In all our sanctuaries we sit at risk

High Noon this Easter


Let’s recall the film “High Noon,” that great Western. The outlaw and his hoodlum cronies are riding into town. They want revenge on the sheriff, the keeper of the law. The sheriff scours the town looking for support, a posse of townspeople who will help him defend their community from the outlaws. The townspeople know him well and trust him. But none of them will take the personal risk of actually joining and supporting him.

So he must act alone. The clock strikes 12 and it is High Noon. The outlaws ride into town. Some fraught moments follow. With a little bit of help from Grace Kelly and a small group of frantic horses, the sheriff leaves all of the hoodlums lying in the dust.

This climax, his victory, is the most comfortable part of the film. It lets us off the hook. But then Gary Cooper glares round at his community as they emerge from hiding. He unpins his star and throws it down into the street and rides away with his lady love, leaving the townspeople to their cowardice and inadequacy, their failure to join him in doing what must be done on behalf of the community and the law.

If they stay true to form, they will not manage without him. But where in the world will he and his lady go ? Where is there a community able and willing to defend the virtuous, the responsible and the true ?

Now, here is a variation on the same theme. It comes from a church newsletter, published on Palm Sunday : “There was a good crowd on that first Palm Sunday. They were there to cheer. Years of being treated as second class citizens…had made people ready for a change…So when this Jesus of Nazareth came into town, with his reputation and his supporters, it was worth going out to cheer him on with a Hosanna or two.

“A week’s a long time in religion, and by Friday things had changed. Charged with blasphemy, Jesus was now being led to his execution…Christ was…abandoned…in his hour of need….as the [crowd] came out to see the afternoon’s entertainment…. Yet they were no more fickle than any other crowd… You can’t really blame them. Or can you ? There was a good crowd that afternoon. I was in it. And so were you.”

Now let’s run a third variation on the same theme. The hoodlums have ridden into town and encountered no resistance. So, naturally, they have taken control and are now running the town’s offices of state, its industries, its banks, its so-called “free” press, all its sources of information. The sheriff is nowhere to be seen and has not been heard of for a while. There is no justice, no honour, no grace. There is only the lie, the cover-up, the sales slogan. There is only the whatever you can get away wiv. Sometimes the hoodlums lay into each other, since that is what hoodlums do. Mostly, though, they act in cahoots, as they know that present conditions support their way of being. They terrorize and abuse, they work rackets and pay no taxes, they amass vast fortunes and various forms of personal empire, they put up walls and towers, they strut down the street, one minute kicking their neighbours out of the way, the next stirring them up into a lather, the rage of the lynch-mob.

“Where is the sheriff ?” the townspeople cry, in their better moments. “Where is our champion ? Where is the fearless, the honourable, the truth-teller, the wearer of the star ?”