Reflections on Discipleship – Highs and Lows
My job at the moment is developing discipleship in one Anglican diocese, so as you can imagine I do quite a bit of thinking about what discipleship is, what it means, and what it looks like. Here are some random thoughts, gleaned from my reflection on the Bible and current thinking …
I have three traditions about what I do on Good Friday. Under the general heading of trying to feel miserable I have baked beans on toast at some point in the day (a tradition which dates back several centuries to my incumbency in Coventry where a friend always looked after our kids during the three hours meditation service and fed them the aforementioned delicacy), I listen to at least some of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, which is a great antidote if I have experienced a service earlier with jaunty songs about lighthouses carrying me home, and I end the day by reading my very fave poem ever, the aptly titled Good Friday Evening by Margaret Louisa Woods. I’m am inevitably in tears at this point, so I go to bed, spend Holy Saturday doing nothing in particular (which is exactly how it should be spent) and then get ready to celebrate on Easter Morning.
One of the things I love about being an Anglican is the liturgical calendar, a new discovery for me as one nurtured in the Baptist denomination. I love the highs and lows, the austerity followed by celebration, the way we’re usually so good at rhythm and ‘occasion’; I love it that we feel OK about a stripped back, austere approach in worship without feeling that every week has to be more Spirit-filled and celebratory than the week before, and I love ‘Ordinary Time’, those long swathes of the year when nothing special happens and we just get on with it. It distresses me when I am expected to be jolly on Good Friday, and in particular when the church seems to believe that to engage with children we need to be upbeat and lively.
In other words, churches which take liturgy and the calendar seriously are reflecting real life, with its highs and lows, its moments of grief and wonder, and the endless slog of a spirituality for the long haul. It concerns me that some of those which don’t are subtly giving us messages about our discipleship, our walk with Jesus, which are ultimately destructive. Jesus himself warned those who were thinking about following him that it would not be a picnic. He never promised an easy life, and those of his disciples who ended up as martyrs could certainly not sue him under the Trades Descriptions Act (not least because they were dead, but you know what I mean). If the way we choose to construct our worship as local churches appears to promise that following Jesus is all about walking in faith and victory, we set disciples up for a crash sooner or later. So much better to let our worship contain all the ups and downs of real life and real life discipleship.