This content is reserved for Mirfield companions
The Fourth Sunday after Trinity
2 Samuel 1.1,17-end 2 Cor 8.7-end Mark 5.21-end
Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue ‘Do not be afraid; only believe.’
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Pilgrims to the Holy Land usually visit Capernaum where they can see the walls of a 4th century synagogue, which was built over an earlier synagogue that may have been the one where Jairus was a leading official. Everyone in the little town of only 1500 people would have known Jairus and been distressed when his little 12-year-old daughter became gravely ill.
Jesus came there from the other side of the lake of Galilee, where he had restored a mentally disturbed man to sanity, Jairus found Jesus and begged him to heal his daughter. Jesus immediately agreed and when they set off to go to Jairus’s house, crowds followed them. They had gone no distance when messengers came and told Jairus that the little girl had just died. Jairus hesitated, assuming that Jesus would not be able to do anything. Jesus, however, encouraged him, saying ‘Don’t be afraid; only believe.’
At this point in his account, the evangelist, St Mark, tells of a middle-aged woman’s faith in Jesus. She had a serious medical condition, that had lasted for as long as Jairus’s daughter had lived (12 years). No doctor could heal her. She believed Jesus could and decided to get near him and just touch his clothes. She believed that would be sufficient for her to be cured, and it was. Jesus felt her touch because it drew a current of healing power out of him. Jesus wanted to find out who had touched him because he knew that person must have had great faith in him. When she came forward and admitted what she had done, Jesus praised her. ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your affliction.’
Like that woman the Church recognizes the healing power of relics of holy people, the bodies of holy people but also the clothes they wore.
Jesus encouraged Jairus and then he continued on his way to visit the little girl. Jairus had faith even though people tried to tell him that he was wasting his time. The little girl was dead. Jesus said, ‘No she is just sleeping.’ Did he say this to spare the girl from being regarded by folk as special? Jesus just went up to the little girl lying on her sleeping mat, took her hand and gently said to her ‘Little girl get up.’ Then Jesus told her parents to give her something to eat. He downplayed the remarkable miracle and told the parents and the three disciples who witnessed it to say nothing about it to anyone.
We may wonder why Jesus took Peter, James and John with him when he raised up the little girl. Surely it was because he wanted them to heal people as he had done. St Mark says he sent the twelve in twos to preach the Good News and they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. (Mk 6,13) Jesus wanted the church to continue his ministry to sick and infirm people.
After the apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost they healed people and even restored the dead to life. For example, The Acts of the Apostles tells us that Peter and John healed a crippled beggar at gate of temple. (Acts 3.6f). When Peter visited Lydda he healed a man called Aeneas, who was bedridden and had been paralysed eight years. (Acts 9.33) and at Joppa he found that a disciple called Dorcas had recently died. He prayed and she was restored to life. (Acts9.36ff) Paul and Barnabas at Lystra healed a crippled man who had never walked. (Acts 14.8ff)
Down the centuries the Church has continued this healing ministry. Bishops, as successors of the apostles consecrate the holy oils- the Chrism to bestow the sevenfold gift of the holy spirit, the oil of catechumens to prepare new Christians to receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation
The oil of the sick for healing of mind, body and spirit.
More than this, the Church has built hospitals, trained doctors and nurses and shown compassionate care for all kinds of sick and infirm people. In doing this the Church continues the loving ministry of Jesus and his disciples.
Some Christians are afraid to use the sacrament of Holy Unction or to lay hands on the sick lest no healing results. Jesus says to them ‘Do not be afraid; only believe.’ He has told us to ‘Ask and you will receive. When the Church or a Christian believer asks in prayer we can be sure that the loving, compassionate Almighty God most certainly responds with his gifts more than we expect or imagine to be possible.
Crispin Harrison CR
The brothers and all at Mirfield were saddened to learn of the sudden death of our good friend, Linda, last Thursday.
Linda has loved the Lord and has cared for CR’s Companions over many years with generosity, a warm heart and no-nonsense.
And we have been the beneficiaries of her passion for orchards as well.
We shall miss her greatly, and know that many readers of this will also be shocked and will miss Linda.
