RECENTLY, at the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I said at Mass that one thing we can all do, if we are serious about ecumenism, is to try and learn from Christians in other traditions. Lent is less than a month away and we have some good opportunities for doing this by getting hold of two small, inexpensive, readable books by the present Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury and his immediate predecessor.
Justin Welby’s book (£9.99) mingles Scripture reflections with examples drawn from everyday life and the author’s experience of business and pastoral ministry. The Bible passages are the parable of the pearl in Matthew, the death of Lazarus, the story of Zacchaeus, the anointing of Jesus by Mary in Bethany, Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, the burial of Jesus and two passages from the Apocalypse – the message to Laodicea and the fall of Babylon. Like Jesus, Welby consistently personalises Mammon, and the heart of the book is his claim that Mammon is often the centre of our lives as people, and dominant too, in our society and our world. The faithful Christian needs to dethrone Mammon, to use money properly in the service of the Kingdom: the key to this is the idea of Grace, a gift which we receive freely from God. Welby is deeply influenced by Catholic Social teaching, so he has learnt from us as we now can from him, a two way process.
Professor Rowan Williams’ book (£6.29) is also good for Lent, dwelling on the Cross and the Resurrection. The first part, The Meaning of the Cross, reminds us of the jarring nature of the Cross as a symbol of faith, rooted in the disgrace which surrounded its use in the ancient world: ‘We can only begin to get some sense of what it might have felt like to encounter the symbol of a cross in the first couple of Christian centuries if we imagine going into a church and being faced with a large picture of an electric chair, or perhaps a guillotine.’
Part 2 of the book is about the Resurrection. Williams doesn’t reflect on the finding of the empty tomb but on St Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Christ’s Resurrection ushers in a new age, a new phase in human history, in which Jesus has no limits: ‘To believe in the resurrection, then, is to believe that Jesus, in the great phrase of John Masefield, is “alive and at large in the world”; Jesus is set free, he’s not going to die again, nothing prevents him acting, he is always going to be active and not passive, always at work.’
Both books are worth getting—less than £17 for the two of them.