One of the interesting things about this particular time is the sense of looking both backwards and forwards, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. Looking back over Lent, we had an intriguing look at the mighty signs of Jesus according to John as we followed our Lent Course, and we found that each sign was significant in itself but also pointed to other aspects of Jesus’ identity and ministry. They were woven into the fabric of the gospel in a way that we do not fully appreciate when we read about any of them on their own.
Then there was the Bishop’s visitation on 27 March, and while I had encouraged as many as possible to come and see him (was it a 3-line whip or a 5-line whip?), what we found was a particularly happy parish day, made all the more so by the hospitality of Jane and Graeme Hely who offered their home as an open house for the day. It was a day of worship, fellowship and devotion, all blended together.
From Palm Sunday to Easter Day there was the roller-coaster of emotions and impressions as we followed the course of services through from the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday to the stripping of the altar and the vigil on Maunday Thursday, the reflections on the words of Jesus from the cross on Good Friday, and then the decoration of the church and the celebrations of the Paschal Vigil and our Easter Day Eucharist which attracted what was for me a record number of worshippers and communicants. But it was significant that the offerings of a large number of people were drawn into these acts of remembering and reflecting as we worshipped together. For some, it was an opportunity to re-enter things that had been done long ago but almost now set aside. For others it was the opportunity to venture out of that comfort zone and to take risks as we explored new ways of honouring what was already given to us in our liturgical and devotional practices. For all however it was an opportunity to celebrate a new thing that God was doing among us. One interesting figure to note is that during the period from the Paschal Vigil to the Sunday after Easter, over 100 communions were received.
So much for looking backwards: what about the future? Liturgically we look forwards to Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church. This was the gift promised by Jesus. He would represent Jesus in all aspects of the life and ministry of the church. He would encourage and correct and empower. Above all He would focus our attention on Jesus Christ and on His words in the gospels. He would not deny or contradict what Jesus had said or done and just as Jesus had depended on the Old Testament for His instruction and understanding so we also would be led into a deeper understanding and application of its truth.
But more than that, the Holy Spirit would take what was weak and discouraged and ill-informed, and would build it up so that it might offer a balanced and reliable testimony to the Good News of Jesus. He would renew ministries in the church and relationships between its members. He would show how that message might be taken out and expressed. He would cultivate in the church the qualities that characterised the life of Jesus – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control: these are the Fruits of the Spirit. He would also bestow gifts to empower the church to minister effectively in its own life and within that of its community.
For us the point is, like a sailor setting out, to allow the Holy Spirit to fill our sails with wind and to allow that wind to send us on our journey. It means hoisting those sails and then trimming then so that they hold the wind and do not flap like a flag. It means being ready to be led into areas that we did not expect or imagine. It means being ready to be moved and touched and addressed within the details of our lives.
Yes there are risks in allowing God to move among us more gloriously than we had ever imagined, but then I think that we have already had a foretaste and there is far more to come. If what we have seen is the breaking of the dawn, just imagine what the fullness of the day might bring.
May I wish you a very happy and blessed Pentecost.