Tesco was shut at 7.00 this morning. The 24/7 store was very firmly closed, the steel shutters were down.
But of course Tesco was shut. It’s 7.00 on Easter morning in Ireland and there was one other car on the dual carriageway. The shop is about making profit, not about being open on the of chance that someone might have realized that they had run out of milk.
The consumerist ethic runs through everything, even church services. We think that things are there for us.
I heard a story recently about a woman who attended choral evensong in an English cathedral with a clerical friend. Evensong is a medieval service, usually sung in the mid to late afternoon. The woman complained to her companion that the service had not done much for her because she had not been able to participate. He looked at her, “But my dear, it is not there for you”.
I remember going to Carlisle Cathedral on 22nd June 2006, the twentieth anniversary of my ordination. There was a beautiful evensong sung by gentlemen of the choir, voices capturing centuries of tradition. There were a handful of clergy and some lay people associated with the cathedral, but I appeared to the the only ordinary member of the public.
Evensong for one? Of course not, it was there whether I was there or not. It was sung as part of the daily prayers of the cathedral, it was not there as a consumer commodity.
Walking up Killiney Hill at 6.15 this morning (which was how I happened to be going to Tesco at 7.00), I pondered what the gathering was about. The car thermometer at the bottom of the hill showed just two degrees; at the top of the hill, looking out over the Irish Sea, there was a biting wind. Despite the early start and the bitter cold, there were still around two hundred people on the hilltop. It wasn’t for us, it wasn’t about whether we felt cold or tired. It was about worship, not individual convenience, just as Tesco is about profit and not individual convenience. If two things coincide, all well and good, but let’s not forget what the priority is.
I got the milk at the convenience store in the village – at a price somewhat higher than that in Tesco, but without them focusing on their first object of making a profit, there would be no convenience store. Similarly, if the church fails to focus on its first object of worshipping God, there will be no church.