Please pray for Linda, and for her husband David in his unexpected bereavement.
Please note that in Fr John’s absence the Companions Office is temporarily closed.
MARK 4: 35-41
Some years ago I crossed the Channel in a really bad storm. It was fantastic! The ferry rolled from side to side; it swooped forwards down the waves and surged up the other side. People were being sick everywhere. Every toilet, every basin had someone standing over it. Passengers were lying on the floor. I confess to feeling somewhat smug that I felt fine! Then I went on deck and looked at those amazing waves, towering up above the ship and wondered what would happen to me if I fell over board. I would never have survived. I could not have been rescued. What would happen to a small boat out there? I know small boats do survive big storms but it would be pretty scary. That’s what the disciples experienced on Galilee. It must have been bad. They were fishermen after all. They were used to this Lake. They would not have been scared of nothing. If they were scared enough to wake Jesus and say “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” it must have been really bad.
It’s a story which has been given many different meanings. One of the commonest sees the boat as the Church. It’s like Noah’s ark. It may be small and the waves outside may be really big but it will survive and it will keep us safe. There’s some truth in that. The Church is a place of safety in a world which sometimes feels very hostile indeed. The Church is a safe, secure structure grounded in God so it cannot fail. Within it are the sacraments that give us life, and the people who travel us on the way.
It’s a good image but not a sufficient one; it ignores the fact that it was not the boat that saved the disciples. It was Jesus. The boat was nothing without Jesus. The Church is nothing without Christ. It may seem a strange thing to say but people often do forget that the Church is Christ; without Christ it is just a building, a hierarchy, even a tyranny. People in the Church often do forget Christ and their behaviour becomes quite un-Christlike. That is a sad fact of life. People in authority sometimes forget they are supposed to be shepherds caring for lost and hungry sheep and become instead governors like Pilate or priests like Caiaphas.
It is Christ who makes the difference. It is Christ whom we follow. When we look at the world around us and see disaster looming – disaster in the civil wars in the Middle East; disaster in the ecological scene with climate change; disaster with the ongoing carnage wrought by Covid – it is easy to despair, to think those things are just too big for me to handle. I’ll just keep my head down and hope it doesn’t happen. Or we’ll just cut England off from the rest of the world and stay safe.
Is this what Jesus wants us to do? Cut ourselves off from Europe and ignore the refugees? ignore those fleeing poverty or war in Africa? Jesus tells us to love our neighbour. When asked who our neighbour is he told the story of the Good Samaritan. Our neighbour is anyone in trouble. It might be the person living next door who has cancer. It might be the young homeless person who asks me for help. It might be a refugee, or it might even be some kids in Zimbabwe. Our safety within the ark of the Church must never blind us to the needs of people outside.
But our story today takes us further than that. There are many kinds of storms in life, storms that threaten to overwhelm us. St Paul describes these: the sufferings he has endured for the sake of the Gospel. Mobs beat him and stoned him; the police flogged him. Friends disowned him, Jews persecuted him. He was caught in shipwrecks, suffered from heat, hunger and thirst. Every one of these was a temptation to turn away from Christ, or to lose faith in a Christ who seemed to be asleep, not caring, not bothering to rescue him from his suffering, but he never gave up.
Most of us are not called to endure those kinds of storms, but there are others. There are emotional storms as well. There are storms when we fall in love, sometimes appropriately, sometimes inappropriately; there are storms when we mix up love with lust. These throw us off balance and send our perspectives into chaos. There are the storms of anger when we feel unjustly treated, frustrations when people block our way. Much of this is about sin; sin causes those storms in our lives. St Ignatius tells us that the action of the good spirit in our lives is like water dropping onto a sponge – soft, gentle, hardly noticeable; the action of the bad spirit is like water dropping onto a stone, loud, noisy, splattering and divisive. Those are storms. When emotional storms sweep over us we need to look for the sin that is probably there. Or, perhaps more helpfully, we need to remember this picture of a boat in a storm and Jesus asleep in the stern. Just looking at Jesus changes our perspective. He is asleep and resting, why should we be so disturbed? He is not bothered by the storm, why should we be so upset? Just looking at Jesus can be enough to calm the storm in our hearts. And if it is isn’t, then we need the humility to go and wake him and say “help me, I’m perishing.” That is called repentance.
