“God bless Adam and his family, even though he’s a *.” So prayed the unemployed and unemployable inadequate Colin in the final episode of Rev this Tuesday.
(If you haven’t yet watched the final two episodes of this BBC2 show please leave the room now).
Since its 2011 debut, Rev has been a commercial and critical success, winning the best sitcom at the television Baftas. And surprisingly, given that it is so culturally specific, it has been sold to 140 countries.
Clearly the viewers of Peru or Portugal must appreciate the dysfunctional ministry of the Rev Adam Smallbone, a liberal catholic vicar who serves his East London inner city church with devotion but with no discernable strategy.
However, what sets the two final episodes of Rev apart from every other sitcom ever made is its deliberate total lack of humour. I don’t think there was a single gag in this Tuesday’s broadcast apart from archdeacon Robert priding himself on his humility.
It is was if you had started watching Coronation Street and finished up viewing King Lear. But then true comedy is a serious business.
And Rev turned serious once Adam found himself suspended by his Bishop for alleged improper conduct with the school headteacher. As his personal world disintegrated he enters the passion of Christ.
I only half-watched this episode first time round and it was only through watching it again did I appreciate the clever writing of Tom Hollander (who plays Rev Adam) and James Wood. Adam takes the Palm Sunday life-size cross stored in his garage and through carrying it through the night-time streets he endures ridicule and abandonment.
Even Colin denies him three times before the cock fast-food outlet. The Bishop washes his hands and his close friends desert him.
But then God shows up, totally in the form of Liam Neeson, a dishevelled tracksuited Irishman who turns up out of the blue to dance with Adam as he sings the Lord of the Dance.
Neither we nor Adam know who this stranger is until he says “Adam, Adam, I will always be with you.” At this point Adam realises that he is meeting with God. I can’t think of a better portrayal of the ministry of an angel.
So his church is rendered redundant and closed in treble-quick time. (Nearly all the depictions of how the CofE functions in this series are from an alternative universe).
So Adam hits rock bottom, deciding to leave the ministry for a career in management consultancy, working part-time and wholly ineffectually at his local convenience store.
But God doesn’t let him go so easily – which has to be the main theme of this concluding episode. His wife observes that what makes him who he is is also what makes him a priest. He is his calling. Clearly his heart is in the parish as he observes his church spire during his job interview in some smart office.
Through the concerns and the spoken (and real) prayers of his congregation, he finds himself once again in his cassock (actually, Adam, you are wearing an alb) to take one final Easter early morning service in a boarded-up St Saviour in the Marshes.
And now, in an act of faith Adam finally baptises his infant daughter whose cry closes the series – just like 2001 Space Odyssey. Presumably, in both cases, prefiguring a new and hopeful future, both for Adam and in the case of the film, the universe. Actually, if we believe the Gospel, both.
It is the God who will not let Adam go which defines the final two episodes of Rev. Just like Jeremiah, the Hebrew prophet, who clearly wasn’t up to the job of being God’s mouthpiece. However, when Jeremiah decides to resign his calling, God simply will not allow it. It is, almost literally, in his bones.
“But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak any more in his name, his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9)
There is a very real sense for all of us, for each disciple of Jesus, that it is he who has called us and not, as we are often tempted to think, the other way around. “You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you,” says Jesus (John 15:16).
And we cannot simply walk away from his call without a major disruption to our personality. God’s call is at the heart of who we are. It is how we are made, such is his love. “Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”