As the curtain goes up today on the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, all eyes in our parish will be on Harry Speers, an eighteen year old member of our Church family competing in the triathlon. Harry has represented both Great Britain and Ireland in his chosen sport, but what makes the Commonwealth Games so special is that for the first time in his international career he gets to turn out for team Northern Ireland.
While for me as a Christian nationality has always been a matter of geographical accident, being a good citizen remains a prime New Testament responsibility. And it brings me back to Timothy Dudley-Smith’s hymn Lord for the years. ‘For young and old’, goes verse three, ‘for commonwealth and nation, Lord of our land, be pleased to hear our prayer.’ In our Church of Ireland hymnbook ,’for commonwealth and nation’ reads ‘for this and every nation’ for ease of use north and south of the Irish border.
But there’s still a hint there of the sort of benign nationalism which events like the Commonwealth Games remind us is not just still possible in 2014, but natural, normal, and maybe even healthy. God save us from the evils of totalitarianism, jingoism and imperialism. But God save us too from ever allowing an innocent love of country to become a guilty pleasure. Among God’s most basic gifts to us, surely, is who we are, where we come from, and the ever dwindling array of small things that make us different from one another.
Lord bless the Queen and her Commonwealth of nations as they meet in sporting competition over the next eleven days. Make us grateful we pray, for the people we are a part of, and for the richness of our identity in history, language, spirituality, culture and the rest. Amen