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My work took me to London for a few days last week, and I was delighted to be able to see a couple of plays in my spare time. They were both written by an up-and-coming writer from a few hundred years ago, called William Shakespeare, and were performed at the Globe Theatre, near to Southwark Cathedral, where there is a life-size ledger stone to his memory.
One of the productions was Henry VIII, one of his least-performed plays. It had been rather tarted-up – which is probably the best way to describe it, as it was rather risqué and over the top, probably to keep our interest in a relatively dull text, though it was superbly performed.
At the Globe, the stage has two giant pillars and for this play there were giant gold signs fixed to them. One said “Henry VIII” and the other was a huge cross. By the end of the play, while the focus was elsewhere, they were quietly removed and the cross was replaced by a giant “E” for Elizabeth. The locus of power had shifted from the Church of Rome to the monarch of England. The rest, as they say, is history.
Since then we have seen the rise of democracy, which Winston Churchill famously described as, “…the worst form of government – except all the others that have been tried.” The word itself means “rule by the people” as opposed to aristocracy, “rule by the elite”.
The Old Testament includes God’s laws, as he is the true king – a theocracy, which is why it can be hard to apply those rules to an essentially secular society like ours, although many of our laws are still based on the Bible.
In this month of unusual political upheaval, it’s perhaps as well to remember that a Christian understanding of these things acknowledges a need to obey the state authorities (Romans 13) but that we are still answerable to a higher authority. Jesus Christ is our king and he calls us to seek his kingdom – to pray and work for a society that reflects his values. We need to return his cross to centre-stage.
Earthly kingdoms rise and fall, and this month’s events will soon be history. A general election will be held in the next year or two, and the people will have their say. One day, we’ll look back and wonder what the fuss was about in the light of God’s eternity. And maybe we will describe these current times in the words of the title of the other play that I saw at the Globe last week: Much Ado About Nothing.
Blessings in Christ
Diocesan Director of Ordinands and Vocations
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