St Margaret’s Church, Binsey Evensong on Sunday 29th April 2018 [Easter 5]

Revd. Professor Martin Henig

Psalm 96; Isaiah 60:1-14; Revelation 3: 1-13

For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth; and gross darkness the peoples, but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen  upon thee. And the nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. [Isaiah 60:2-3]

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


In  this passage we have a premonition of the ultimate triumph of Zion, of Jerusalem. She will become the head of all nations, the recipient of gifts from far away, the dispenser of God’s peace to the earth. The poetry is magnificent but it all sounds a little over the top for a tiny, embattled nation. But then Revelation, letters to small, vulnerable  Christian communities in first century Asia also has a touch of the absurd, of the make-believe or ,if we are kind, the imaginative. Most of us are rightly suspicious of the charismatic and the apocalyptic.

Even so, if we are true to our faith we believe that God wills good things for his creation, we believe that the earth was created for a purpose, that God lives in and through his creation and that the ultimate goal is salvation. For Christians this hope is centred on Jesus Christ, his life and death and especially his Resurrection at Easter.If we are truly Easter people, if we are that New Jerusalem we have to try to live in that light even if the present world all around us  looks dark. Living in the light of Christ certainly does not exclude us from the gospel imperatives of love as a servant people. Indeed, that has to be an absolute priority. Any and every act of cruelty to any creature is a sin against Christ.

It follows that ‘Imitatio Christi’ is not some sort of optional extra but has to be at the very centre of our lives. That was something that characterised real saints, whether in the deserts or on lonely Atlantic headlands, facing dire persecution (as some still do) or immured in monasteries. The vision of Francis of Assisi was precisely this, embracing fellow men and women and also animals for we cannot and should not shy away from the fact that animals are sentient and suffer just as we suffer. Julian of Norwich was told by Christ that this tiny, fragile world was only held together through love, that is the Divine’s love for us, not our love for the Divine which can never be more than a reflection of what God gives to us.

Isaiah and John the Divine both use metaphor, the power of Zion or as Revelation has it the New Jerusalem. Our imaginations are limited by our experiences of  this world, in which all power, even the power of the greatest states ultimately fails and the greatest felicity is tarnished. Just as we cannot understand Jesus’ Resurrection through the normal laws of science, through any form of human logic, through our own experience so we are not in any position to describe save through metaphor the utterly constant felicity of the place for which we are destined. Like children (and in this respect we are children) do we not ask ourselves questions such as ‘will there be room?’ or ‘Are animals saved too?’ and .’What about the dinosaurs and other extinct creatures?’ We wonder too whether heaven will be a literally interminable choir rehearsal. Of course such thoughts and questions arise because our experience and our thoughts are earthbound. Even our prayers are often, far, far too often an interminable chatter to God, and more about our own inadequacy than an engagement with the source, the very ground of our being.,

 We find intimations of  it in nature, in music, in poetry…and I will end this reflection with two verses from one of my very favourite hymns adapted from the work of the great 12th century philosopher Peter Abelard:

Truly Jerusalem name we that shore,
‘Vision of peace,’ that brings joy evermore}
Wish and fulfilment can severed be ne’er,
Nor the thing prayed for come short of the prayer.

There dawns no sabbath, no sabbath is o’er,
Those sabbath-keepers have one and no more;
One and unending is that triumph -song
Which to the angels and us shall belong. [tr. J.M.Neale]

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.