Working with the Spirit

Tags

,

Probably_Valentin_de_Boulogne_-_Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles_-_Google_Art_Project

As expected, yesterday’s post on Black Lives Matter, evoked some heated responses. It is essential that we differentiate between what extremists (on both sides) say and the problem itself; to identify the two, or to deny there is a problem, seems to me self-defeating. One way lies political opportunism masquerading as concern, the other way lies a continuation of the ills which caused the problem in the first place. Whilst it is true that extremists have sought (literally) to fan the flames, the idea that the emotions behind the protests is all manufactured by sinister agencies intent on overthrowing the system, risks precipitating the danger it dismisses. Scoop, yesterday in the comments, rightly listed all the legislation passed in the USA since the Civil War, and yet there are problems to this day. Law alone is not enough. As we know, we are not saved by the Law, were that the case, Jesus would never have had to suffer and die to redeem our sins, neither would He have needed to rise again as the first-fruits of His sacrifice for us.

There are those who see the attitude of the Churches on this issue as mealy-mouthed; these are, in the main, critics of whatever Church leaders do. None of that is to say that Church leaders get it right all the time, but it is to put the heated criticism in context. Church leaders have a wider responsibility than to the scribbling and commentating classes, and even as criticism is levelled (no doubt some of it deserved) it should be leavened with that caveat. To ignore the furore would be to condemn Church leaders as out of touch, to acknowledge it risks the accusation of being an appeaser. As statues of Saints fall, Church leaders have to respond whether they will or not. Nor should ot be forgotten that Churches are multi-racial organisations. Christianity, from the beginning, has been unusual in religions in this aspect of its teaching and practice.

The main problem with the slogan “Black Livers Matter” is that taken to extremes it implies that there is a united “Black” view of the world, and it can lead, and has led to, those BAME politicians who are conservatives or Republicans, being insulted, as though they are the “wrong sort” of BAME person. This, as yesterday’s post argued, is as pernicious as the attempt to deny there is any problem in our society for people of a different skin colour. I suppose extremists will, by nature, go to extremes, but that’s no reason for the rest of us to follow them. To deny that there are those in the Church who feel that their skin colour makes them a problem for others is to deny the obvious. The orthodoxy of men like Cardinal Sarah has occasionally drawn the ire of some Western Bishops in terms which suggest that the latter may not be free sin here.

We know from St Paul’s struggles on the matter, how hard it was for him to persuade his fellow Jews that Gentiles were not “unclean” and that it was in order to break bread and share wine with them. It is very easy for us, at thise distance, to forget how fierce an argument this was among early Christians. Even St Peter, under pressure from Jerusalem, recant from his position of sharing table fellowship with Gentiles, forcing St Paul intoa fierce condemnation of his position. For St Peter to agree with St James and the Jerusalem Church undermined, for St Paul, the whole thrust of the Gospel message that “For no one is put right with God by doing what the Law requires.”

The Church is a fellowship of believers or it is nothing. The first Christians found it as hard as we often do. Men from Corinth probably found men from Rome stand-offish and a bit inclined to assume superiority; men from Rome probably found the Corinthians a bit lively for their taste; and women, such as Phoebe, would have wrestled with male condescension as much as their modern contemporaries often do. But they were one on Christ, and the Spirit worked through them to make them one, as He does with us, if we let Him.

 

Black Lives Matter

Tags

, ,

jesus-carrying-his-cross

Yes, they do, as do all lives, but let us not use the latter to diminish the claims “Black Lives” makes on us. Historically, migrant people often suffer discrimination. That is not because some “system” is inherently racist – we cannot blame it on something impersonal; it is because mankind is tribal and our nature is a fallen one. The history of “Black Lives” in America is different from in the UK; in the former the ancestors of most “Black Lives” came in slave ships, suffered horrendously, and the marks of that left a deep scar. But that is not to say that “Black lives” in the UK have not also been the subject of discrimination. I am old enough to remember being shocked by some of the words used by adults which I won’t sully the internet with. That this situation is being weaponised by some for left-wing causes should not, and I hope will not, detract from the need to pay attention to the real problems suffered by racial minorities. I missed the protests about the way the Chinese treat their minorities, but I am sure they were equally vociferous within China, although I suspect statues of Chairman Mao may stand a while yet.

