Thursday, 21 March 2013

Looking for theology behind the chair!

St Augustine's chair, destroyed in the Reformation, now pieced lovingly back together for each enthronement of a new Archbishop of Canterbury. Today, placed up near the altar table, behind the screen which separates the congregation from the main players and the action.

The Reformation should have seen the screens destroyed with the chair. What is this idea that there are parts of a building that are holy, parts of religion that are just for a select few, special places where God dwells and where the many cannot enter? Don't we remember as Holy Week 2013 begins that Jesus tore the screen down, ripped apart the giant curtain in the original temple which separated man and God? Didn't he open the way for all of us who believe to follow him boldly into the Father's holy house, and back out into the fallen world, still shining with his holiness? The great hope of the gospel is that there is no sacred/secular space, no where where God's people can't be or that God himself isn't. To put it another way, every secular place we go gets contaminated with holiness- no screens are necessary!

Unfortunately for our traditional Anglican friends, their theology never quite got through to the furniture. Slowly, over time, the furniture and tradition starts to shape theology again - Lovingly pieced back together by a small number who cherish the old ways but don't realise that they are indecipherable to post Christian Britain and incoherent to scripture.

Perhaps Augustine's magnificent patched up chair is one of the great metaphors for the Anglican inability to ever quite leave behind the old and come fully into New Testament Christianity. If Cranmer's reforming zeal from the beginning was eventually muted, I suspect his modern successor will fare no better against those who would walk quietly behind him, rebuilding pre Reformation theology as quickly as it is dismantled.

All of this of course makes it less likely that the gospel will be clearly seen and heard by the unchurched English- assuming any of them are still listening or looking hard enough for answers behind screens, walls and chairs.

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