Saturday, May 23, 2009

THOUGHTS PREACHED ON THE SUNDAY AFTER THE ASCENSION, MAY 24th, 2009

Spring, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

NOTHING is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy pear tree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.


Well, it seems, judging by the traffic of the last few days, that true spring is upon us, and the racing lambs have indeed arrived. Some of them already, in this part of Eden, shouting at the top of their voices:

Have, get, before it cloy, before it cloud!

Memorial Day Weekend is with us once again, after what was surely the longest of winters and the most frustrating of springs. And a new season is upon us.

A new season in many ways. According to Dan's Papers (and there is surely no higher authority!) it is now permissible to wear white. Although I did see someone so dressed last weekend. Shocking, don't you think? No respect for tradition! As if these things actually mattered!

And we look forward to this new season with hopes and expectations.

It is also a time of remembrance, and I hope that, on Monday, all of us, either publically or privately, find the moment to pray, and remember those who have given their lives in the military service of the United States. The ultimate sacrifice. We look back, and remember them with honor.

And now this weekend of both forward and backward looking is placed within the biblical stories, and the experiences and traditions of the Church.

Last Thursday evening we gathered in church to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and to enjoy each other's company and conversation - and to hear again the story of the Ascension of Jesus. A story that appears to have less significance for us now than in previous generations. Yet it remains as an integral part of our creeds, many hymns and our Eucharistic Prayers. But do we actually believe it? Deem it important?

Surely not, because we no longer believe in a three-level universe. When the scriptures were written, and for many centuries after that, all of creation was easy to depict and understand. Hell was down; earth was in the middle; and heaven was up. To talk of Jesus "ascending into heaven" was therefore simplicity itself, and made total sense within the belief of those days. But now? Well, don't write it off!

Our problem as 21st century Christians is that we spend too much time and energy analyzing the details, and not enough reading and hearing the story.

The story of the Ascension is a narrative written through the eyes of faith. It is a powerful statement about Jesus, and what the church had come to believe. That just as Jesus had been sent by God, so now he must return to God. This isn't historical event - this is faith and theology, and graphically described.

It is also a story that looks backwards and forward, and so is perfectly placed at this time of our modern calendar. Backwards, in that as a piece of story-telling it marks the end of the physical presence of Jesus which had to end sometime; and forwards, because it launches the believer into a new season and era of faith, where the presence of Christ would be spiritual - but no less real. And a different relationship with Christ would be called for.

We are in that season, that relationship today, and as we once more immerse ourselves in the bible stories and traditions, we continue to have hope and expectations. Like those early believers we also wait for the next story to begin - the next action of God.

The story of Pentecost, next Sunday, when we are called not to wear white - but red!

1 comment:

Saintly Ramblings said...

Ah, but it's back to white the Sunday after, Trinity, then green as from the next day .... well, it keeps the Sacristan busy.