Yet, this picture of Jesus asleep in the boat goes on intriguing me. It brings me to times of prayer; times of prayer that are not stormy – quite the opposite. Nothing is happening. There are no waves. The sea is completely still. The boat is not moving. There is nothing to look at. I am bored. And Jesus, if he is there, is asleep. He doesn’t listen to me; he doesn’t speak to me. If he is there at all he is fast asleep. Can I wake him? Can I get his attention? I sing. I shout. I jump up and down. I do all sorts of amazing things and still he sleeps. In the end I try to shake him, and still he sleeps.
I expect we all know this kind of prayer. For many of us it is not just an occasional experience but the whole experience of prayer in our life. It’s not dramatic. We don’t feel we can call it Dark Night of the Soul, or even Dark Night of the Senses. Maybe the Cloud of Unknowing is better – just that sense of being in a fog, feeling nothing, doing nothing, going nowhere. Where is Jesus? Is he really there? Why does he seem to sleep on when I need him? Is it enough to stay there and do nothing? That can be an excuse for laziness; it can be a kind of complacency. Nothing may be happening because I am so taken up with myself that I cannot sense anything, not even Jesus. But let us assume we have tried all that. I have checked out my sinfulness; I have expressed my faith; I have tried waking Jesus. Nothing works. Well, I think there is one thing left. It is called ‘desire’. Do I want Jesus to be there? Do I want him because he is good and not because I want him to give me lovely feelings.
In the end Christian life is about desire: the desire for God. Everything else leads to that or flows from that. And although God is immanent in this world he is also transcendent, far beyond its furthest reach. Our souls reach out to him because he made them. Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in him. This desire for God reminds us we do not finally belong in this life. Good as it is, beautiful as it is, it points beyond life, beyond death to God. “Here we have no abiding city for we seek one to come.” Sitting in the boat, in a flat sea with nothing happening we look to Jesus, but he is asleep. And maybe that is very important. If he were awake and chatting to us we would be fascinated, happy to sit there for ever enjoying his company. But we are not on earth simply to enjoy Jesus’ company; we are here to learn to want God. Looking at Jesus asleep in the boat reminds us of how much we have enjoyed his company in the past. But it’s not enough. Jesus on his own is not enough. He wants us to move beyond into that place where he as Son, lives with God. He wants us to desire God. “Late have I loved you O beauty, so ancient and so new.” That love in our hearts draws us out of ourselves to the God who put it there. The desire for God may not be comfortable; it may be like thirst or hunger, much of the time. We may get just enough of that sweetness of the presence of God to make us long for more. So we look at Jesus sleeping in the boat; we remember the times past spent with him; we look with love on this sleeping figure and move beyond it to the place where we shall meet him properly and in the fullness of his love. That is the place St Augustine describes so beautifully in the City of God: “There we shall rest and we shall see; we shall see and we shall love; we shall love and we shall praise. Behold what will be in the end, without end! For what is our end but to reach that Kingdom which has no end.”
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
When I was a kid I once tried to grow a tropical rain forest in a wardrobe, in a bedroom in number six Sherwood in the house where I grew up. I decided to begin on the small scale. I began with a seed from out budgie’s cage. If I was successful I would go in for it big time. Obtained a small tin,filled it with soil and embedded the seed in it and hid it at the back of the wardrobe. From my twice weekly visits to the cinema I had learned that rainforests were hot and steamy and that made the trees grow to a great height. As there was neither rain nor sunshine in our wardrobe I had to simulate the tropics. Dead easy – every day I took the can out, filled it up with water and held it over a candle until the steam started to rise. I was a proper little mad scientist. Well, two miracles occurred. The greater of these was that the wardrobe never caught fire. The second wonder was that the earth actually brought forth. One thin unhealthy looking stalk appeared and grew to about two inches. An older and wiser man might have been disappointed and given up, but not me. Success went to my head. I increase the rainfall and doubled the amount of time spent over the candle. It may surprise you to know that the infant forest withered away and died. My attempt at recreating Eden had failed.
