Twenty years this spring I attended a concert. It was one that excited me greatly. The folk in the church responded in a number of ways. Some thought I’d finally lost the plot; some that I was suffering an early mid-life crisis; while others just laughed it off, ‘ah,’ they said ‘it’s just Bruce!’

The concert was at Maine Road, the then stadium of Manchester City. The band? Oasis.

It’s understandable that there should have been such a mixed reaction from the members of my congregation in South Manchester. The band were infamously foul-mouthed. The lead singer Liam Gallagher swaggered about the place as if he owned it. And the music and lyrics were just a little bit, well….just a little bit….

Or there might have been another way of looking at it; there were reasons why Oasis were the biggest thing in the type of rock music that became known as Britpop.

I was District Education & Youth Secretary for the Manchester & Stockport District at the time. It was my job to understand where the teenagers and young adults were coming from. And I have to say that Oasis captured the mood of their time, and spoke to a need when few others could. There would of course be the great rivalry between Oasis and Blur, the north versus the south then the rivalry between Oasis and the Spice girls, laddish rock versus girl power.

Some of the lyrics were a form of spirituality missed by most.

Noel would react to the dark, nihilistic mood of grunge music that honoured the suicide of Kurt Cobain as if it were something of an achievement and something to attain. Noel’s response was a song that celebrated life, seeing things differently and the possibility of eternity.

‘I think you’re the same as me, we’ll see things they’ll never see’ and it’s you and I are that will live forever. These things we see are the things of eternity.

In the sacrament some might think of us eating a dried cube of white bread and sipping a thimble of grape juice but we will conclude that we have been given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet prepared for all creation.

The point is, not everything is as it seems. And some will see things differently.

The things that are seen by most are temporary but the things that are unseen by the world, but are felt and seen and known by the blessed last forever.

  • What actually happened on that mountain the day Jesus went up with Peter, James and John?
  • What would others have seen?
  • Would they have interpreted the event in a different way to the way in which it is recorded?
  • How would they have responded to the claims made by the three disciples?

It all depends I think on how they came to the event.

Open and receptive and the experience would be very different to that of the one with a cold heart and closed mind.

The disciples had become familiar with the antics of their teacher.

Strange things had already happened. He had recently stunned the congregation at the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth which was just down in the valley below. On the other side lay Lake Galilee where thousands had just been fed. Across the other side of the lake a schizophrenic had been made one and whole to the detriment of the local pig farmer.

It could be said that the disciples might have been ready for anything.

They were not disappointed. They had a most extraordinary vision. Only they could relay it to others which is why we know the source of the account must surely have come from one of them.

The uninitiated, the unreceptive, might have missed it altogether.

To them it might have just been a trick of the light, the sun bursting through the notoriously changeable cloud.

Of course, for the de-constructivist, it might have just been the moment the penny dropped for the three that became known as the inner circle.

Who can say?

What we can say is that not everything is as it first seems. Sometimes an event, even a common experience, can be interpreted in different ways.

My Jewish friends tell me that if you put two Jews in a room there will always be three opinions.

Take for example the two men who were in dispute with one another. They decide to visit the rabbi for him to decide who was right and who was wrong.

The first makes his case. The rabbi responds ‘you are right.’

The second makes his case and the rabbi responds ‘you are right’.

The wife of the rabbi is listening in and tells the rabbi ‘they can’t both be right.’ The rabbi responds ‘you too are right.’

In the Christian Church we have been taught that there is only one way. This has led to the denial of mystery and ambivalence. We cannot cope with the fact that there may be two or even three ways of interpreting something.

Christian fundamentalism is a fairly recent phenomena.

When we have lived with ambiguity, which is for much of the history of the Christian Church, we have been at our best, at our most effective.

When certainties are preached and expected dangers ensue, discrimination and persecution follow.

When we claim that scripture is clear and unambiguous, when the law takes precedent over grace, we have missed out on a basic truth.

Some years ago I recall reading a poem found by a nurse as she cleared the cabinet of an elderly person who had died. It began ‘What do you see?’ and relays all the joys of a past life, a life that the poet believes the nursing staff cannot see for they can only see an old lady dribbling her food and with glazed over eyes. Then of course a response is penned from the nurse’s perspective. A wholly different view is presented.

There is a wonderful text within Luke’s account of the Transfiguration. It is the verse ‘but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory.’

Of course in a few weeks’ time, not on a mountain in daylight but in a garden at night, a garden shaded by olive trees and the shadow of the Temple, they would not stay awake. They would be prompted, despite all the warnings, time and again, to keep watch and they could not.

But for now, they are awake. They are awake to fresh possibilities.

They would interpret the event in their own way. It would be an experience to be recounted again and again, that day on the mountain when the light shone, a voice was heard and there was no room for doubt. Jesus is Lord. He is the fulfillment of Law and Prophecy.

Others might have seen it differently. Many still see things differently. They are not open and receptive. They are not awake to the possibility of seeing something new. Scripture is merely print on a page, experience merely a fleeting moment that is illusion and meaningless.

And now back to 1996.

I began by recalling my visit to Main Road, Manchester for the Oasis concert in April of that year.

A few months later it was announced that Oasis would be the headline act at a concert at Knebworth. It would surpass the numbers that attended the Led Zeppelin concert more than two decades before.

It was, of course, sometime before internet ticket sales. If you wanted a ticket you either spent the day on the phone or queued. Knowing that the queues in Manchester would be enormous rendering a ticket nigh on impossible to acquire I set off very early on the morning the tickets were to go on sale and travelled down the M6 to Wolverhampton.

I arrived at about 6.25 am with a little over two-and-a-half hours to go before the box office opened.

Even then the queue was huge. There were probably 250 in front of us.

After a while I got talking to some of the lads around me. Inevitably these lads in their early 20’s wondered why a guy in his late 30’s was keen on getting his hands on Oasis concert tickets. Then it got round to what I did for a living. They had great difficulty believing it. But eventually they came round to the fact that a minister of religion was standing in a queue for hours on end in an attempt to get hold of tickets for Knebworth.

At one point one of the lads went off for some snacks. He came back with a Mars bar and a can of coke for me.

The time passed and eventually the doors opened. We must have been another hour or two before we finally got near the door. As we did a big burly doorman came out and worked his way along the line asking how many tickets each person wanted. Just after he passed us he announced that there were no tickets available beyond that point. There must have been another 250 behind us whose wait had been in vain.

My new acquaintances went in before me and bought their tickets. AS I turned having purchased mine I saw them standing by the exit door. ‘Where are you parked mate?’ one asked. ‘In the multi-storey’ I replied. ‘We’ll come with you’ another promised. And they did. They accompanied me back to the car and only left me when I pulled away. They were intent on ensuring that I wasn’t going to be mugged for my tickets by those in the disappointed and agitated crowd.

To many that was a kindly gesture.

But try telling me that a Mars bar and a can of coke isn’t a sacrament.

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