What would happen if Jesus showed up at your church? In More Tea, Jesus? James Lark tells the story of a little country church in England whose feathers are slightly ruffled by Jesus' appearance among them. With tongue set firmly in cheek, Lark pokes fun at the Anglicans, the priesthood, and church people in general.
At St. Barnabas, the parish church in Little Colleytown, Andy Biddle is trying to fit in as the new vicar. He, as well as some of his members, have noticed the scruffy, Jewish-looking man who has been visiting for a few weeks. No one has spoken to him, but once he introduces himself as Jesus, everyone immediately recognizes him. Unfortunately, the personal time the people of St. Barnabas get to spend with Jesus makes little difference to their lives.
Some of Biddle's colleagues have the right idea about Jesus, at least in theory. Before realizing that Jesus was, in fact, in town, Biddle mediated an argument between a couple of fellow priests. One was wanting to make the point that point of being a priest is to serve, and that Jesus, who set the example for us by washing the disciple's feet, would "be the first person to help put out chairs for events in the church hall." In fact, Jesus was across town, feeding kebabs to some homeless men. "Jesus explained to them what went on inside his Father's house. They listened in rapt silence, until Jesus finally asked them to come home with him. It was an open invitation he had been extending to anybody and everybody, but the people who were interested were mainly the homeless and disenfranchised."
Other than the homeless, most of Little Colleytown is unimpressed with Jesus. His grooming is not up to snuff, and Biddle never gets comfortable with Jesus as a house guest. Lark's characters are laugh-out-loud hilarious, a crazy mix of people who will surely remind you of someone you went to church with. You'll especially love to hate the choir director, who believes he was meant for much greater things than St. Barnabas's incompetent choir and organist, and who just can't help using the Lord's name in vain, even though the Lord is sitting just a few feet away.
I would be curious to know where James Lark stands religiously. I suspect he's an Anglican insider, who would love to see the church move forward socially. One major subplot has Biddle encouraging a young parishioner to explore his homosexual leanings by going to a gay nightclub. Lark does leave some ambiguity as to what Jesus says about homosexuality, but presumably Lark would like to see Anglicanism embrace homosexuals. On the other hand (or not on the other hand, depending on your views), Lark seems to call for more faithfulness from the church and the priesthood. Biddle's bishop personifies the cynicism, materialism, and theological weakness of the church. He chides Biddle for putting too much stock in scripture: "Oh, it's a very nice book, Andy -- but it's not real. . . . The Bible is meant to be an encouragement, not an instruction manual. Start believing all that stuff about God and you're headed for disappointment."
Ultimately, Jesus' second coming has very little impact on St. Barnabas and the rest of the world. Some did accept Jesus' invitation to come with him, knowing "they had been offered an invitation that it would be foolish to turn down." They "saw a new earth altogether, and the things that had been were no longer worth remembering." (Read that last phrase again -- I love it and it reminds me of something C.S. Lewis would have said.) But mostly life went on in Little Colleytown. Again, the bishop chides Biddle: "Jesus doesn't need to come into your work at all -- a lot of priests go their whole careers without even mentioning him." Village life and parish life were unchanged. As the Bishop of London said, when Jesus didn't show up for what they hoped would be a cameo performance in the Good Friday Passion Play, "they didn't need Jesus, they could jolly well do it themselves. That was the Anglican way."
Amidst the laughing at the parishioners of St. Barnabas, I have to think, What if Jesus came to my church? I have to confess that we might have a similar response. Perhaps, like Biddle and his church, we would be too busy and too absorbed in this world to follow him to the next. I hope not. Come, Lord Jesus!
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!