The spring has been a long time coming, which makes it all the more enjoyable. I’ve seen a lot of springs, so I’m always a little surprised that I should be so excited each year. I can’t help it. To see signs of life in the garden after such a winter, when for so long everything looked so dead. Shoots appearing, buds on the shrubs, daffs in flower and tulips not far behind. It’s glorious.
And spring always strikes me as the season of the Spirit. His job is to awaken us to new beginnings and hopefulness. The death of Jesus sows the seeds. The Spirit brings them to life and growth.
There’s three things that strike me about that awakening. Firstly, he helps us see the potential – in ourselves, in others, in the world around us. That can be a painful, disturbing thing – we become aware of the weeds in our lives, the things that stop us coming alive, the gap between promise and reality, how things are and how they could be. To a disciple Jesus says, ‘You are Simon, you shall be Peter,’ the one who can be a rock.
Then the Spirit insists on choice. ‘Come off the fence’, he tells us, ‘if you want to see that potential bear fruit, blossom into life. Risk yourself.’ Plants have no choice, we do. So much of Jesus preaching can be summed up in that small word – ‘Choose!’ We prefer to go with the flow, so easy to drift, to do what we’ve always done, to play safe.
And what makes that choice so difficult is that, one way or another, it will involve a kind of dying, so that we can experience a new kind of living. Life through death, laying down our lives so we can take them back up but often it’s not clear what form of life, if any, will take its place. All Jesus could do in his agony on the cross was to trust. That dying takes many forms: the ending of a job, of a relationship, sacrificing your own interests for another’s. It feels like winter, it’s hard to see anything beyond it. And that new life takes many forms, which may break gloriously into our lives, or come slowly and fitfully, as spring so often does in our country.
I remember on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, one of the judges, Craig Revel-Horwood, told a celebrity participant that he was holding himself back from giving his best, and commented, ‘You must give yourself up, if you’re going to amount to anything’. ‘You must give yourself up’. A painful, risky challenge, that we - I - run away from. But it isn’t really a choice between staying as we are, safe and comfortable, and, on the other, accepting that we must die to be fruitful. It’s a choice between two kinds of dying – the dying that results from clinging, grasping, holding on, and that results in us withering, becoming smaller, and the kind that lets go, gives up, hands over, and leads to life.
A prayer from the writer John Vincent Taylor: ‘Father, if the hour has come to make the break, help me not to cling, even though it feels like death. Give me the inward strength of my Redeemer, Jesus Christ, to lay down this bit of life and let it go, so that I and others may be free to take up whatever fuller life you have prepared for us, now and hereafter.’ Amen
There has to be a winter before there can be spring; death before resurrection. Good Friday, before Easter Sunday and the coming of the Spirit.
I have just received a gentle reminder from the Magazine Editor that this letter has to be sent off in the next hour or two if the April number is to be in your hands on Easter Sunday. I am used to deadlines, but this one feels particularly tight: with Palm Sunday tomorrow and then all the liturgy for Holy Week to follow, Easter looks to me as I sit here at the keyboard like the top of Everest. You will all know that feeling of wondering where the necessary minutes are to come from.
And yet of course the Easter Gospels in their various ways make the point that God’s Resurrection initiative has made all his disciples’ earnest efforts unnecessary. The women trudged tearfully to the tomb with their jars of ointment, only to find that the Lord had no need of it. The disciples dragged their net full of fish to the shore of Lake Tiberias, only to discover that He is there before them, and already has fish cooking for their breakfast. The two on the
I got me flowers to straw thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee…
Can there be any day but this,
Though many suns to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we miss|:
There is but one, and that one ever.
Of course, if I were to sit here twiddling my thumbs and musing on bits of poetry, the letter would never get written, and the April Magazine would not arrive. But that Easter truth should put all our efforts into the right context. ‘The strife is o’er, the battle done; now is the Victor’s triumph won’. The victory has been won, and it does not depend on us. That was the truth emphasized in their different ways by Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin as they took up their responsibilities during the past week. The tasks seem daunting in their number and complexity, but we follow a Lord who has all things in his hands, and in whose power we can move mountains. The end is not in doubt.