Here is an idea to contemplate: that God willed Creation into being so that God himself had somewhere to be, in the second person of the Trinity, Jesus the Son.
O the nobility of Divine Friendship! Are not all His treasures yours, and yours His? Is not your very Soul and Body His: is not His life and felicity yours; is not His desire yours? Is not His will yours? And if His will be yours, the accomplishment of it is yours, and the end of all is your perfection.
You are infinitely rich as He is: being pleased in everything as He is. And if His will be yours, yours is His. For you will what He willeth, which is to be truly wise and good and holy. And when you delight in the same reasons that moved Him to will, you will know it. He willed the Creation not only that He might Appear but Be: wherein is seated the mystery of the Eternal Generation of His Son. Do you will it as He did, and you shall be glorious as He.
Thomas Traherne is an Easter writer, full of the joys of spring, and of the endlessly searchable Universe. He uses the word ‘world’ to mean the Universe in this passage. What we have learned of the measures of the world since his time only reinforces the wisdom of his reflection. Let us enjoy creation and notice our felicity – our happiness in that enjoyment – and be grateful.
The world is round, and endlessly unsearchable every way.
What astronomer, what mathematician, what philosopher did ever comprehend the measures of the world? The very Earth alone being round and globous, is illimited. It hath neither walls nor precipices, nor bounds, nor borders. A man may lose himself in the midst of nations and kingdoms. And yet it is but a centre compared to the universe. The distance of the sun, the altitude of the stars, the wideness of the heavens on every side passeth the reach of sight, and search of the understanding. And whether it be infinite or no, we cannot tell.
The Eternity of God is so apparent in it, that the wisest of philosophers thought the world eternal. We come into it, leave it, as if it had neither beginning nor ending. Concerning its beauty I need say nothing. No man can turn unto it, but must be ravished with its appearance. Only thus much, since these things are so beautiful, how much more beautiful is the author of them? But the beauty of God is invisible, it is all Wisdom, Goodness, Life and Love, Power, Glory, Blessedness &c. How therefore shall these be expressed in a material world? His wisdom is expressed in manifesting His infinity in such a commodious manner. He hath made a penetrable body in which we may stand, to wit the air, and see the Heavens and the regions of the Earth, at wonderful distances. His goodness is manifest in making that beauty so delightful, and its varieties so profitable. The air to breathe in, the sea for moisture, the earth for fertility, the heavens for influences, the Sun for productions, the stars and trees wherewith it is adorned for innumerable uses. Again His goodness is seen, in the end to which He guideth all this profitableness, in making it serviceable to supply our wants, and delight our senses: to enflame us with His love, and make us amiable before Him, and delighters in His blessedness.
God … hath drowned our understanding in a multitude of wonders: transported us with delights and enriched us with innumerable diversities of joys and pleasures. The very greatness of our felicity convinceth us that there is a God.
Our church is smallish, homely, as it should be,
A rectangular box
Light-filled by generous windows.
Spirit-filled by generations of plain-speaking villagers.
A second-hand, twice-loved,
No-nonsense northern chapel in the hills
Complete with gallery and organ of course!
No room for side chapels
No nooks and crannies in which to construct an Altar of Repose.
Needing to take over from Saint Joseph
His small shrine to the left of the Sanctuary.
We can move over,
Those who stay on
To keep company with the Lord
On the night road from the room to the garden,
From the garden to the High Priest
In the midst of rabble,
Torches, weapons, noise,
While our church, now stripped,
Leaves us a few hours more
In his presence.
But tomorrow, when all we have remembered
In ritual, prayer and song,
When we have reverenced his image,
Received his Gift …
Then is it empty.
And helpless, what can we do?
In this emptiness
That echoes with the sound of his leaving?
The door left open,
The table bare
The light extinguished,
The fire gone out.
Come and see,
Just come and see!
Remember how it was
Before it became Good Friday.
The comfortable familiarity,
His everpresence …
Withdrawn now into pain,
For in the darkness we have abandoned him.
Oh how is our church empty!
Now … We gather in the darkness,
Knowing our loss
And drawn to the emptiness,
Relight the fire,
Set the table,
Restore the light.
Christ, our light!
Thanks be to God!
Hearts renewed in hope
Reach for the light.
Christ our light!
Our church in the hills!
Sheila writes that this piece is ‘Pre-Covid, by several years – Is this how we will date things in future?’ The previous two poems were new ones. Her little church in the hills is as she describes it, is it not? A light-filled, Spirit-filled box, where the Lord can camp for a while – who are we, even Yorkshire folk, to build Him a house? But he will fill the space when we set the table.
I am the wood
On which you chose to die.
I am the beam you carried on your shoulder,
Pulling at your torn and scourged flesh.
I am the rest on which they laid your hands,
You held me close,
As close as nails could hold.
You drew my pain
To make it yours.
And then they lifted you
And you forgave me.
