Tonight being November 5th I attended a bonfire.
For those not familiar with English traditions; Bonfire Night is a tradition in Britain and cultural event where people gather around a large fire, eat toffee apples and treacle toffee and enjoy a display of fireworks.
Tonight I participated in this tradition at an even on the outskirts of Manchester. Walking toward the area I looked down over the bridge and the fire was lit and the people were all gathered around. Walking toward them and the fire, I looked around at everybody. People smiling, talking, drinking, eating.
When I arrived at the fire I felt myself moving toward the heat. I stood looking at the fire and I thought about the Christian martyrs from the earliest days of the Church to the Protestant Reformation. Suddenly my youngest son asked me ‘dad, is that what the fire was like when the burned George Marsh’. ‘Yes’ I replied, ‘and John Bradford’ Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer and Tyndall. And people flocked to see them burn. To some it was entertainment, others watched in terror, some with Religious zeal, others believing they were doing the will of God via the Pope.
In ancient times the execution of a man could be local entertainment. In the 16th century people sold religious items and even prayers during executions. Even in the 19th century, an execution could prove commercial. One such example can be found in the history associated with Beaumaris Gaol in Wales. Here, people often rented out highly elevated rooms and put on entertainment when a convicted man was to be put to death. It shows that man is not good, his depravity can be switched around based upon the mainstream culture of the times.
Many people back in ancient times would not consider it immoral to watch an execution and even to make a bit of money off the event. Today, it is difficult to believe that any person could do such things and yet when it is all said and done, people and their outlooks are all too often the result of culture and influence.
Today in some circles, the word ‘martyr’ has merely took on another form. It communicates ‘death cults’. But in the ancient Christian history, the meaning of the word martyr has a whole different connotation. The early Christian and Reformation martyrs did not want to die, they were merely willing to die rather than deny what they believed to be true. There is a difference.
Tonight I looked around me and tried not to judge people, but I couldn’t help but reflect upon the sheer ignorance of a society that gathers around fires eating toffee apples and drinking drinks together without any discussion or meaningful understanding of what Bonfire Night means. For too many people, Bonfire Night has nothing whatsoever to do with Guy Fawkes and his failed attempt to undo the Protestant Reformation and return Britain once again to the religious bondages and totality of Roman Catholicism? On the contrary, it is merely a social event and just something people do to have a good time. Yet a sad reflection indeed is that November 5th was once a time of thanksgiving and prayer, where Christians thanked God for the deliverance of the Church and the nation from the bondage of Rome.
Britain has come a long way since the glorious days of the 16th century, and in many ways both England and Britain are founded upon the principles of the Protestant reformation. Many ideals such as democracy, tolerance and human rights are rooted in the principles of the reformation and the people of Britain should never forget that.
It is a true saying ‘remember, remember, the 5th of November’.