What ought to concern us all is the weaponisation of a good cause. That carries with it the potential to polarise society and make things worse. Wherever people feel there are things they are not allowed to say, they do not forget those things, and they are never exposed to the reasons why they might, on consideration, change their attitudes, they become fixed; nay, they become a virtuous cause which dare not speak its name. The most obvious example in the UK is what became the Brexit movement. When what Nixon once called “the silent majority” got a chance to speak, it did so with a vengeance. It may, to some of us, have spoken incoherently and with a force which surprised us, but that is on us; we never asked, we were never told, and so we made ourselves deaf to the feelings of others. We must try to avoid a repetition of this with “Black Lives Matter.” It is about far more than statues, and those focussing on it help the rest of us miss the point, unless we are careful.

Macaulay was correct when he wrote: “We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality.” We might now rephrase this, as there is something more ridiculous, that is “woke Twitter.” If we proceed from the assumption there is one “correct” way of thinking and that all who disagree are bad people with evil motives, we end by creating not a society in which everyone thinks alike, but one in which everyone speaks alike; group-speak is not quite the same as group-think, although those in the solipsism usually mistake it for such. It does not last, and when it goes, it usually involves violence and a sharp move to the opposite extreme.

The origin of our ills is us, as St Paul reminded the Romans long ago:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

There is but one cure for this, and it is not group-think or group-speak. Indeed, here our own Faith risks being misused as a cover, as Jesus warned us when He spoke about how we should conduct ourselves, not trumpeting our virtues or excoriating the sins of others. We are all sinners, and that stone we wish to cast should, if we have self-knowledge, remain in the dirt where we found it. St Paul knew there was but one answer to this sin operating within us:

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord

Law can do only so much, and is, of course, necessary given our fallen nature. But only Christ can warm our hearts within us and make us whole. Before he is “cancelled” let us remember that old ex-slaver lost in the mire of sin, John Newton, who received Christ and turned from his sin to campaign against that very slavery of which he had been a victim and in which he had been a protagonist. He rightly bade us sing of that “Amazing Grace” which had saved a wretch like him.

So, as the culture wars take this new turn, and as good causes are weaponised by some for ends which others will contest, let us stop a while and remember we are on a road where we all get hurt, and that only the love of God saves; but let us rejoice that it is bestowed on all who turn to Christ. Though our sins are scarlet, yet shall we be washed clean – black, brown, yellow and white. In Christ there is no division, in Him we are all one. If we can live that as though we truly believe it, then we shall do better, and we may even begin to apprehend why “Black Lives Matter” is something to which we might all, as Christians, attend with prayerful enquiry.

Faith and Reason

Tags

,

rublev-trinity

St. Augustine famously wrote: “seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe so that you may understand.” His comment is applicable to Trinity Sunday. If we say we understand the Trinity then we probably don’t, because the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is at the heart of our faith, and the finite cannot, by definition, grasp the Infinite. At best we see “through a glass darkly.”

That is not to surrender reason. God gave it to us so that we might come to a better understanding of Him, but He gave us other senses to make up for what reason alone cannot do. The Trinity is no more, or less amenable to reason than the other cornerstones of our Faith: that God became man in Jesus; and that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. If, as our secular culture demands, we have to give a scientific justification for our beliefs, Christians have tended to go in two directions: a fundamentalist insistence on the literal truth of Scripture and its inerrancy (or on the authority of the Church and its inerrancy) or a gradual yielding of ground to allow one method of perceiving the world primacy, as though Reason and Imagination are somehow opposed to each other, rather then being complementary ways of seeing the world.

