Thursday, April 20, 2006

Hebrews for Everyone

From pp 77/78 of Hebrews for Everyone, by Tom Wright, published by SPCK 2003

Hebrews 7: 20-28

Many of the parish churches in England have a board somewhere close to the door which lists all the rectors who have had charge of that parish. Often the list begins way back in the eighth or ninth century. Even when it’s only the fifteenth or sixteenth century, so that the church stretches back five or six hundred years rather than over a thousand, it’s still a remarkable feeling to read the names and to think of all those people, some no doubt holier than others, some no doubt wiser than others, who have, as best they could, served the people of that parish, preached God’s word and administered the sacraments.

But where are they now? The answer is obvious; apart from the last one or two, or three or four at the most, they are all dead and gone. They have held office for a time, and are now, we trust, at rest – perhaps some of them in the very churchyard outside the building where we are standing. For the church to continue from generation to generation God has to raise up, again and again, people who will take on the calling to serve. They will pass away in their turn and others will succeed them. And so on.

But supposing, as we stood looking at the list, we discovered that someone had been appointed rector in, say, 1600, and he was still there. Somehow he had escaped the common lot of all the others, and the parish had never needed to replace him, because he was still alive, still a faithful minister of the gospel. An extraordinary and bizarre suggestion, of course – though we would all love to meet such a person, to talk to him about what life had been like for the last 400 years, the things the history books hadn’t told us! But the real significance would come when you considered the question: what would it be like to have someone running the parish for 400 years?

Most church people would shrink from the idea, for the good reason that we know that nobody is perfect. By changing rectors regularly you hope to ensure that different skills are brought to the task, and different failings balanced out. But in this case the people would affirm that they were completely happy with the arrangement. The man was exactly what they needed. No further change was necessary.
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