So, Bob Dylan has released his latest epic. 17 minutes of references to the last sixty years of politics and music. Brilliant stuff. Called ‘Murder Most Foul’, it builds from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 22 November 1963.

It also offers a bit of perspective. When we speak of “the end of the world” we usually think in terms of an ultimate event – the final cataclysm in which the place of humanity in the cosmos shuts down. But, history is a litany of endings of many worlds. I was only six when JFK was shot in Dallas, but I remember very clearly the impact the news had on my parents and grandparents. We were sent to bed early; the world as we knew it was shot.

Yet, life carried on for the world, despite the ending of a world.

Today is called Passion Sunday in the Christian calendar. If it was ever experienced by Christians as just another episode along the way to the cross, this year might well be different. For all of us, a way of life has been interrupted; for the church, the rituals – and locations – of commemoration and celebration have been dislocated, literally. But, the experience of dislocation returns us to the reality of the original story.

Jesus approaches Jerusalem, knowing that he won’t be leaving it alive. He is accompanied by his optimistic friends who haven’t quite read the runes and assume it will all end well. Despite the realism of Jesus and his straight talking, his friends just can’t think differently (which perhaps illustrates why politicians can be so slow in facing the devastating implications of pandemic threats). But, when reality hits and hope lies bleeding into the dirt of Calvary, the ended world has to be faced. No escape, no illusions, no romantic resolution.

This is why Terry Eagleton, in his book ‘Hope Not Optimism’ (p.12) can write:

Optimism does not take despair seriously enough.

There are some voices worrying aloud about the demise of the church because of our having to close buildings for a few weeks or months. People will lost the habit of going to church, apparently. Well, what will that tell us? But, it isn’t the only option and it isn’t necessarily the biggest challenge to the real power of Christian faith.

As we rehearse again today, Passion Sunday, no one is exempted from the power of human mortality – from anything the world can throw at us. That is why Christian faith is rooted in a God who opts into the world, not out of it. But, fully immersed in that world, we needn’t be bound by it. The Christian Church will be found to be authentic when it reflects the Jesus who, accompanied by fallible and fickle friends, is able to leave behind past securities and walk alone to a place of suffering, injustice and death.

Nothing glib here. Which is why I am so proud of clergy and lay people who are grasping the opportunity thrust upon them to re-imagine what faithful discipleship and service might look like now and into a changed future.

Eagleton also wrote (p.3):

Authentic hope … needs to be underpinned by reason … Hope must be fallible, as temperamental cheerfulness is not.

We listen to experts. We take advice. We recognise the possibility of getting it wrong. But, grounded in hope and love (of God and neighbour), we find ourselves grasped by authentic hope. Because, as Eagleton puts it (p.78):

If God knows the world, then he must know it as it is, in its freedom, autonomy and contingency.