Letter from John Spiers, Associate Priest - June 2019
This letter is being written just after a rather chilly early May Bank Holiday. As Easter was late this year the contrast between a glorious warm Easter weekend and a chilly one two weeks later may have remained in our memories.
However we are now in June and, for most, Easter is a distant memory. After all a whole school term has gone by! But this is not so for Christians. We are still celebrating Easter and will do so until Pentecost which this year falls on Sunday 9th June. Easter is the most important celebration in the Christian calendar. On the Sundays after Easter Day the readings from the Bible in church are about the meetings which Jesus had with his followers and how they responded to seeing Jesus raised from the dead. Twice Jesus appeared to them when they were locked in a house frightened that they too may be hauled off to be tried by the authorities for being a follower of Jesus. These encounters continued until the day when Jesus returned to heaven, which is marked by the church on Ascension Day.
The last instruction given by Jesus to his disciples was to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. This they did, praying with Mary his mother. Then 50 days after the Passover the Holy Spirit rested on them like a violent wind and tongues of flame. Pretty dramatic stuff!
The events from Ascension Day onwards are recorded in a book in the Bible called the Acts of the Apostles. Those early followers of Jesus were inspired by their encounters with him. Even though they had seen him die a cruel death they went on to spread the teachings of Jesus throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. They faced many hardships but they still persevered.
These early followers of Jesus were inspired by the wonder and mystery of God which they experienced in the first few weeks after the first Easter Day. We celebrate Easter for seven weeks, not just one day, because these experiences are so central to the Christian faith. In those uncertain days after that first Easter the early followers of Jesus were drawn really close to God through seeing Jesus and experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit. They supported each other through prayer and through companionship.
I was prompted to reflect on these early Easter experiences by Alan Sorenson. He is a Church of Scotland minister who regularly broadcasts on Radio Two’s Pause for Thought early on a weekday morning. On that cold early May Bank Holiday Monday the theme for the week’s Pause for Thought was what helps draw people closer to God. Alan listed meditation, prayer, denial (such as fasting), wonder and experiencing people in all their variety, especially seeing them help others. Three of the six things that Alan Sorenson described inspired and sustained those early followers of Jesus. First and foremost they encountered the wonder of God in the person of Jesus risen from the dead and the experience of the power of the Holy Spirit. Then they prayed together after Jesus had ascended to heaven. Finally they supported one another having been inspired a very close encounter with God through their meeting with Jesus.
Alan Sorenson said that he struggles with meditation, prayer and fasting. He draws closer to God through wonder at God’s creation and through seeing people support one another. Here in Amberley we often encounter the wonder of God’s creation; we have cows on the common, 13 species of wild orchids and amazing views West across the valley. We also have many artists living in our community who use their talents to create beautiful objects. Then there are the children at Amberley Parochial School who are encouraged to develop their many and varied skills and talents. These children should also inspire us in the way that they support one another inside and outside the classroom.
Seeing these examples of the wonder of God’s creation and also people supporting one another help me realise that, through the Holy Spirit helping us to express God’s love in the world around us, we can draw closer to God when we are attentive even though it is many, many years after that first Easter.
Reverend John Spiers