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The Vicar writesJeremy Fletcher
Deadlines being what they are, I have the experience of writing something in the depths and despair of Holy Week which will be read in the heights and joy of the Easter season. The spiritual atmosphere as I write is of lamentation and devastation, and the actions of those around Jesus are betrayal, denial and false accusation. As you read I hope the spiritual atmosphere is full of joy and hope, and the actions of Jesus’ followers, you and me included, are all about the knowledge of forgiveness and the proclamation of renewal.
One of the impressive theological words you can bring out in appropriate contexts is ‘eschatology’. Technically it is the study of the last things (like death, judgement, heaven, hell, and the new heaven and earth promised in Revelation 21). More broadly eschatology describes the Christian paradox that we live in two places and two times: the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’. If you like, in our earthly life we are in Holy Week. Our bodies decay. We are subject to the wobbles and U-turns of human nature. We mess things up, however hard we try. We are part of the problem.
But in Christ, as the baptised people of God, we are in Eastertide. More Greek: Christos Anesti! Christ is Risen. Christ is the first-fruits of the resurrection which is promised to all who are in him. Eternal life is not just our future when we die, it is our present reality. The gift of the Holy Spirit (which we will celebrate at Pentecost in May) is the guarantee of God’s life in us now; the life which will be unveiled completely in the age to come. My experience of writing about Eastertide in the middle of Holy Week is the lived reality of the Christian. We live now looking for the ‘not yet’, and we will see the reality of what is to come if only we have eyes to look.
In our parish life we are looking for a renewed strategic plan. This can only be based on vision; a looking ahead to God’s future for us. It would be all too easy to neglect the present in order to ensure the future. Indeed, St Paul encourages the church in Philippi to ‘press on’, and to ‘strain forward to what lies ahead’. But before we get ahead of ourselves, in our Lent study book Being Disciples Rowan Williams reminded us that this is about being pulled, not pushing ourselves forward. It is God’s vision which should draw us, not our good ideas, or our desires, which compel us.
In the reality of today we look for God’s eternal future to become reality in the present. I’ll have more to say on what should be concerning us in our parish ministry and mission in future communications about our plan and strategy. At the heart of our life is the God who, in Christ, has conquered even death itself. I want then to look forward with hope and joy. The hard work, and even despair, of the present, is not our complete reality. For we are an Easter people. And ‘alleluia’ is our song.