So much has changed since the Friday before the general closure of schools that it seems like an age away already, rather than just seven days.
It was with great sadness, of course, that we had to announce that closure at Bennett and say some very premature farewells (in person at least) to our year 13 students and some of our year 11s. Once it becomes possible to do so, we have every intention of getting these students back together to say farewell properly.
It was very moving too to come together as a staff, faced by a closure of uncertain length, to worship with one another after the end of the school day. We said the traditional office of Compline, the very fitting night prayers of the Church as we prepared to face the uncertainties of the days and weeks ahead. We rounded it all off by singing our school hymn, reminding ourselves that God is always ‘holding fast’ to us.
As we did these things, what sprang to my mind were the traditional liturgies of the Church on Good Friday, the day where Christians mark Jesus’ supreme sacrifice upon the cross. In many churches the main Good Friday service concludes with the stripping of the altars. All of the linen, decorations and candles are removed and the church is left bare. Elsewhere in the run up to Easter in Catholic churches there is the service of Tenebrae, a service whose name means ‘darkness’. During this service, which consists of prayers and psalms beseeching God for help, a set of 15 candles are slowly extinguished following each of the the readings, until the church is left in utter darkness. It is a powerful metaphor for our fallen condition.
The pathway ahead of us at present does seem to be particularly dark and uncertain. Our Christian identity as a school however, must surely give us hope in these uncertain times, stressing as it does that we are all created and loved by God.
The bare churches and the darkness of Good Friday are brought to an end in many churches with the lighting of a new fire and a single lit Paschal candle being brought into the church to dispel the darkness at Easter. Light always conquers darkness. It is a central truth of God’s created cosmos. The light of Christ’s resurrection offers us the hope of salvation, a restored relationship with God.
And what of our present troubles? Well I can’t help seeing glimpses of the light peeping through, although I am very aware that there are many weeks of challenge ahead. The applause for our NHS staff on Thursday was incredibly moving; the generous and courageous response of so many fellow Britons in stepping forward to volunteer to support the NHS inspired me; the number of parents messaging in to express their support for the school at this time has been of great comfort. These all speak of our sense of community and interdependence.
Two things though have been of particular importance in giving me hope and confidence. The first of these has been the speed with which both teachers and students have found ways to continue to teach and learn. For me, education is a great beacon and the basis for hope in our world. Those scientists finding the vaccine are highly educated people who have benefitted from their teachers passing on their knowledge.
My second comfort comes from faith. It has been very hard to miss Sunday services at church, and the Eucharist at school, but prayer and worship have continued, albeit remotely. Ours is a faith which teaches that Christ took on our humanity and walked beside us. The Church of England teaches of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. That resurrection glory can still be seen, albeit through a webcam. I am reminded of medieval churches which have a squint window in the chancel, close to the altar, so that those who were sick could glimpse in from outside.