C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre: c’est de la folie


St Pauls Order of Service
St Pauls Order of Service

Quite by accident, I attended part of the ‘Sung Eucharist to Commemorate the Hundredth Anniversary of the Outbreak of World War 1.’ The invited guests filled perhaps a quarter of St Paul’s Cathedral in London with interested spectators taking up perhaps another quarter. Passers-by, like myself, came in and out, most paying little attention to what was happening at the front. I arrived perhaps ten minutes into the service but it was only out of a sense of discipline and a desire to at least try genuinely to worship, that I stayed for about half an hour. It was simply terrible. It had a certain grandeur, solemnity and even, to those with ears to hear, beauty in the music, to the aesthete, it may have been magnifique.

The words of Scripture and the cadences of the Book of Common Prayer obviously meant something to me, but, overall, what I saw and heard was culturally and spiritually so distant from me that it was punishingly boring and spiritually deadening… and I’m supposed to be, at least to some degree, an insider. I later discovered that Communion had been celebrated and that the service had ended with the metrical version of Ps. 100, to ‘Old One Hundredth’, so maybe things would have come closer to my understanding of magnifique.  But, of course, it would only have been an improvement for me: a Christian; an educated, middle class Presbyterian… almost sixty years old.

In all that we do in the Church of Jesus Christ we must beware of being magnifique but having nothing to do with la guerre (spirituelle). In the context of what the service was commemorating there was an awful poignancy and a dreadful irony. To replace la guerre with la folie comes perilously close to ‘having a form of godliness but denying its power’ (2Tim.3:5).

Lord, keep us from ignoring the battle cry of the Mighty Warrior (Zeph.1:14) and settling for the Charge of the Light Brigade.