Speaking at the Paschal Vigil tonight (19.iv.14) Ordinand Tom Bates said:
‘By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spell bound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chatted on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.’
So says the author Kenneth Grahame of his character Mole in the Wind in the Willows as he discovers the river for the first time. I’ve often thought of that river when I’ve considered my own Christian journey. God is like the water in the river. As you travel along in the boat of life you may look out and see the river bank gliding past, and the trees and fields, but it is not until you look down and see the river itself that you realise it has been carrying you, guiding your course all the way.
With all our readings in the vigil tonight we are in the same position as the Mole. We journey alongside our divine Father as he unfolds to us ‘the best stories in the world’, the story of his salvation for us, sent from the heart of God, to be poured out for those who hunger, the insatiable sea of humanity. In those readings God shows us, if you like, a chart of the river, and says ‘look’, ‘see how I have carried you’ and ‘see how I will bring you home’. See how I flowed through the tributaries of Abraham, of Moses, of the prophets, of my people Israel. And in the same way as you may follow a mountain stream down hill in the sure knowledge that it will lead to a river, so did I flow through Jesus who carry you back to the great ocean of my love.’
We see this sense of progression in our liturgy too. The four parts of this Vigil move us through the gradual unfolding of the Paschal Mystery of Christ. The Paschal fire ‘dispels the darkness of this night’, the Liturgy of the Word reveals the course of God’s plan throughout salvation history. Through the waters of Baptism we become a part of that history, and in the Eucharist we unite ourselves to the risen Christ, celebrating his presence here amongst us as the Lamb that was slain.
On Thursday evening i touched briefly on the idea of a common Christian vocation, our calling to be Christ in our community. A stream or a river does not deny its nature to flow to the sea. Even if a stream is exceptionally beautiful and strong it cannot decide to journey to the sea on and of it’s own. It would be the equivalent to the image prophet Isaiah’s sheep ‘turning every one to there own way’. As we come here tonight we do so as tributaries of the Resurrected Body of Christ. Streams to whom have been given the living waters of the Good News which can bring the transformative and life giving power of Christ to all around us. We come here tonight to hear where we have come from, to know of what we are a part, and to reaffirm our commitment to the river that unites us through Christ, with Christ and In Christ, that river which through the rapids of Christ’s Passion, the plunge into the dark caves of his Death and the bursting forth of the wellsprings of his Resurrection will restore us to the ocean of God’s love ‘that the earth shall be filled with the Glory of God as the waters cover the sea.’
Having been around to all the churches this morning I’ve seen many of you busy preparing for this feast. Spectacular flower displays were being assembled, Lillies being coaxed into bloom, and people were busy spring cleaning with a wide variety of potions and creative looking improvised devices. Our churches have been transformed from the bare sepulchres of Good Friday and are bursting with beautiful images of spring and new life. Those of you who know ‘The Wind in the Willows’ will know that the story begins with a similar episode of spring cleaning.
“The mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail full of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms.” I’m sure after today many of you can identify with that feeling ‘Spring was moving in the air above and in in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said ‘Bother’ and ‘O blow!’ and also ‘Hang spring cleaning!’ and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously’. Today something is indeed calling us, in the most profound way,something over and above our day to day lives. Something for which we should indeed throw down all that is holding us back, just as James and John left their nets in the boat and followed Christ, for the mole it was the call of spring and the river, for us it is the new life of Christ as we are called once again to be a part of ‘the river’ of God’s salvation history. Let us drop everything and as the mole toddled alongside the river, let us toddle alongside our divine father enrapt in the story of our salvation.
I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple unto the left side, it gave us life and his salvation, and the people sang with joyful praise, Alleluia Alleluia.