Kennedy in particular.
To the critics “Woodbine Willy” wrote: “They gave me this name like their nature, compacted of laughter and tears, a sweet that was born of the bitter, a joke that was torn from the years. Their name! Let me hear it – the symbol of unpaid, un-payable-debt. For the men to whom I owed God’s Peace I put off with a cigarette.”
I mention it here because, if you’ve read this far, I want you to understand a little of the nature of Studdert Kennedy when he reminds us of the death of another young man and what thoughts Easter should bring. He titled it “Indifference.”
“When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged him on a tree. They drove great nails through hands and feet and made a Calvary. They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were his wounds and deep, for those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.
“When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by, they never hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die; for men had grown more tender and they would not give Him pain, they only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.
“Still Jesus cried ‘forgive them, for they know not what they do! And still it rained the winter rain that drenched him through and through; the crowd went home and left the streets without a soul to see – and Jesus crouched against the wall and cried for Calvary.”
But surely, you say, today is April 5, 2015, Easter Sunday, a day of celebration in the still Christian world. And so it should be – but with chocolate rabbits, Easter eggs, exchange of gifts and a dinner feast that has become a standard essential for all our celebrations?
Somewhere along the way we got lost, our myriad of Christian faiths lost sight of core values in the confusion of interpretation. Those of every sect, from Pentecostal chapel to Roman Catholic cathedral and the multitude of faiths between, publicly walk the path of apparent harmony – while each believes it alone understands and holds the truth.
In the process each and all of us seem to have lost sight of so many of the basic beliefs of the young preacher who set high but reachable standards of good behaviour. His first and second commandments were borrowed from other ancients. Love of God was first. The second: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (And) there is no other commandment greater than these.”
Now, scroll back a few paragraphs to Woodbine Willie’s few lines on “Indifference”, substitute your own city of residence for Birmingham, remember that second commandment, add “inasmuch as you have done it for the least of one these my brethren, you have done it for me” and ask how you’re doing in life.
My own marks are much lower than they should be. And yours?