Sunday, June 1, 2014

Bring me my Arrows of Desire - A Homily for Easter VII (Sunday in Ascensiontide/Jerusalem Sunday)

Homily for Easter 7, Year A, 2014
Sunday in Asceniontide, Jerusalem Sunday
Sunday, June 1, 2014
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 17:1-11

“…And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.”

And did those feet in ancient time
walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
on England’s pastures seen?

An ancient legend, of dubious merit, posits that our Lord (along with Joseph of Arimithea) visited England during an unrecorded period of his life.  In the preface to his epic poem “Milton”, a text now sung as the anthem “Jerusalem”, William Blake asks the question: “And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountains green?” 

And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem build-ed here
Among those dark satanic mills?

The English are well-known for gazing back through time and imagining a lost golden age.  One only has to consider the myth of Camelot. But this is not Camelot that Blake is envisaging, it is Jersualem the Golden, the heavenly kingdom.  Did Christ visit the land of Blake’s fathers and for a moment, did heaven touch earth? Did Jerusalem break forth and did Satan’s hosts flee?  One can imagine Blake in his own day, surrounded by the dark satanic mills of the Industrial revolution, wondering if this was indeed the place where heaven had once touched earth, because surrounded by the suffering and injustice of the age, it surely did not seem so in the moment.

And so in our age, can we believe that in the Incarnation of God in Christ heaven touched earth? That the forces of Satan were defeated and that death itself was destroyed? Oh, as we look about and see the brutality of mankind, the flagrant destruction of God’s creation for the sole benefit of commercial gain, when we see the disparity between rich and poor, when we see the wars and destruction, and indeed as we look upon the earthly Jerusalem, so continuously wrought with strife and death, do we not feel as though we are indeed surrounded by dark satanic mills?  Can we believe in the new Jerusalem, the Holy City of God, a Jerusalem of peace, a Jerusalem of hope?  Do we not feel as though God has left us, and even wonder if he was ever here in the first place?  Did his feet in ancient time walk upon the Palestine’s mountains green?  And was the holy Lamb of God in the valleys of Judah seen?

How easy it is for us to forget the promise and the hope that has been bequeathed to us.  The glory of Jesus, according to the seventeenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel  is that he has given eternal life and hope to all of his people through his life, his death, his resurrection and ascension.  In Jesus Christ, the very word of God, God himself is made known to those who would believe in him.  The world chooses not to know him. The world chooses still to labour away in those dark satanic mills, and yet, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, God has made himself known in Christ Jesus.  In Jesus we have found hope, we have encountered the living God. That encounter, that relationship brings peace, brings reconciliation, brings hope, and brings new and everlasting life.  All these things he has given us, and yet even as he returns to the Father, our faith begins to falter, and we begin to wonder, did his feet in ancient time actually walk upon mountains and pastures green?

Yet, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, although he is no longer in the world, he is present in the world through his church, the body of Christ.  Jesus says, “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.” Can we dare to believe that he is present in us, in our communion, in our community, in our love for one another and in our compassion and love for this broken world?  Can we dare to believe, even as the powers of evil tempt us to doubt and despair, that he dwells in us and we in him?  Can we believe that even as the earthly Jerusalem is continually wrought with violence and strife, the new Jerusalem is being built every time we worship together, pray to God, serve and love?  Jesus himself prayed to the Father that we might be protected from the snares of the evil one, that we might be guarded from harm, and guarded from hopelessness and despair, that we might be faithful to our calling, and that we might be one with each other and him, even as he and the Father are one.

As Blake wondered, and perhaps even doubted a fabled Jerusalem in England’s golden past, he knew that Jerusalem could only be built through the apostolic faithfulness of the children of God.  Even if Jesus never set foot in England, or in North America -- in the presence of the Church, his true and living body, Jesus is amongst us, walks amongst us, is seen on mountain and in vale, his countenance scatters the clouds and the tramples down the dark satanic mills of our own day. 

And so Blake wondering about the past, sings with certainty about today, and our role in building the new Jerusalem:

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

Blake prays not for earthly weapons but spiritual weapons, an arrow of desire, a chariot of fire that he might be aflame with a holy passion for justice, for peace, for the new Jerusalem.

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
in this our green and pleasant land.

Jesus prayed that his departure would not disable his disciples, but rather empower them.  And so, as we shall hear next week at Pentecost, he breathed the fire of the Holy Spirit upon them that they might be enflamed with desire for the peaceable and new Jerusalem.  Shall we shrink from the task? Shall we grow cold as the dark satanic mills of this age breath fire?  Or shall we burn with passion for God’s kingdom about which Blake sung?  The feet of Jesus walked in Jerusalem of old and yet through the power of his Spirit, and through the arrows of desire that bring us, and the chariot of fire upon which we go forth, may the gospel of Jesus be proclaimed in this, our green and pleasant land.

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