‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and gates’. Deuteronomy 6: 5,6,8,9.
With so many weeks of being confined behind us, we are now seeing signs of the lockdown easing. Clergy have received permission for one bell to be rung, so lets look at bell ringing.
Bells are mentioned in the Bible in a description of the high priest’s robe. Exodus instructs that ‘bells of gold’ were to be attached to the hem of the high priest’s robe so that the people could hear as he entered and exited the Holy of Holies.
Introduction of bells in the Christian faith became widespread in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire, and church bells reached England around 650AD. Initially they marked times of prayer, called the canonical hours; in the Catholic tradition, bells are still used within the liturgy of the church service to signify that a particular part of the service has been reached.
The well known bit about church bells is to gather the faithful to worship, but they have also played their part in alerting the community in times of danger, for funerals or for announcing good news such as a wedding, or victory in battle. Their significance in that particular role has been completely eclipsed in the past 100 years, with advances in technology. Yesterday, church bells once again pealed to mark the anniversary of such an occasion.
We should reflect on the significance of the presence of mostly very old churches and their bells throughout this country. Built centuries ago, but still in regular use today, they are symbols of our heritage, the presence of God acknowledged through the ages, formational in government, monarchy, and society. People may deny this now, symbolically seen as thousands of houses are built together in vast areas, with no church ever likely. Yet we know the Church has a presence in these areas, so I point you past the church buildings, the use of which has also been much debated recently, to our own houses. Someone once wrote, if a person walked into your home, would they be able to see where your allegiance lies? We don’t do as the Jews were instructed, writing God’s words on the doorposts of their dwellings. We live under a new commandment, to love God and our neighbour. If that is what we do, it cannot be evident on the outside of our houses, but it really happens; so let’s make some noise about it, the Church is here – ring those bells.