Spring and Easter

Sunday 28th April 2013
Year C, The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Parish Eucharist
Acts 11:1-18
Revelation 21:1-6

The recent appalling Winter, stretching as it did into April, bringing Easter snow instead of blooming daffodils, reminds us of how wedded we still are, even in our semi urban state, to the cycle of the seasons with their attendant variety of ritual landmarks and pleasures. Long after climate change has replaced the weather pattern of centuries with violent episodes of unpredictability we will still talk of March winds and April showers although I think that most of us have grown out of casting clouts; but, strangely, even Christians seem not to savour Easter after Lent in the way they savour Spring after Winter. Forty days and forty nights, of, perhaps somewhat figuratively, fasting in the wild culminating in Good Friday, and then Easter observances contained in some 16 hours, with not even the time to walk with Jesus to Emmaus; and then, for many of us, it is over.

But if that is so we are betrayed by our own impetuousness, our wish to move on to the next thing; Easter is gone and there are the Summer holidays to look forward to. But Easter has not gone. The Church makes Easter a pivot with the forty days of Lent before it and the forty days of Christ's Resurrection after it and then the Ascension and Pentecost; and during this period the readings that we enjoy on Sundays are radically changed, with Acts replacing the Old Testament and this year, Revelation replacing the customary Epistle and also, this year, the luminous John instead of the rather more prosaic synoptic Gospels.

We are living in an age of wonder: In Acts Peter, struggles with and overcomes his traditional, law-based approach to holiness, so significant that this is the second time that Luke tells the same story, and then witnesses the Holy Spirit descending upon Gentiles as it had upon the Jewish Apostles; in Revelation there is a new heaven where all tears will be wiped away from our eyes and there will be no sorrow: and in John we are given a new commandment of love which explains Peter's experience.

For those given to a certain degree of Christian euphoria and, as I have explained, I do not think there are enough of us, some words of caution. First, the hard split, the dichotomy, between Law and Love can be drawn too sharply. There is plenty of evidence in the Old Testament that people went beyond the Law for the love of God and neighbour and there is plenty of evidence, too, that without law Christianity would lie in ruins because we lack the self-discipline and perseverance to prevail without the supportive structure which the Church, the gift of Jesus to us, provides. This "New commandment" after all, is not mushy and sentimental; choosing who we like is easy enough, and falling in love is all too easy; but loving is tough: loving those we don't like; loving our partner because of a fault; loving our children when they appear to have stopped loving us. No wonder this "New Commandment" turned the ancient world upside-down and, in spite of its exactions, triumphed in the power of the Holy spirit.

But here is the second cautionary note: the triumph of love is not our triumph, it is the Spirit's triumph through our faltering witness to Jesus, a faltering of which we should not be ashamed but simply humbled, recognising that the hand that hesitantly wipes away the tear from our neighbour's eye is a foreshadowing of God's termination of grief. We must not be proud enough to think that we generate our own virtue.

And the third cautionary note is that if we can bring ourselves to enjoy the good news it is our duty to transmit it. Imagine the courage it must have taken the Galilean fisherman Peter to enter the house of the Roman Centurion Cornelius, as unlikely an event as Dennis Skinner being invited to join the Carlton Club!

But, all that having been said, I come back to my central point that this is a time of wonder. If we are to behave strictly chronologically, we should read Acts on the Sundays after ascension, starting with the election of Matthias and then Pentecost; but there is something profoundly heart-warming in having the Holy Spirit around and about during the extended Easter season. In terms of the Church's year she gets very short shrift and if we are to grow in holiness we need to be much more aware of her than we are. And, as I have implied, we ought also to be much more aware of the wondrous dimension of our Faith. We have allowed ourselves to become enmeshed in ethical minutiae, we have turned joy into guilt, we have turned our bishops from shepherds into princes and bureaucrats; we have burdened our priests with mountains of process which keep them at their desks and off their knees; and we have too frequently allowed ourselves to be the stewards of grim duty and not the bringers of good news because, after all, if we don't believe that the news is good we can hardly tell others that it is.

At this time of transition in our Parish, as we think about making a fresh start with a new Rector, it is quite proper that we should all think about what we can do to ensure that the Parish continues to be efficient and healthy but we will all be tempted into thinking that all we have to do is to sign up for additional jobs. But we are not a middle sized corporation in search of a new CEO, we are a church; and for our endeavours to be fruitful we need to settle into our spirituality and to live in silence with our God as a proper balance to activity not because silent prayer is therapy - although it is - but because we will only make right choices if they are informed by the Holy Spirit which will often mean making decisions which go against our personal preference.

God will wipe away every tear from the eyes of mortals and death will be no more: This thought, all by itself, is enough, surely, to convince us to be as thankful for the season of Easter as for our late Spring.