In today’s Gospel Jesus reminds us that it is possible to produce a forest from one tiny seed. It is beautifully told in a couple of short sentences. Think of the mustard seed –the smallest of seeds, growing in the dark where most people are unaware of it. Yet one day it will be taller than all the other trees and it will protect a multitude of birds. The kingdom of heaven is just us a small and inadequate group of people and yet one day…
Lots of Jesus parables and similes are about seed and growth. I wonder why? I think it may be because he wanted to encourage the week hearted. Those including the apostles were inspired by his Gospel but when times became hard or dangerous some would become fearful or weary or disappointed that the kingdom had not come. Jesus is saying to such ‘cheer up remember the seed growing in the dark. We must go on patiently working, obeying the Father. True we are insignificant by the standards of the world but one day…
After the Resurrection the disciples were renewed and inspired and they would remember that it was Jesus the dead seed, lying three days in the dark who had given new life to them – life that was already growing strong. After Pentecost it would be the Apostles vocation to preach and teach in Jesus’s name. There would be times when the mission would falter when people would be afraid or their faith and hope would falter. It was for such times that the disciples recorded Jesus teaching and especially the parables. When membership dwindled or when there was persecution or when Christians became disappointed or disillusioned the sweet voice of Jesus would sound through the Church: ‘Don’t be afraid. I have overcome the world. Think of the mustard seed – you can’t see it but it is still growing. The kingdom is like that. It is here in the darkness but it is still growing. Don’t lose faith. One day the work will be accomplished and all who yearn for justice will find shelter in the tree of life’.
We have all been hurt, We know bereavement, betrayal and disappointment. We lose heart and our faith fails Christ knows our weakness. He loves us. He will not lose those for whom he gave his life. ‘You have sorrow now but your sorrow will be turned to joy.’ The darkness does not last forever, In Mordor – the darkest of places Sam finds hope: There peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of that forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach. JRR Tolkien Lord of the Rings
The Community were delighted to feature in the Pentecost Sunday episode of Songs of Praise for the BBC.
Filming took place in different locations around site. One of the show’s regular presenters Sean Fletcher conducted various interviews to learn more about life at the Community and College. If you missed the episode you can catch up here, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000wg1z (Available until 22 June 2021)
We invite your prayers for all those about to be ordained, and particularly for the 18 students of the College: 12 to be ordained to the Diaconate, and 6 to be ordained Priest.
It is into a world coping with Covid19 and its devastating effects, that we send out our students. We commend them, and those to be made priest, to your prayers along with the parishes in which they will serve.
+ Mark Sowerby
To be ordained Deacon
|Christopher Boyd Bishop |
(Parish of St Peter, Warmsworth)
27 June 2021
(Parish of Holy Trinity, Southport and St Luke’s)
26 June 2021
|Rachel Burdett |
(Parish of Belper Christ Church with Turnditch)
27 June 2021
(Parish of St Peter and St Paul, Rustington)
26 June 2021
(Parish of St Giles’ with
St Mary’s Pontefract)
3 July 2021
(Parish of St Mary’s South Elmsall with
St Margaret’s North Elmsall)
3 July 2021
|Jonathan Fleury |
(Parishes of St Luke’s, Grimethorpe; St Paul’s, Brierley, Parishes of All Saints’, South Kirkby)
3 July 2021
(The Benefice of All Saints, Torre and Torquay St John)
11 September 2021
(Parish of St Mary the Virgin, Lewisham)
26 June 2021
(Accrington, St Andrew, St Mary Magdalen)
4 July 2021
|Rebecca (Becky) Reeve|
(Parish of Walbrook Epiphany, St Augustine and St Thomas)
27 June 2021
(Parish of the Ascension, Torrisholme with St Martin of Tours, Westgate)
4 July 2021
To be ordained Priest
|Annie Bolger |
(Pro-Cathedral of the Holy Trinity,
3 July 2021
(MSE at St Andrew’s Hornchurch)
26 June 2021
|Mitzi James |
(St Mary with St George, Hornsey)
19 June 2021
(St Mary Magdalene,
3 July 2021
(SS Peter & Paul, Wantage)
27 June 2021
|Daniel Wyman |
(Holy Trinity, Eltham)
3 July 2021
Trinity 1 2021 Mark 3 : 20-35
Let us pray: without you my table is empty, make haste O Lord and do not delay. Amen
(a prayer from the inexhaustible treasury of the Imitation of Christ)
The Collect for today, the 1st Sunday after Trinity, asks God to grant us the help of His grace; and our New Testament reading speaks of grace, as it extends to more and more people, increasing thanksgiving to the glory of God.