Saint Francis, we know, received the marks of Christ’s passion in his own flesh; here he contemplates the instruments of the Passion. Sheila has a Franciscan insight here; the Cross itself feels the pain of a broken world. Perhaps we, too, should be seeking forgiveness for the wrong we are unwillingly complicit in committing against God and his Creation.
Two poems from American poets that harmonise with this one were published here a couple of years ago. Start with Joyce Kilmer’s prayer of a soldier in France and follow the arrow to the next post by Christina Chase. Happy Easter!
We usually post Pope Francis’ prayer intention on the first Friday of the month, but this month it fell on Good Friday, so we postponed it until today.
Pope Francis’s Intention for April: – Fundamental Rights We pray for those who risk their lives while fighting for fundamental rights under dictatorships, authoritarian regimes and even in democracies in crisis.
One of the fundamental rights is to health care. As we have seen with the covid-19 vaccination programme, there are authoritarian regimes, conspiracy theorists and others with influence, who have been prepared to dissuade or prevent people from receiving the vaccine. Saint Dunstan’s church was illuminated last year to publicise the world-wide programme to end polio, a crippling disease which can be prevented with a childhood vaccination programme. This has been resisted by militia men who attack and kill public health workers, alleging that the vaccination brings on other diseases.
Just one group of people prepared to risk their lives for fundamental rights. Let us pray for them and all who work for people’s rights.
The church had imposing monuments, emphasising the worldly wealth that was Venice’s, but what struck me was this carving of Christ on Easter Morning, watched over by a Guardian Angel, a serenely happy angel indeed. But Jesus maybe does need an eye kept on him, He looks as though he is not at all used to his risen body, see how he’s feeling the wound in his side; it’s bleeding as though he were alive.
The English Easter gardens, from a village in Northumberland, Canterbury Cathedral, and Saint Mildred’s Church nearby, are unpopulated so far as we can see, but just as with Doctor Johnson the other day, we can feel God’s presence.
When I helped at Children’s Masses, some of them enacted Mary, John and Peter going to the tomb, and finding no-one. We then unrolled a poster saying ‘Jesus is nowhere’, because they did not find him. The priest had to take a pair of scissors to it, so that it read, ‘Jesus is now here’. Our daily challenge for mission is to live as though that’s true. Which it is!
Hundreds of times I have cycled past this gate, rather fewer times have I walked past Saint Mildred’s church on my way to work at L’Arche’s Glebe garden. This morning I had to stop and fix the church’s banner that had come adrift in a high wind; and I found myself beside the gate and able to read its dedication.
I had little to do with Saint Mildred’s church before I returned to L’Arche some ten years after the gate was given, and I never knew the Dinnages; as the years pass by there will be fewer and fewer who have any memory of them. How many are like me, in passing by without thinking?
Well, here are a few thoughts.
The gate opens into the area where the cremated remains of parishioners are interred. It is at the East end of the churchyard that surrounds the church on three sides; all but the North. The East is where the sun rises, where the light comes into the world, day by day, so naturally enough churches were aligned East to West, with the altar at the East end and the congregation facing that way. The people laid to rest here will be facing the rising sun and the Risen Lord, despite looking towards a multistorey car park, the old gas works and a wall that is a graffiti hot spot.
If Joan and Leslie Dinnage are likely to be forgotten as the years roll by, I’d guess that most of those beneath the tombstones to the rear of the picture are known only to particularly assiduous local historians. Yet the Lord will call them home, as here he leads Adam and Eve away from the gates of Hell.
In Christian solidarity, otherwise known as the Communion of Saints, let us pray for Joan and Leslie; for all laid to rest in St Mildred’s churchyard, and all those who have died from the covid infection.
Another gate: they are as important as meeting places after Easter as before! This one is in Canterbury, and leads from former Ministry of Defence (War Department – WD on the boundary stone) land towards a housing estate where hundreds of ordinary decent people live. Our friend Pamela lived nearby for much of her life. This was a planned station (stopping place) for the 2020 Walking Pilgrimage that never happened, but still, may the King of Glory enter into this corner of his Kingdom this Easter!
Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!
‘Shall I ever,’ he asks on Easter Day, ‘receive the Sacrament with tranquility? Surely the time will come.’
from “Life of Johnson, Volume 2 1765-1776” by James Boswell
Doctor Johnson was staying with his friends the Thrales when he wrote this, well aware of his own sinfulness and the gulf that that could give rise to between himself and God, but also believing that salvation is ours: Christ has Passed-over through death to eternal life and so shall we. Believing does not mean being totally assured in my mind and heart that salvation is mine, and for the melancholic Johnson, all the theology in the world could not enkindle such certainty. Rather it is to accept the promise of salvation, even with a tiny part of myself, and forgive myself for my unbelief. Even a mustard seed faith can leaven the lump that I am; I can receive the Sacrament in fear and trembling, but at the same time, at a deeper level than my doubts, with tranquility.
Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1Corinthians 5:6-8)
Three Easter Morning photographs: Easter Lilies and the Easter Garden from Saint Mildred’s Church, and just around the corner was the Weeping Willow having its moment, newly in leaf and flower, and leading the way to spring.