If we yield to the view that “science” can make no “sense” of concepts such as the Resurrection and the Trinity, we are going down the wrong road.. That would be to give “science” a say in how we exercise our reason which leaves no place for Imagination, Experience and Emotion; it also attributes to “science” a place it does not claim for itself, that of the final arbiter over what life is for and what it means to be human.

In retreat, the Church has tended, in public, to emphasise morality. This is not to say that is a bad thing, and, at least while morality bore the marks of its origin in Christian belief, it was an easy place for the Church to proclaim its utility. But as Society withdraws from that inheritance, it gets more difficult, which is why the Church has such trouble in areas such as LGBT rights; those areas where Society is furthest away from the shared inheritance, create a problem which many in the Church think is solvable only by yeilding further ground.

But our faith is not “applied morality”. Its purpose is not to control us and make us behave. That is another secularist fantasy made real by those who fail to enter into an imaginative understanding of Faith. Our Faith has nothing to do with being good and everything to do with hope and love directed toward the Creator who made us because He loves us. The Trinity is Love. As St Isaac wrote:

In love did He bring the world into existence; in love does He guide it during this its temporal existence; in love is He going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of Him who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.

That is the point being missed. Moral goodness is the product of loving God and of trying to be with Him as He is with us. As Martyn Percy writes in the Church Times:

God chose to abide with us in our temporality and frailty, so that we might abide with God in eternity. This is the heart of revelation: God is “with” us. Indeed, that small word “with” may be one of the most underrated in the scriptures. God always chooses to stay with us: we do not walk alone. We are never abandoned or orphaned: we are loved and adopted.

The Resurrection speaks to us of hope and God’s promise that death is not the end. The Trinity is the source of all love and life. As Malcolm Guite puts it in a wonderful poem which I commend to you all:

The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,

And makes us each the other’s inspiration.

He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,

To improvise a music of our own,

To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,

Three notes resounding from a single tone,

To sing the End in whom we all begin;

Our God beyond, beside us and within.

None of this is to deny the place of reason, but it is to put it in its place as one of the ways we engage with the world. But it is to remind us of what the atheist poet, Philip Larkin divined in his “An Arundel Tomb:”

Our almost-instinct almost true:   
What will survive of us is love

 

And as we were created in love, so will we survive in it. Science has nothing to say here where the poets, musicians and artists alone can help our understanding.

 

Joy

Tags

,

Pentecost

It has been quite a journey since Good Friday, and, perhaps due to lockdown, it has been somehow easier to follow, at least emotionally, in the steps of the Apostles. Crushed by what they took to be the ultimate defeat that we now call “Good” Friday, they passed into what looks like a state of bewilderment on that first Easter Sunday. Even the ever-faithful Mary Magdalene did not recognise Jesus by sight; it was the sound of His voice which drew from her the word: “Rabboni.” Thomas would not believe until he saw, and Peter, well Peter had good reason to be anxious as well as delighed; despite his big words at Gethsemane, he had betrayed his Lord.

Indeed, we see in John 21 that Peter had returned to his nets. It was John who first recognised the Lord. Impulsive as ever, Peter plunges into the water to greet Jesus. But what ground did he have to assume anything other than that there would be, at the least, a rebuke for his behaviour? Then, beside another fire, lit by Jesus, Peter receives forgiveness and healing. The three times Jesus asks him whether he loves Him echo the three denials, and what comes with that is forgiveness and a great commission, as well as a foreshadowing of suffering and death. Pardoned, healed, restored and forgiven, Peter is the pattern for us all. Our frailties and our wounds are not what define us, God’s forgiveness and Grace does that.