God’s Grace – we can recognise it straight away when we see it in others; we are only too aware when we lack it ourselves.
This morning we stand mid-way between 2 great feasts of the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord: Corpus Christi, and the Sacred Heart which both point to God’s love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given us. And John in the opening chapter of his gospel points to this great generosity of God: “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16)
our collect prays : “because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without you, grant us the help of your grace, that in the keeping of your commandments
we may please you both in will and deed.”
Far be it for me to sit in judgement, but our gospel has some disturbing portrayals of people who (probably) lack grace : a family setting out to restrain one of their own number (in this case Jesus); a kingdom and a house divided against itself.
Our Lady Mary obviously has grace, the one who is full of grace; the one above all who does the will of God, who hears the word of God and keeps it. Ponders it, treasures it and lives it.
Without you my table is empty; make haste O Lord and do not delay.
What is grace? I thought I would look it up in a dictionary of Christian theology, and discovered that it is a most complex thing which would keep us here all morning if we were to spell it all out! So instead I offer just a few glimpses of grace, this wonderful fact of the Christian life. We recognise it straight away when we see it or experience it.
Recovering members of AA joyfully proclaim that God has done for them what they could not do for themselves.
We can recall the wonderful words of Paul from his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians :
“ my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Most of can say Amen to that.
Brother Lawrence, of the Practice of the Presence of God, used to pray this prayer when faced with a difficult or impossible task : “Lord, I will not be able to do this unless you enable me to do it”.
He would then just get on with the tasks at hand, and found that unexpected help and strength came from Above.
Our New Testament reading suggests that grace increases thanksgiving, to the glory of God, and St Thomas a Kempis celebrates this link between thanksgiving and grace in the Imitation, in a marvellous chapter entitled “gratitude for the grace of God” :
“God does well in giving the grace of consolation, but people do ill in not returning it to God with thanksgiving. And this is why the gifts of grace do not flow in us – because we are ungrateful to the Giver, nor do we return all to the fountain-head. For grace is ever the reward of the one who returns thanks, and that shall be taken away from the proud which is wont to be given to the humble.” Bk 2:10
Let us pray that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ will flood our hearts, and extend to more and more people, and that in the keeping of his commandments, we may please him in both in will and deed. That what begins with us individually, will fill our cup to overflowing, and spill out and over for others……… …………….this is surely part of mission.
Without you my table is empty; make haste O Lord and do not delay. Amen
Trinity Sunday 2021. Isaiah 6.1 ‘holy, holy, holy..’
The vision of Isaiah is one we deeply familiar with; ‘holy. Holy, holy is the Lord’, the Lord of hosts; in every Eucharistic prayer it is sung, and often we use it to acclaim God, holy God, holy and strong, holy and almighty have mercy on us. Perhaps we may think of the way composers have set it to music, that wonderful setting Bach does in the B minor mass, where you can sense the swinging of the thuribles from side to side as the words are sung. It is a vision which comes unbidden,through the silky curtain of the divine train, cascading down from fifty metres above, all around him; and though there is no account of what of God he saw, we know that the seraphim were up there, two winged creatures with three sets of wings. One set of wings covered the face; one set of wings covered the feet; and the other set of wings were used to fly. Incense everywhere
It is still, however far our familiarity goes, an amazing account. It is quite hard to imagine– how do you get an exalted throne, the top of an altar, angels, incense and flowing silk into one frame? Yet this is a glimpse of the one God, the One to whom no image or likeness can be made; no-one can see, can know God and indeed as we know, traditionally according to Hebrews Isaiah is killed, by Manasseh for saying that he saw God (Hebrews 11.37-8) and according to John 12.41 Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory.
