It was a dull match in which Ireland battled their way to a 13-10 win over Australia.
I pondered the delight of the 50,000 others who filled the stadium. Perhaps the game had become a vehicle for deeper feelings, an occasion when among the singing and the cheers, people found a sense of somehow transcending the realities of everyday life.
There was a profound simplicity about it all, a game in which players confronted each other with sheer physical force, yet shook hands and embraced at the conclusion of the match, a game in which each team would form two lines to applaud the opponents from the pitch when the final whistle blew.
When I first started going to church in 1980, I mistakenly imagined that the Christian Gospel meant people would be filled with a similar enthusiasm and would show a similar spirit of warmth towards others.
Returning to my flat after the match, I thought about posting a sermon here, as I have done for some years. Yet the theme of the day, ‘Christ the King’ seemed to speak more of the power of those who claimed to speak for Jesus than of anything one might recognize in Jesus of Nazareth.
There was no possibility that the great and the powerful were ever going to follow the example of Jesus. Instead, Jesus was shaped into a figure that suited the purposes of those who had power and who had no intention of relinquishing it.
Returning to the words of Umberto Eco’s novel Foucault’s Pendulum, the explanation of the corruption of the teachings of Jesus suggests that it became possible not because Christianity was too complicated, but because it was too simple.
In Umberto Eco’s novel Foucault’s Pendulum, Casaubon, one of the central characters of the novel comes to a conclusion that the Gospel was too simple:
“Yet someone had just arrived and declared himself the Son of God, the Son of God made flesh, to redeem the sins of the world. Was that a run-of-the-mill mystery? And promised salvation to all: you only had to love your neighbour. Was that a trivial secret? And he bequeathed the idea that whoever uttered the right words at the right time could turn a chunk of bread and a half-glass of wine into the body and blood of the Son of God, and be nourished by it. Was that a paltry riddle? And then he led the Church fathers to ponder and proclaim that God was One and Triune and that the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son but that the Son did not proceed from the Father and the Spirit. Was that some easy formula for hylics? And yet they, who now had salvation within their grasp-do-it-yourself salvation- turned deaf ears. Is that all there is to it? How trite. And they kept on scouring the Mediterranean in their boats, looking for a lost knowledge, of which those thirty-denarii dogmas were but the superficial veil, the parable for the poor in spirit, the allusive hieroglyph, the wink of the eye at the pneumatics. The mystery of the Trinity? Too simple: there had to be more to it.
But everything is not a bigger secret. There are no “bigger secrets,” because the moment a secret is revealed, it seems little.
Someone-Rubinstein, maybe-once said, when asked if he believed in God: ‘Oh, no, I believe … in something much bigger’. And someone else -was it Chesterton?-said that when men stop believing in God, it isn’t that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything.”
The desire for something more complex, something more sophisticated, something more amenable to allowing the development of structures of control and power, something that could be used to justify excessive wealth, led to the church, and to generations of preachers who re-presented the story in a way that suited their purpose.
Christ the king? As long as he is a benign monarch who allows his representatives free rein to pursue their interests.