Will there ever be a long weekend like it again?
On the Friday we had the once-in-a-generation wedding of a royal couple. It was held in an abbey in a city and watched by millions all around the world. Lots of pomp. Lots of celebrities. Lots of photos.
Then on the Monday we had the after-a-decade funeral of a terrorist. It was held on an aircraft carrier on the sea and the same millions only became aware of it after it had all finished. No pomp. No celebrities. No photos.
The juxtaposition of these events puts my imagination in overload. I'll leave it to the eloquent to draw out the parallels and the contrasts. But of this you can be sure - the events of this weekend will still come up in conversation and in textbooks one century from now (should the Lord tarry!).
Speaking of the Lord, the reality which I can't shake off from this weekend is the way one subject that was meant to go away just keeps rearing its head. Religion.
I loved the wedding. I am still reeling from the authenticity of the Christian faith I heard expressed in that service. Did they really write that prayer themselves? Ok - Romans 12 is a suitable passage for a wedding - maybe a little more edgy than its traditional cousin, 1 Corinthians 13 - but still highly suitable. But why choose to include Romans 12.1-2 in the reading? And why have it read with such feeling and conviction. And did they really select Love Divine, All Loves Excelling? Did the whole world really hear "Let us see Thy great salvation, perfectly restored in Thee; changed from glory into glory till in heaven we take our place; till we cast our crowns before Thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise" And did the preacher really say all that stuff?
Yes, I know about state-religion but don't you think they crossed a line here? Don't you think they went just a bit too far - away from the formal and the traditional to the real and the authentic? Or am I being duped here? Maybe William was as bored as he looked during the sermon? I am thinking these thoughts and then I hear someone say them so well. Martin Bashir on BBC's Newsnight on 29/4/11 - a 99 second clip that is going viral on facebook at the moment.
And the funeral - the assassination of Osama Bin Laden? I am still thinking about it. While it is ugly, nevertheless I do understand the eruption of joy which took place in various public spaces in the USA as the news broke. While it is even more ugly, I do understand the outbreaks of patriotism. And while I applaud neither the joy nor the patriotism, it is the naivete that surprises me. Do people really think that this is in some sense a victory? Do people really think that the new 'Situation Vacant' will not receive countless applicants? A more restrained triumphalism would be wise - as would a read of this quote, wrongly ascribed to Martin Luther King (although that will make it move more quickly) that is all over facebook as well:
"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that" (sounds like Romans 12 at the wedding, doesn't it!?)
But let's come back to religion. I like the way President Obama goes about relating to people of other faiths. I like the way he does not demand a home-court advantage for Christianity. I like the way he tries to make space for Islam and Muslims as people of faith quite distinct from the extremists on their edge. He rightly spoke of how Bin Laden was a "mass murderer of Muslims". Watching his speech in Egypt from two years ago was a profound experience for me. And now - even in the wake of the death of the great enemy - an effort is made to respect Islam. He didn't need to do that. He really didn't. But he did. Sure some will quibble over the details - but an effort was made to be respectful as
this BBC report notes.
And so it was a weekend with one wedding and a funeral - but also two religions.