Monday, 7 January 2008

Forgetting the massacre of the holy innocents

Preparing the sermon I preached today and then talking about it with people over lunch has led me to wonder why almost all major Christian traditions mark the massacre of the holy innocents between Christmas and Epiphany - when almost noone is in church? Why does the text not seem to appear as part of the Sunday lectionary? (To be fair, in the past when these dates were fixed churches were perhaps alot fuller than today.)
There seems to be a need to hide away this embedding of one of the gospel stories of the incarnation in a context of horror and violence. We prefer saccharine and a curtailed narrative, to having to wrestle with the reality and issue of violence.
We confuse Good News too often with niceness, pleasantness or not being offended. And all too easily in our so-called educated age we seem almost unable to struggle with complex and challenging narrative.
I can see that people could feel "assaulted" by a violent biblical text in church, but surely the challenge is not to sanatise the Bible and its stories but, as Simon Barrow eloquently argues in his Faith and Society blog, to encourage theological education and training. The emphasis on training and education is something I really appreciate about the Eglise Réformée de France. Sometimes it can become a bit over-intellectual and not quite earthed enough but rather that than sacharine I think. Rant over, promise.