Saturday, 11 April 2020

Planted Together

It was Nigel Lawson who remarked that 'the NHS is the closest thing the English people have to a religion'. Recent events have proved him right in ways he could scarcely have foreseen. With our churches closed and locked – even at Easter, even for private prayer – we have no communal religion to bind us together in these trying times. In its place we have the secular cult of the NHS, which has developed its own symbolism – the ubiquitous rainbows and hearts – and its own regular eucharistic observance, the clapping and banging that signal our devotion to 'our' NHS. I know – what most people are applauding is the front-line work force of that system, rather than the system itself, but it all feeds into reinforcing the sacrosanct status of one particular way of supplying a population's medical needs (and other developed countries that don't have our system don't seem to be doing spectacularly worse than us, given that we had longer to prepare than some). The untouchable 'sacred cow' status of the NHS looks certain to be more secure than ever when all this dies down.
  To its credit, my own parish church – like many others, I'm sure – had initially announced its intention to stay open for private prayer. Then, in short order, came the decree from the top that all churches were to be locked up and closed to all for the duration. But at least the churchyard – which is also something of a nature reserve – is still open, and I stroll there on most fine days, enjoying the butterflies, the flowers, the birdsong, and the magnificent old trees coming into leaf. I also enjoy reading the headstones, where they are still legible (they include this little masterpiece). This morning my eye was caught by a Victorian stone bearing a quotation from Paul's epistle to the Romans:

'For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death,
We shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.'

This is the language of the King James Bible – other versions prefer 'united' or 'identified' to 'planted together' – but how apt that word 'planted' is in the context of a churchyard where so many trees grow. And, of course, how apt for Easter, and for these times.

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