Throughout the earthly ministry of Jesus there were abundant signs that this joy, this forgiveness, this Grace was not simply for the children of Israel: the woman at the well who believed in Him was a Samaritan, a member of a despised minority; the Syro-Phonecian woman who begged Him for the crumbs of mercy was, likewise as a Canaanite, one beyond the pale – as the disciples were quick to point out; and the centurion of whom Jesus said:  “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” was an officer in the hated army of occupation. But it was not until the day of Pentecost, which the Church celebrates today, that the fullness of this message and its meaning were made clear.

The division between Jew and Gentile was deep and wide in the world into which Jesus was born, lived, and died; that division, like all others, was healed after the Ascension by the coming of the Holy Spirit. We are told in Acts that after the Spirit descended, everyone heard the Disciples speaking in his or her own tongue and that in that first day, three thousand were received into the Church. As Paul told the “foolish Galatians,” all who had faith were the “sons of Abraham.” Whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free, all that mattered was faith in Jesus. It was for this reason that Paul gave Peter himself the challenge when the latter tried to argue that Gentiles needed to be circumcised and follow Jewish practices. Neither did Paul speak in his own name, as he told the Galatians: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

The Church is the risen life of Jesus, the means through which the joy that brings is shared with others. This morning’s “Thy kingdom come” Pentecostal service was a vibrant reminder of Paul’s words, and of the Spirit which binds where sin seeks to divide.

It has been a long journey from Good Friday to Pentecost, but with the birth of Church, may a new flame be kindled in all our hearts and may we love one another as He loves us; only thus will the world recognise us as His.

Oak Apples and Restoration

Tags

,

oak apple

Until 1859, the Church of England marked 29 May as “Oak Apple Day,” marking the day that the Monarchy, and with it, the Church of England, was restored after the interlude of the Commonwealth under Cromwell. As Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary:

Parliament had ordered the 29th of May, the King’s birthday, to be forever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny and the King’s return to his Government, he returning to London that day.

The “oak tree” commemorated the fact that after the Royalist defeat at Worcester in 1651, the young Prince of Wales (later Charles II) had hidden in one whilst the Rounheads sought him. The English like a good story, and a good party, and Restoration Day provided both.

The Church of England had good reason to commemorate the day, and the decision to abolish its official memorial in 1859 was, along with the decision to drop the service for Guy Fawkes’ day, a sign that parliament wanted to take a less censorious line towards Nonconformists and Catholics, which whilst welcome in itself, should not lead us not to celebrate the day on which the Monarchy was restored.

History and identity are important to a nation, and as one commentator has shrewdly suggested:

Against a joyless Puritan commerical republic, the Restoration symbolised the renewal of convivality, balance, memory, locality, a deeper, more joyful vision of communal flourishing than the Puritan republic could envisage or allow.

There is in this a deeper message to be grasped too.

A nation is more than the sum of its Gross Domestic Product and its balance sheets. A nation which knows the cost of everything often knows the value of nothing, and its polity can become one which sees people as means to an end. This can never be a Christian view of mankind. Life is given to each of us by God for His purpose which, across the course of that life we work out more or less. Any polity which neglects the poor and denies the rights of workers is headed for degradation. At the heart of the Restoration was “monarchy – an expression of the anointed, sacramental nature of communal life, a rejection of the idea of the ‘secular’.” Man does not live by bread alone, and his worth cannot be defined solely by the material. Neither the free market nor social activism quite cuts through to what makes the good life, even if both might have their place.

During this crisis we have seen people going on line to find Church is a way not as many did beforehand; will this continue? Sceptical by nature of claims that “everything will/must change” and of assertions that “nothing will be the same”, if only because history tens to show that change is slow and human beings are always the same, nonetheless, it will be interesting to see whether a chance to slow down and reflect, to be more rooted on one place than usual, will have any lasting effects.

In the meantime, Oak Apple day was, by tradition, an occasion for joy and celebration, so let us do that as best we can, giving God thanks for His many and great mercies, as we await Pentecost.

