Robert Beaken sets out a plan for commemorating the anniversary of Jesus’ ministry
No one is entirely sure of the dates of Jesus Christ’s life on earth. Some scholars estimate him to have been born around 4BC, though that is just an informed guess. Jesus’ crucifixion has long been believed to have been in 33AD. This, again, is an intelligent guess and, in the absence of any clearer information, it is as good as we are going to get.
This means that Easter Day on 17 April 2033 will be seen by many as the 2000th anniversary of Christ’s resurrection. Working backwards, the year 2030 may be seen as the 2000th anniversary of Jesus being baptised in the river Jordan and beginning his three years of public ministry of healing, preaching and teaching, ending with his crucifixion and resurrection.
I believe that these anniversaries potentially provide us with a very rich opportunity for renewal, mission and witness. I would like to float the idea that the Church of England should mark the 2000th anniversary of Jesus’ public ministry with a special programme of events, held across all parishes nationwide. I envisage a combination of a preaching mission and a multi-facetted celebration of the Gospel, reaching its culmination on Easter Day 2033.
One of the first things Jesus did after his baptism was to go out into the wilderness to pray. In the first year, 2030, we might therefore focus on prayer. My suggestion would be that in every English cathedral and parish church, an hour of silent prayer is held once a week throughout 2030. Friday—the day of the crucifixion—suggests itself as particularly suitable, but other days might be appropriate. Details and locations could be displayed on diocesan websites. Nor need the hour of silent prayer depend upon the vicar. In country parishes where the clergy are spread thinly, churchwardens or other parishioners might unlock the church, turn on the heating, lead the singing of hymns at the beginning and at the end of the hour, and perhaps provide coffee afterwards. Some people could pray for the whole hour, and other just slip in for a while. What, one wonders, would be the effect of so many Christians spending an hour with Jesus, and waiting quietly upon the Holy Spirit?
In the years 2031 to 2033, a rolling and imaginative programme of events might be organized. It would be especially fitting if we focused on the Gospel texts. This could be done in several ways: academic conferences might be sponsored, new materials provided for use in parishes, and special resources commissioned for use with children and young people. Churches could be encouraged to try healing or penitential services, quiet days and retreats. Some people will go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land in these anniversary years. Others will visit holy places in this country, such as Walsingham or Haddington.
In his three years of public ministry, Jesus spent much time amongst the sick and marginalized. It would be good in these anniversary years if parishes and individuals could find new ways of reaching out with the love of Jesus to those whose lives are hard or troubled. I have recently been fundraising for a soup kitchen for the homeless, and perhaps churches might find similar ways of helping the growing numbers of homeless and other vulnerable people in our communities. Others might visit care homes, or assist people with mobility or eyesight problems. We should remind ourselves that Jesus Christ is to be encountered not just in his Blessed Sacrament or in Holy Scripture, but also in all who are suffering or unhappy. Conversely, for some people our faces may be the only Bible they ever read.
The three years 2030–2033 could provide a valuable opportunity for Christians to stir up the gifts that are inside us. I should like to see the composition of special new music, art, drama, dance, and writing. Again, this might vary across parishes. Some churches could try putting together a little choir to sing Evensong once a month, followed by a cup of tea (or even a glass of wine). Other churches might hold local art shows, or commission new works such as a frontal or stained glass window. Even small parishes might commission a silver paten or make a banner.
On Easter Day 2033 I would suggest that Christians everywhere could be invited to say a prayer of recommitment:
‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, thank you for dying on the Cross for my sins on Good Friday and rising from the dead three days later in the Resurrection. I commit myself afresh to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love my neighbour as myself. Amen.
Imagine the impact of people across the country, including the archbishop and the monarch, congregations in great cathedrals and parish churches, people at home or at work, all saying such a prayer on the 2000th anniversary of Christ’s Resurrection. The prayer might be shared with the Churches of the Anglican Communion, and with other denominations.
We should, however, have clear objectives for the years 2030–2033. I suggest that we might aim first to renew and deepen the faith of already existing Christians, secondly to attract in those who are on the fringes of church life, and thirdly to reach out with the Gospel to those who know little of the love of Jesus Christ. We should also need to manage expectations. Three years of special celebrations will not bring about the manifestation of the Kingdom of God upon earth. All the same problems will still be there afterwards. During our special celebrations, some people will stress individual repentance and conversion, whilst others will emphasize the Christianization of society. Some folk will doubtless seek to advance their own agendas. There will be grumbling about anything new. I think we can bear all of this.
Our primary purpose by the time we reach the 2000th anniversary of Christ’s resurrection at Easter 2033 would be to enthuse and raise the whole level of our Christian life, and to cast widely seeds of faith. The Holy Spirit will decide when and how the seeds germinate, and the results may not always be what we expect. 2030 is only eleven years away, and we need to start praying, thinking and planning now.
Let me advance my suggestion by stating the opposite. Let us imagine that we ignored the 2000th anniversary of Christ’s public ministry, death and resurrection. Might we not feel afterwards that we had missed a valuable opportunity, and perhaps had not served Jesus as best we could?
The Revd Dr Robert Beaken is priest-in-charge of Great and Little Bardfield in Essex. This article first appeared in the Church of England Newspaper.