Earlier this month I went to see a production of the musical ‘Half a Sixpence’.
The story is, at heart, quite a simple one. A young man, called Arthur Kipps, and his girlfriend, Ann Pornick, go through all sorts of ups and downs. But they each keep one half of a sixpence that Arthur has managed to file into two pieces.
The half sixpences are ‘a token of their eternal love’, as one of the songs puts it. When apart, Arthur and Ann can each look at their own half, and think of the other person as they imagine the whole coin joined together.
One of the hazards faced by Arthur, who is a mere apprentice shopman, is a mysterious advertisement in the newspaper. It reads: ‘If Arthur Kipps, son of Margaret Euphemia Kipps, born on September 1st 1880 will communicate with Messrs. Watson and Bean, he may hear something to his advantage.’
Sure enough, Kipps inherits a fortune – enough to build a new house with eleven bedrooms. But for a while it looks as though the sixpence is destined never to be made whole again. Arthur, with new-found fortune, gets engaged to another much grander lady, and Ann flings her portion of the coin down on the ground before him.
Of course, it being a family show, everything turns out well in the end – the sixpence is reunited – and I enjoyed the production very much. But it set me thinking about the significance of inheritance.
Whenever we inherit something – maybe a fortune like Kipps – or maybe something much more personal – we are connected into a kind of dynastic succession; a list of owners. An inheritance connects us with those who have gone before; but it also depends upon our predecessors having faded from the scene.
Our reading from Deuteronomy this evening, if we were listening carefully, contained within it reference to three of the great Old Testament themes.
The context is God’s gift to His people of the statutes and ordinances that are to govern their collective life. This is the Old Covenant – the Law. (v. 11)
Secondly, the point of reference, looking backwards in time, is the Exodus – the escape from Egypt. (v. 8)
And then, thirdly, there is the future promise, the land that God will give to his people; literally, ‘the promised land’. (vv. 12-13)
It is this promised land which is the Israelites’ inheritance. It is almost as if, like Arthur Kipps, they were to read in a newspaper, ‘If the Israelites, descendants of Abraham, will communicate with the Lord, they may hear something to their advantage.’
And just as any inheritance depends upon the demise of a predecessor, so too the promise of the land depended upon the previous owners fading from the scene; hence Jericho and the rather blood-thirsty conquest of the promised land.
As Christians, we look back to these three great Old Testament themes – covenant; exodus; promised land.
But we understand them in the light of Easter Day – in the light of our risen Saviour.
So it is that we talk of a New Covenant, made in Christ’s body.
And we see the exodus as foreshadowing Christian baptism, when we come through the dark waters of death and discover the freedom of life in Christ, just as the Israelites escaped to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea.
But what of the promised land? What of the inheritance? What does ‘inheritance’ mean in the light of Easter?
Because if Easter means resurrection – if Easter means that death is conquered – then that old style of inheritance, which depends upon the death of a predecessor, is impossible.
Resurrection destroys material inheritance, just as it destroys all varieties of dynastic succession.
In ‘Half a Sixpence’, Arthur Kipps loses his fortune. The brother of his grand fiancée, who is supposed to be looking after Arthur’s money, speculates rashly.
Arthur and Ann fall back on the symbol of their love for one another – the two halves of the coin. They find a new kind of life, rooted in something much stronger than an inherited fortune.
And that story of Arthur and Ann is a kind of parable of the promise that God makes to us through our baptism into the risen Christ.
As we receive the promise of the resurrection life, we let go, like Arthur Kipps, of any worldly inheritance which depends on death, and we gain instead a different kind of inheritance – an inheritance with all the saints in God’s kingdom.
Somehow we must be able to turn away from the attractions that the mysterious newspaper advertisement holds, with its tempting message of death and inheritance. As we renounce those temptations, we discover the fullness of life with Christ.
Even the sixpence itself, made one again, can act as a parable of the wholeness and peace of the resurrection life in God’s kingdom to come.
That is the promise we have, by God’s grace. It is the promise that we affirm whenever we proclaim our faith in Jesus Christ, raised from the dead. It is the promise that we affirm when we say in the creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body”.
Above all, it is the promise that we affirm as we give God the glory in our lives, each and every day.
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed; alleluia!
Rev’d Edward Carter, Priest in Charge, St. Peter’s Didcot
30th April 2006