Authority and boundaries

Tags

,

sign post (2)

It is sometimes said that if you have to insist on your authority, you don’t have it. We hear much, as we should, of the importance of love. I say, “as we should” because God is love. If His love does not warm our hearts to inspire love then something somewhere has gone very wrong and we may need to find the human equivalent of the “reset” button. But while we may, nay must, for He commands it, love our enemies, lines need to be drawn. While we may love our enemy, we cannot agree with him that the line of conduct he wishes to take is correct if it runs contrary to sound doctrine. We may do our best to reason with him, but love commands the opposite of our approving of any such conduct.

However it might concern us, we cannot deny the individual the freedom to make his or her own decision; but taken to extremes, that is without some degree of reasonableness on both sides, you can end by annihiating all real unity. Any religion which operates on the basis of unlimited pick and mix is a well-being philosophy pretending to be a religious one. Equally, on the other side of the question, an assertion of Church authority can result in the annihilation of the individual – historically, quite literally. Any religion which can only maintain a hold on its adherents by the use of force is a political system pretending to be a religious one, and has nothing to do with Christ and His teaching.

What Christianity has aimed at is a situation in which the authority of the Church nurtures the spiritual judgment of each individual to grow in conformity with God’s will, but in practice this via media has seldom been achieved, and a survey of the current situation suggests that mankind’s tendency to prefer extremes continues to prevail. Even within the Catholic Church there is a range from those who condemn Vatican II and long for the days of Encyclicals which condemned “modernism”, through to those who feel free to reject the idea of miracles and the bodily resurrection. I still recall the shock of a fellow parishioner when he realised that, as he put it, I believed “that stuff in the Creed literally.”

The life of the soul is meant to be nourished by cooperation between external gifts of Grace to which the Sacraments give us access, and the internal action of our faith. The former are not magic charms, neither are they substitutes for our own efforts; faith without works is, after all, in vain. But equally, the idea that our own efforts and our own reason can, by themselves supply what the Sacraments are there to give is equally vain, if not a sign of vanity. Grace works with and on our own faith.

There are boundaries, and one of the functions of a Church is to patrol those boundaries. In an age of relativism this is difficult, not least because some of those whose job it is to police them do not believe in the necessity for their existence. But without them, what remains of bonds of unity?

The happiest news

Tags

,

ascension-icon-rublev-1408 (1)

Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (John 20:17)

At the tomb, on that greatest of all days, Jesus says this to Mary Magdalene. If many found it hard to believe that He had risen, how much harder did they find it to understand what He meant by “ascend” and “ascended.” Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Ascension when, at last, the meaning of those words was unfolded.

By His rising the gates of death and hell were unlocked, and salvation was brought to us poor banished children of Eve. But the gates of Heaven were also to be opened for us, and this is part of the symbolism of the Ascension. Our great High Priest has ascended. Before any ascent there has to be a descent. The Word who made the world became an infant without words. He who was with the Father before all worlds “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” He who was sinless took upon Himself the sins of mankind. He who was eternal died for us. Then He rose in glorious victory over death. As Paul triumphantly told the Corinthians:

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.

21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.

22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming

Lancelot Andrewes draws a line from here for us to the Ascension:

For His being above before He went below, is nothing to us. But being below first, and then that He went up, that is it we hold by. As the Son of God He came down, as the Son of Man He went up. If as the Son of man, there is hope that the sons of men may do the like.

However low we have descended, we can be lifted high by Him.

But He has not left us, even though “the cloud from sight received Him, when the forty days were o’re.” As St Matthew tells us, He left the Apostles with a Great Commission and a promise:

 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

The full meaning of that would not become clear until the day of Pentecost, but we have His promise and He is with us.

In 2016 the Archbishops of Canterbury and York launched an initiative, Thy Kingdom Come, which was designed to draw Christians to using the period between Ascension and Pentecost to deepen our faith. It has grown into an international phenomenon, and the Catholic Church plays its part in this. For myself, I find journeying with Our Lady during this period especially fruitful.

