EASTER V  2015  

I begin with today’s Gospel and end with the Epistle. We begin with the great statement in John about the nature of the Resurrection church, a church without the physical presence of Jesus. John emphasised the effect of his presence on the twelve, or just representative members, time and again, right up to the last chapter where on the beach the disciples are entertained to a wonderful breakfast cooked by none other than the risen Lord. On that beach the Lord listens, encourages, admonishes and quizzes Peter, asking him the three times if he loved him. That, for John is that. His teaching about the vine is another way of describing the task of the church. Jesus is the vine and the vine - which cannot be distinguished from its branches for it isn’t an oak tree with a trunk - each year it has to be cut down to the stock and the new growth bears the fruit. The vine is also a plant which requires care and nurturing, is prey to many pests and diseases. Being a vinedresser is a very responsible occupation. Like the shepherd, he has to care for the farms’ capital investment. It is a good image for the church and not always remembered when we are tempted to be un-Jesus like in whatever way. 

In the days when I was a Selector for Bishop's Advisory Panels, my responsibility was to probe what sort of vocation was possessed of the candidate. Many times I was greatly heartened, at others greatly depressed when the expectation of me - and possibly of the other selectors - was of a panel seeking executives for a public limited company with profit and numbers being the main criteria of successful ministry. Any idea of the only description of Priesthood that tallies with the scripture and the fathers being ”loving people into holiness” just didn’t get a look in. The vine is a tender plant and requires nurturing and the only boxes we can honestly tick are those recording our failures and then only the ones which we remember.

Presently, the Church is much more of a vine than a strong tower, much is being seriously questioned. The church into which I was ordained, well over fifty years ago has disappeared, and there was much that was good. Michael Ramsey was at Canterbury, we had 18 novices and the convocations had not morphed into the various synods but that was then. We thought we were strong, our processions held up the traffic. It is so easy for someone of my generation to go about with a long face with only Ichabod on our lips; the glory has departed and the scaly wings of the adversary’s horde clap their applause. The church is a vine, not a tottering castle falling down through irrelevance.

Philip the Deacon was not even an apostle; he is not the Philip who was the brother of Andrew but one of the chosen seven who were to assist Stephen in ministering to the poor. He travelled about and seems to be able to do this rather quickly. There in his grand chariot was the right hand of the Candace, reading the prophet Isaiah! Before the story becomes completely incredulous, I need to say that the Ethiopia in question was lower down the Nile. It would take more than a chariot to travel from Jerusalem to Addis Ababa! Like other accounts gathered together in the Acts of the Apostles, it is difficult to square with nice rational Church of England behaviour. Unfortunately the rational Church of England, let the listener understand, does find the risen Lord Jesus difficult to categorise. So, whether this was deliberate or just serendipity, Philip was able to do the necessary and as the chariot went on behold water was at hand, they both descend, the Ethiopian emissary was baptised and went on his way and Philip was whisked off to Azotus.

Now, as Hegel says, we have the thesis, the parable of the vine and its branches and we have had the antithesis on the bank of the Jordan. What about the synthesis in the church at Mirfield in 2015?

Nobody here, I am sure, has been whisked into the Mercedes of an African Potentate and found him puzzling over the prophecy of Isaiah but if we do try, through prayer and sacrament, to keep aware of being an integral part of the vine, helpless and woefully inefficient though we are, surprising things do happen and go on happening and this is God at work in us, God is indeed a God of surprises. Be mindful of the upright churchwarden type of somewhat fixed traditional views, who is tapped on the shoulder by Peter as he approaches the pearly gates and told “Don’t be afraid of God, she’s black.

So let the last word, the only synthesis that is possible, be those words attributed to Teresa of Avila and before I read them imagine your patron saint, your name saint and the person who introduced you to Jesus saying them now, to you. “Christ has no body now but yours.  No feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours”.

            Aidan Mayoss CR