Go back to normal view
This Easter it was wonderful to be welcome friends from Beheimgasse Baptistengemeinde, Vienna, Austria, who all came over to help us out with our holy week arts mission. I believe I’m right in saying this was Heath Street’s first ever community passion play. Certainly it was the first time in recent years we’ve tried something like this, and just accommodating all of these guests was a challenge in itself, for help in which I’m deeply grateful to the various local congregations who helped us out!
The shadow play itself was the moving and occasionally hilarious story of two quarrelsome detectives lumbered with an investigation into reports of the disappearance of a body – that of a Jewish malefactor crucified on an unknown charge. Their investigations led them into a series of encounters, firstly with people associated in various ways with the elusive subject of their investigations, later with the mystery man himsef - and finally with one another.
New as all this was for me and for the present congregation, collaboration with German-speaking Christians is by no means a novelty for our church. Our second minister, Herbert Newton Marshall, studied in Halle, and in 1902 it was a Berlin printer who published a book that rejoiced in the snappy title Die gegenwärtigen Richtungen der Religionsphilosophie in England und ihre erkenntnistheoretischen Grundlagen. The book never made the best-seller lists, but together with his friend Rushbrooke (minister over the way in Hampstead Garden Suburb), Newton Marshall was instrumental in setting up the European Baptist Fellowship in the early years of the last century. In more recent times, many will remember Edwin Robertson’s scholarly devotion to the legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. So it’s good to have picked up the threads of this relationship, one which will, I hope, be reprised in the not too distant future.
This newsletter for the Easter season seems like the perfect place to share a poem I recently translated from the (infinitely better!) original Danish of NFS Grundtvig.
Daffodil! what brings you here?
spring-time’s child, so pale and slender,
in this turning of the year,
without charm or grace or splendour?
who will weave your humble stem
in a rustic diadem?
which sweet-singing bird will carry
your renown through this green valley?
in the breeze of soft midsummer,
rose and lily thrive and breathe:
frost nor snow shall never come there!
You sprang up on hill and plain,
in the chilly winter's rain;
none, save those, your praise have spoken,
who hold dear what you betoken.
Daffodil, but is it true,
do we hold some sacred mission?
dare we hope to meet anew
souls in dark earth long imprisoned?
did he rise, as runs the tale?
can his word again prevail,
cast aside death's tattered garments,
rise in us, and all his servants?
If within that narrow cell
evermore the dead shall linger,
we must bury hope as well:
no new spring will end our winter;
all must pass and be forgot,
if God’s finger touch us not,
and this flesh, reforged, converted,
lamp-like shine, in gloomy church-yard.
Daffodil, a mighty drop,
from the rim of your bright chalice
touched my lips, and fills me up,
with strange comfort, hope, and solace;
matinsong, and cockcrow shrill,
seemed, I thought, from it to spill,
and - their ancient tombs forsaken -
I saw easter's dead awaken!
Even so! your word holds true -
from the dead Our Lord is woken!
walks alive in easter's dew -
that is each good friday's token;
He who swore all ills to cure
holds the key to every door;
what are sword, or shield, or seal?
Death itself to him must yield!