This Sunday, those following that journey, are asked to pray for forgiveness. The fact that we are forgiven never ceases to astonish me. As a human being, I feel that I somehow have to be worthy of it, and yet it is given freely as an act of love; only my pride and need to feel that I am in some way worthy can get in the way of that. But if I accept His forgiveness as it is given to me, as an act of love, then that frees me up; it liberates me to do likewise.

Bishop Andrewes reminds us that “as He ascended into Heaven, Heaven is to ascended to by the new and living way that is prepared through the veil of His flesh.” And I shall finish this, as he finished his sermin at Greenwich on 12 June 1614: “Christ being there for us, and the Spirit here for God; either agent for the other. It is the happiest news this, that ever came to mankind.:

The importance of love

Tags

, , ,

 

isaac

To some, even the use of the word “love” induces a visceral reaction, such, perhaps, has been its over-use. But as the Beloved Disciple reminds us:

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

In Christ, God reveals His purpose to us. He did not write a manifesto or send us a list of things we must and must not do, He spoke to us in the only language we can understand – that is through another human life. Jesus tells us what God wants for us, but more, much more than that, He shows us what love means. We can understand love only through relationships, and that is what Jesus shows us – the true meaning of love.

That love is a manifestation of the eternal love that is the Holy Trinity. The sanctifying love of the Spirit and of the Son are poured forth for our salvation. it is through Jesus that we receive the gift of eternal life, not because we first love God, but because He first loves us.

If we love others, and He loves us, then, as the Catechism tells us, in this way the Trinitarian love is reflected here on earth as it is in Heaven. Human love is not the cause of our love, it is a manifestation of God’s love. It follows, as St John tells us, that those who claim to know God but do not manifest love speak under the influence of a false spirit. And yet how very hard it is for us to show love for one another.

St John outlines four ways in which God lives is us: if we love one another; if we have been given His Spirit: if we can confess that Jesus is the Son of God; and finally, if we abide in the love of God. If this is so, then keeping God’s commandments isno more burdensome than love itself. Love is not, as we know, without its difficulties. It is far from saccharine and always sweetness and light; but what we suffer when we love we do because we know that in this fallen world it must be so.

St Anselm of Canterbury prayed:

Lord, let me seek you in desiring you:

and desire you in seeking you.

Let me find you by loving you,

and love you in finding you.

As so often when it comes to love, let us leave St Isaac the Syrian to have the final word:

In love did God bring the world into existence;

in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state,

and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things;

in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.

Fr Aiden Kimel has some wiser and deeper reflections on this theme here.

 

 

Never the same again?

Tags

,

talking to miryim

Last Sunday we were treated to messages from Christian leaders. Their message amounted to stating that things would “never be the same” after this pandemic. The one thing upon which one can rely is that time changes things; things are “never the same,” anyway. What is lacking in them is a sense of agency; what part are Christians to play in this change that “must” come? When the Archbishop of Canterbury writes:

“After so much suffering, so much heroism from key workers and the NHS, so much effort, once this epidemic is conquered here and round the world, we cannot be content to go back to what was before as if all is normal.

“There needs to be a resurrection of our common life, something that links to the old, but is different and more beautiful.”

He speaks in hope, but in terms of that “something” that will link to the old, he is coy. By far the most useful commentary I read came from the Bishop of London, Rt Revd Sarah Mullally who wrote on her blog:

 Easter reminds us that God has touched the world in Jesus Christ.

Touch is central to Jesus relationships.  Filled with compassion Jesus reached out his hand and touched the leper, a women who has suffered a great deal with a bleeding disorder, came up behind Jesus and touched his cloak, Jesus took Jiraus’ daughter by the hand and said to their little girl get up, he took the man who could not speak or talk and put his figures into his mouth, he took the blind man by the hand and put his hands on him,  people brought little children to him for him to touch, the betrayer kissed him, and there on the road to Emmaus in the breaking of bread the touch of the presence of Jesus made their hearts burn.

