From the Rectory – November

Early on in JRR Tolkien’s epic masterpiece, Lord of the Rings, there’s a passage describing a birthday party and accompanying firework display, put on by Gandalf the Grey, a wizard of Middle Earth.

In the book, Tolkien describes how the local inhabitants had not seen fireworks like these for many years, as trees, flowers, birds and sailing ships were all created by the wizard’s work with coloured smoke and light. The finale was a large dragon that breathed out fire and, circling over the heads of the guests, was the signal that supper was to begin.

Fireworks are often used to mark celebration of some sort. A birthday party, a wedding or New Year. Celebrating the 5th of November, and the good fortune that the UK government had in escaping from the treasonous Guy Fawkes intent to blow up the Houses of Parliament, sounds reasonable enough. Although coupling it with the tradition of lighting a large bonfire seems an odd way to mark the missing of a catastrophe – using as its centrepiece the result that was likely to engulf them had Fawkes plan come to fruition.

Historians have long agued over how the nation would have changed if the Gunpowder Plot by Fawkes and his colleagues had succeeded. As the date chosen was for the opening of parliament, it was not only the MPs who would have been present in the chamber, but the King and Queen alongside many senior palace and other government officials as well. With the plan coming to fruition, the structure of government would have collapsed, a whole level of authority removed. It would have meant starting again from scratch with instability and uncertainty the inevitable consequence.

Although fire can cause damage and destruction, it can also be used to cleanse and renew.

Farmers burn the stubble on the fields that have been harvested to prepare those fields for a further planting. Metalworkers and jewellers refine precious metals in the immense heat of a furnace to remove impurities. God too is like a ‘refiner’s fire’. We are made more like him through the trails and difficulties, the ‘fires’, of our lives. It may be painful to go through those burning flames, but we come out the other side holier and closer to him.

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