There is an aspect of our media that definitely likes to play on the dramatic, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. If it is not dramatic then it is not really news. So: crime figures are discussed with far more animation than data on the balance of payments. The disaster, especially if there are pictures, will draw more attention than the routine of life and the personal – especially stories about health and education – is always more easily understood than the abstract.
But then there are also questions about values and loyalty. The rebellion, especially in politics, is more interesting than the loyal (although even here, there are some political movements that are now attracting religious faith and loyalty, with little rational questioning of assumptions or proposals).
Old-fashioned attitudes like constancy and consistency which are perhaps more a matter of habit and attitude, are regarded with a sense of boredom. So where does the fear of the Lord fit in? Indeed, what is it? How do we recognise it?
It is perhaps far more deeply ingrained than we suppose, in that it abides in our sense of values and of being. It is there in our sense of right and wrong, but it is also there as we make our personal devotions and as we come together in worship. It works itself out in our relationships and attitudes, and in what we do and say and even think. It is there in our priorities and it directs the sense and courses of our lives. It is certainly there in the choices we make.
And in these times it is perhaps profoundly counter-cultural. It does not focus on self or on getting and spending, and neither it is about getting the advantage over the next person. It might look at the media rather more critically and wish to ponder rather more before rushing to judgment, especially where more emotional responses are being paraded.
So: the desire to condemn and to find fault, the desire to join the latest fashion and craze, the fear of being thought of as being old-fashioned and even out-of-date all play on our fears of being excluded when the reality is that we are already radically included in the most glorious enterprise that ever existed. In this sense we are already part of a movement and an identity that is personal, local, national and global, and which is rooted in the depths of the universe.
God has drawn us into Himself through Jesus Christ and it is here that our identity and our destiny find their homes. There is no need for condemnation or even for anxiety for we are already made acceptable in the sight of God though the person of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps this is where our approach to the feast of All Saints and its associated commemoration of All Souls come together. At All Saints-tide we are rejoicing in those who have completed their lives among us and have found their place in the presence of God. It is a mighty celebration which looks forward to the consummation of creation in the wonder and majesty of God. It is here that our eternal home is to be found and celebrated even if this is for us a vision of the future, where the fact of death holds no fears even if we are still uncertain about the manner of our dying.
All Souls-tide is of course more personal and perhaps more poignant as we remember those close to us who we love but see no longer. The love itself does not die even if those we have known have indeed died, and we are still mindful of the relationship that is for the time being sundered and of the things we said and did, or which we failed to say and do. Yet this time is also a time for profound hope and the bidding prayer of the service of lessons and carols refers to those who rejoice with in a greater light and on a further shore.
Both festivals are perhaps drawn together in Jesus’ commands to His disciples to abide in Him as He abides in the Father; He tells us that by abiding in Him we may indeed be fruitful, even if our lives are the subject of pruning, in order to make them more fruitful yet.
This may not look glamourous or dramatic, but it is what lasts – indeed it is what endures to eternity. So the fleeting headline or television or on-line image may have a passing interest but will soon be lost in the wake of more arresting images.
Every blessing, Sydney Maitland.