Touch brings reconciliation, reconciliation to a community and to God, it brings restoration of relationships and healing.

At a time when we are “social distancing” it is good to be reminded of this. The “something” in the Archbishop’s statement becomes the “someone” in the Bishop’s commentary. It is the Risen Christ who touches us. In Eliot’s words:

And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year.Between melting and freezing
The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time’s covenant. 

As the Bishop put it:

In a sense we have no more or less than Mary for we like her have glimpsed the hopes of Easter – death does not have the last word. The promise of a new creation without pain and suffering.

Now hope is not blind optimism.  It is with hope that we can with eyes open to see the suffering and yet believe in the future.

How to convey the message that that “hope” lies in Jesus is the question?

Perhaps the answer lies in the gaps? For the better part of half a century, mankind in the West has pursued pleasure and consumption as its goals, convinced that “happiness” lay down those routes. It has not proven to be the case. Happiness is always just over the next hill, and the grass is always greener on the side we have not yet trodden.

The promises set out by politicians have always been recognised as illusory by those of a conservative disposition; but even those on the left who have been looking for the next utopian visionary, seem to despair. Many young people, convinced that societies based on mass consumption are destroying the natural environment, protest on their hand-held devices and travel to demonstrate on the means of transport which exist to expedite mass consumption.

Down all these roads lies disillusion. Hope lies only in Christ. In the words of the Anglican General Confession:

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

It begins with penitence, it begins with the realisation that He loved us first. What follows will follow. Only then will we never be the same again. And until we are changed, things will stay the same.

The Empty Tomb

5250914_orig

O blessed day of the Resurrection, which of old time was called the Queen of Festivals, and raised among Christians an anxious, nay contentious diligence duly to honour it! Blessed day, once only passed in sorrow, when the Lord actually rose, and the disciples believed not; but ever since a day of joy to the faith and love of the Church! In ancient times, Christians all over the world began it with a morning salutation. Each man said to his neighbour, “Christ is risen;” and his neighbour answered him, “Christ is risen indeed, and hath appeared unto Simon.”

(St John Henry Newman)

Christ is Risen!

He had said He would rise, but not one of those who went to the tomb that first Easter morning expected it. When they found the stone rolled away, they all sought for other, worldly explanations. Even the devoted Magdalene  thought “they” had taken the body. The explanation had been given to them all in advance; none had believed. They had been blind. Even as Mary Magdalen explained to the “gardener” their plight, she could not see Him. Then He called her by her name – and she knew, calling him “Rabboni.” Then she went and told the disciples.

In Jewish law the unsupported word of a woman was not admissable as proof, and yet it was Mary to whom Jesus first revealed the miracle of His resurrection, and even she knew it first only when He spoke her name. Her darkness, and then that of the Disciples was banished by the Light of the World. The world would never be the same again. Those same men and women who had been fearful for their own lives would go out and many would lose them in the service of the Risen Christ.

As Saul of Tarsus, who after encountering the Risen Lord became Paul, the last of the Apostles reminded the Corinthians:

By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

So vital is this message that St Paul declares: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” The whole of our faith rests upon the events of that first Easter Sunday.

Today is an Easter Sunday like no other most of us will have experienced. Deprived of the comforts of the Easter Vigil, and of the community of others this Sunday morning, we can, instead, contemplate the Risen Lord and feed on Him in our hearts with thanksgiving. The chains of death are broken.

On this day of days, when the darkness of sin was banished and the light of God has triumphed over it, may we be renewed in Him, and He in us, and may we bear witness to the hope we have been given. We are saved through His blood. We have followed Him through the path to Calvary, and we have stood with Him watching from afar at Golgotha, now may we rise with Him. He is Risen – He is Risen Indeed!