The generosity of Bennett students and parents never ceases to surprise me. At a wonderful Spring Concert last Friday at school, where we had some 200 student performers and about 240 guests, one of the bands performing read an appeal for help: “This evening, as our contribution to the Spring Concert, the Senior Assembly Band would like to do something similar, by singing for you a song entitled ‘God of the Poor’ and asking you to contribute to a collection on your way out for refreshments, which we will ensure goes to a charity that will use it wholly for the continuing work in Haiti” – and as a result £240 were collected. Today I have been told that as a result of a ‘workout’ – yes, sponsored exercise! – we held at school on 11th March we raised £1085 to support leprosy sufferers, largely in poor countries.
Of course, Christians have no monopoly on doing good for their fellow man-and womankind. Nonetheless, it is tremendously affirming to see that at a time when many Christians feel increasingly criticised in public, and sometimes even prevented from expressing their faith openly, a community inspired and underpinned by Christian belief is prepared to put its money where its belief is. What better expression can there be of the hope which the Easter story gives us than to stand in solidarity alongside those who suffer?
I am struck at how different Holy Week and Easter hymns are from Christmas carols. They are often intensely religious, and lack the pretty imagery and sentimentality of our popular Christmas carols. They are also much less well known, outside more serious church-going circles. There is almost a kind of embarrassment at the Easter story – it is so intense and extraordinary to the modern non-religious sensibility. Some of these hymns are very beautiful, nonetheless. I was moved last Sunday at the final verse of one I must have heard many times before, but whose words I had not quite taken in properly – O sacred head ill-used:
Since death must be my ending,
in that dread hour of need,
my friendless cause befriending,
Lord, to my rescue speed;
thyself, dear Jesus, trace me
that passage from the grave,
and from thy Cross embrace me
with arms outstretched to save.
Learning to live with the inevitability of death is not very fashionable in education circles. Death is not a topic on the government’s new compulsory PSHE programme, but perhaps it is really the most important topic of all. One thing that living in a religious environment does for us is get us used to talking about death. I am reminded that when Lady Bennett, who founded this school, died in the 1960s, her coffin was placed in the school hall and all students required to file past to pay their respects. What would the reaction be to that today? But was it such a terrible thing to do?