Yet of course it is far from clear, far from clear that Isaiah does any such thing. He is blessed with a vision, but what we take away is the image of the seraphim singing holy holy holy, the trisagion of Christian worship and our worship is of the one God to whom no image or likeness can be made.
Yet these three holies, have been taken to indicate that Isaiah, howsoever dimly, howsoever haltingly, is given insight into the three of the one, the one of the three; it is not the only view but certainly this one has much to be said for it, for the God of Isaiah is the same as the God of Oor Lord and Saviour; the one source, the one reconciling and the one holy- and peace-making God, three focuses of the one God in Old and New Testaments.
I do not use the word ‘person’ as it is hard to use the word without thinking of an individual and the last thing the God of JS is, is three individuals. The God who is the source of all, who is the source of Jesus is the one God to be sure, but as Jesus way of living and worshipping with God shews us, there is in Jesus a way of living and dying which communicates the message of God, that what is lived by Jesus is such a resource of life and meaning, that it calls to be seen as being of the same ‘stuff’ as God, the one whom He and we address as Abba, ‘Father’. God communicates to us completely in Jesus Christ, Father who is all Father is because the Son is all who the son is because the Father is all who the Father is. The great glory of the three and one which Isaiah glimpses, that we see in the way from Nazareth to Calvary and Emmaus and to Pentecost.
(I hope that you are as unsettled as I am by the ease people think that ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ describe God? Can you imagine? God is not male,not female either. God is not gendered, no less the eternal Son; that is counter fashionably time serving, stupidly inapposite, wind and air. It is about as sensible as to say God is a drag superstar.
There is a deep focus which is source of all, a focus or communication, word and that is two; but it is three which we sing, ‘holy, holy, holy…’ There are three; the Spirit is not just an afterthought. The Spirit is where we start after all; we would not be remotely interested in the Trinity if the Spirit had not already touched us, As St Paul teaches us: ‘When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God’. As Christians we are already involved with God, the Spirit has already got inside us.
The Spirit lacks a special name; the Father, the Son are also Spirit and holy but they are who they are because of the other. This cannot be said of the third. Theologians wrestle with this and happily not without good result. (when you hear something like that you know that the preacher is going to mention St Thomas Aquinas). St Thomas thought that gift was marked the relation of the Spirit to Father and Son,full gift; gift of the giver, the giveness of God, God as donation, something which far exceeds our weakness for binaries or for getting things too fixed
The Spirit is called gift without reserve, wholly and without remainder, the sending of the Father-Son, utterly irreducible to either, not a gift, but gift fullstop. That same Spirit which is between the angels, which pours out the gifts and which teaches and nurtures, world-mothering and glory-templed, the Spirit which may also sinks to the deepest of dark depths and holds at once the peace and joy of fulfilment together with the groaning of what God has created; The Spirit, perhaps that place holder where God seems absent and seriously so.
The Spirit Creator of course, of all things, diversity and unity, all of it, not just things that are natural but all the things which have something of the human in them – towns, societies, cultures the lot. God is as much the creator of Maghull,Takeley or Romford of toothpaste or the B minor Mass as of mountain ranges, of Mars or of Betelgeuse.
It is in that context that we confess the One in Three, the One God who is indeed personal and whom we recognise in three focusses, of God’s working in old and new testament; they are as one as one can get and in that same, unfathomable love, that mystery which is so universe dwarfingly vast – that is what love is -, we will give thanks for God and all God is and does and we join from where the seraphim sing and join in their everlasting praise; we will receive its real signs, of source, word and gift, ‘holy. Holy, holy…’
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
“When the day of Pentecost had come …”: – it’s a completion.
We’ve ceased singing the psalms at a sprint. We’re about to put away our special booklets. We won’t be sprinkling our praise and conversation so liberally with Alleluias.
As the name implies, it’s been 50 days since Easter, 50 days of seeing all in the light of the Resurrection, of re-reading this life through the lens of God’s overturning of human judgement.
