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"We All Die"

Updated: Feb 4

Sometimes it is just good to put everything into context.

Amongst a cast that must include Lord Hutton, Baroness Hale, Lord Leveson and, of course, Judges John Deed and Judy perhaps Lord Denning remains the most famous judge in living memory. In 1977 he gave judgement in a case about whether cricket balls landing in the garden of a newly built house neighbouring a cricket ground constituted negligence or a nuisance.

The Master of the Rolls was not sympathetic to such Nimbyism and, famously, rather gave the game away when the opening words of his judgement were.

“In summertime village cricket is the delight of everyone”.

No one was in much doubt which side was going to win after such an introduction and, so, lyrically, the eminent judge went on to say,

“Nearly every village has its own cricket field where the young men play and the old men watch. In the village of Lintz in County Durham they have their own ground, where they have played these last seventy years. They tend it well. The wicket area is well rolled and mown. The outfield is kept short. It has a good club-house for the players and seats for the onlookers. The village team play there on Saturdays and Sundays. They belong to a league, competing with the neighbouring villages. On other evenings after work they practice while the light lasts. Yet now after these 70 years a Judge of the High Court has ordered that they must not play there anymore, He has issued an injunction to stop them. He has done it at the instance of a newcomer who is no lover of cricket. This newcomer has built, or has had built for him, a house on the edge of the cricket ground which four years ago was a field where cattle grazed. The animals did not mind the cricket. But now this adjoining field has been turned into a housing estate. The newcomer bought one of the houses on the edge of the cricket ground. No doubt the open space was a selling point. Now he complains that, when a batsman hits a six, the ball has been known to land in his garden or on or near his house. His wife has got so upset about it that they always go out at weekends. They do not go into the garden when cricket is being played. They say that this is intolerable. So they asked the Judge to stop the cricket being played. And the Judge, I am sorry to say, feels that the cricket must be stopped: with the consequences, I suppose, that the Lintz cricket-club will disappear. The cricket ground will be turned to some other use. I expect for more houses or a factory. The young men will turn to other things instead of cricket. The whole village will be much the poorer. And all this because of a newcomer who has just bought a house there next to the cricket ground.”

You can read it in all its eloquence here.

The first words of the judgement of an erudite judge can indeed speak volumes and a couple of weeks ago the Supreme Court was doing it again in the first words of a judgement from Lord Leggett and Lady Rose. Probably coincidentally the decision touches on the something of the same topic as one of Lord Denning’s other famous opening lines, “It happened on 19th April 1964. It was bluebell time in Kent”. Again, there wasn’t much doubt where his sympathies would lie.

The very first words from the Supreme Court justices were simply, “WE ALL DIE”. 

They are striking  and important words - the UK in 2024 probably is a culture that needs the occasional blunt reminder of the reality of death.

It is also notable that, the Supreme Court is in no doubt that there are things that unquestionably happen, that they can be known, reduced to objective propositional truth and that such truths have real consequences. Of course, that is the task of the courts but that makes it no less significant- without such foundations justice and the Rule of Law cannot exist. What is a biblical view of truth is essential to human flourishing, a society built on the shifting sands of relativism will not survive many storms - a theme that Justin Brierley is doing an excellent job of exploring.

“We all die” reminds everyone keen to witness to Christ that there is, in essence, one universal apologetic. The Supreme Court decision deals with the consequences of death for those who remain living, it does not, because a court is not competent to do so- deal with the consequences of death, if any, for the deceased. The evangelist can do things that even the greatest legal minds cannot.

As the bishops of the Church of England publish the summary of their discussions would that the first point on the agenda each and every time was “We All Die”! And the Lords Spiritual might also want heed the prompting of the Lord Justices. It would be a fine thing if each and every time the bishops voted for or against the government such votes were always explained to be relative trivia happening as they do only within the context of the much greater issue at hand - that “We All Die”. Justin Welby has, at most two years left as Archbishop of Canterbury, should not his successor be simply the cleric best able to help the nation with the eternal truths wrapped up in the three words, “We All Die”?

At the conclusion of an important Primates’ Meeting in England an African archbishop was asked what had been most memorable about his time with his fellow Primates. He said that it was the evening prior to the meeting, when he and a colleague had gone back to their hotel and led the barman to Christ. Even amidst the global Anglican politics that were tearing the Communion apart, that Primate knew his real priorities and, wonderfully, as a result that barman, “though he die, yet shall he live”.

As the Anglican future of 2024 unfolds - with all its meetings of the House of Bishops, General and Diocesan Synods, “DEFs” and “CNCs”, this blog will continue to attempt to help people navigate it all, but not as an end in itself, rather only that many might be preserved from those most dread opening few words of judgement, “I never knew you”.

Note to preachers: the CofE lectionary readings for this coming Sunday include Hebrews 2:3 - "How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?"

Hope this helps!

Thanks to Kevin Wenning of Unsplash for the image,


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