And to say this is the fiftieth day means it comes after seven weeks of seven days. This completion is one not of ending, of privation, but of fullness – of harvest and its first fruits, of the law complete and given through Moses. The fulfilment of God’s promise. It is not surprising that when Paul writes of the Spirit, he writes not only of gift but of fruit. Fruit we are to offer.
As today coincides with the last Sunday of the College’s year, we can ask, are we at an ending or somewhere else?
Today’s Whitsunday gospel comes from John, from the discourse of Jesus at the Last Supper. When Fr John preached here 3 weeks ago he said these words cannot have sounded reassuring in the ears of Jesus’ disciples that fateful night. Talk of going away and of another one coming, a shadowy figure, whom they did not know, would not have been welcome at the feast.
Going away – finally going away – may be much on our minds.
But when Jesus says, “It is to your advantage that I go away,” can this be true?
Well, we’ve had several more weeks, the Ascension, days of prayer and pondering of scripture and the fathers to get to know the Spirit better and, today, the recollection of the gift given – we’ve had time to reflect.
The Spirit of God, of course, is never absent from anything God sustains in being. The Spirit imbues continuously all physical energies with their force.
The Spirit imbues continuously all matter with its form. This uninterrupted cosmic interplay of being and becoming is a dance that God forever choreographs. God allows no coming or going to end that, until time itself runs out.
The going away of Christ, then, and the coming of the Spirit which we contemplate today, are of a different order – not a stop, a cessation, but a transformation, a new significance. The disciples, from being servants surrounding a master, become, yes friends but even closer – those who know instinctively what Jesus is about.
Ezekiel has reminded us twice this past week that God puts a new spirit within us. Or, as Jeremiah explains, no longer shall they teach one another saying know me, for they shall all know me.
On the day of Pentecost Jesus’ own Spirit finds home in human hearts, in our hearts.
Can this really be right? If there is no need to teach one another, why have you been studying at the College these past 2 or 3 years?
Well, the transformation that God effects in us is a little more subtle, a little more human, a little more loving than that.
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
“All the truth” – there’s fullness! 7 by 7.
It is an utterly unstinting promise from the One who is the Word, the One through whom all things came into being, and without whom not one thing exists.
For myself, I am one thing. And all the truth? – that’s beyond me; it’s meant to be beyond me. For my understanding to be illuminated so comprehensively, I need others’ eyes with which to see, others’ minds with which to think.
The Spirit, who gave the diversity of languages at Babel, also gives the ability to hear and understand within such diversity.
And it takes time – the time of the Church’s existence – we can’t bear it all at once. And it takes a fellowship, a new fellowship ever more diverse, ever increasing across the regions of the earth and across time. Each has our glint of the fullness of truth; the same Spirit illuminates each of our minds.
And so God chooses to bring forth his assembly, his church, at Pentecost, an assembly animated by the one Spirit.
This is good news.
Not least for those due to be ordained.
When the Bishop calls down the gift of the Spirit on you at your ordination, like an epiclesis on the host, this is not so that you can go into the parish filled with all knowledge, all truth, a fail-safe vision and plan-of-action.
But you can go with a fresh heart, a new spirit, an expectant listening to hear of God’s deeds, renewed day by day, believing that the Spirit sets the pace, goes before,
and encompasses you in one universal fellowship, a fellowship that has power from on high to discern truth well.
You don’t have to do it.
You don’t have to achieve the parish Mission Action Plan.
You just have to welcome the Spirit, day by day, breath by breath.
Perhaps the Retreat Association’s icon in this church today, of the Woman of Samaria with Jesus at the well, can offer a picture of this welcome.
She comes with a pitcher on a long rope.
Jesus asks her for water.
But the hospitality is mutual.
For already that well is full to the brim with water and his hand is dipped in it for blessing.
The same blessing which we meet in other Christians imbued with the Spirit.
As St Paul puts it in Romans, just after writing of the Eucharist: “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
Our lives, our understanding of truth, our voices of praise blend in our common welcome of the coming of the Spirit.
To finish: if I were not afraid you would think it an advertisement, I would say:
the Spirit is poured out on all flesh that all may sing Songs of Praise.