Greening the Lectionary

A Theological Response to the Ecological Crisis: Reflections, Reviews, Comment.

Year B - Easter

Reflections and Sermon Easter 3 Acts 3.12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3. 1-7; Luke 24. 36b- 48

Eastertide; the season of the church year when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christ; in our gardens, parks and countryside, springtime; in our hearts, new life. This year, sunny but cold.

Luke’s gospel brings to the close the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, as Jesus the Christ appears, allows his disciples to recognise him, and then departs from his disciples and from Jerusalem to return to the Father. All are somewhat shell-shocked, amazed at events taking this turn.

However, it is perhaps actually Paul who explores resurrection in some depth in his First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15. This resurrection message has become the foundation of our faith; where would the life and death of Jesus be without the resurrection. Possibly forgotten long ago. It is this that carries God’s power and grace and brings people into the way of life and love, into the reign of the Messiah and into the kingdom of God. It is a message which brings energy and purpose to our everyday lives.

This year, we have not been able to get out and about much. Reading and television have become important to many and, for myself at least, working with our Environment Book Clubs has provided the opportunity to give some thought and learn more about some of the issues with which our popular environmentalists are involved. Namely, David Attenborough and Chris Packham, both naturalists, TV presenters, photographers and authors. David Attenborough treads carefully on these matters, but the younger Chris Packham is more forthright. Both are trying to tell us that the natural world is dying, and we have to do something about it. Chris Packham makes the point, presenting an apocalyptic vision: ‘We have become Death the destroyer of world – the world – very likely the only world in the known universe. And still we overbreed, spit carbon into the air; massacre other species; crush ecosystems and burn our precious planet’ (BBC2 programme transcript). His is an alarming and calamitous forecast for our future and he makes the case that the natural world – its care ; its rescue – should be firmly in our minds.

Yet both hold hope for the future. We might call this ‘ resurrection hope’.

We might call the catastrophe of our environment. Human sin. Meaning, when humans turn from the life-giving God and try to find life elsewhere. God’s way of life can be demanding at times, it’s no easy ride. As usual, we are asked to go beyond our individual comfort zones, and look at the wider picture ; beyond our own backyards and into the life of the wider societal and ecological world. This is what we are doing when we go outside for a walk with our family or our friends.

Each spring we welcome new growth, new life and new birth - lambs, chicks, flowers, rabbits and eggs. As we grow older – although still enjoying an Easter egg - we might think more deeply about dying and new life, and wonder what God’s promises hold for us. And this is where our new understanding of the ‘ interconnected of all things’ really comes into its own. Creation is a chain reaction. It’s about us, yes, but its also about all that is around us, and of which we are a part ( not apart). We need a widening of the perspective of salvation which is to include the whole cosmos. Climate change teaches us in an almost experimental way that our actions influence not only other humans in a positive or negative way but also the whole universe (cf. Romans 8.19-22).

(If you are reading this, then it might be helpful to look at what Paul says about nature itself illustrating the transformation from the old body to the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 35.49.)

For fresh inspiration, can I recommend a short story called The Man Who Planted Trees, written by Jean Giono, who gave life back to an abandoned area just by planting trees. The author tells us that the man Elzeard ‘ knew how to bring about a work worthy of God’; he was able to transform a deforested desert into the land of Canaan, with the strength of his hand and determination. As a result of the creation of the forest (which stretches for miles), a natural chain reaction takes place. Water comes back, followed by vegetation, natural cycles and the mildness of the climate, families move there, social ties are formed again, cultures and farms appear; in a word there is happiness and new life.

So this Eastertide, as well as continuing with the recycling and reducing our carbon emissions, let us be renewed from the inside, let our spirits be refreshed, and our resolve renewed. That’s what resurrection hope is all about.

7th Sunday of Easter (Sunday after Ascension Day)

Following six glorious ‘Sundays of Easter’, building the new people of God, building the new creation, the time came for Jesus to leave his disciples here on this good earth and return to the Father. Jesus prays to God, and binds his followers into His own union with God; He has united us to himself through Jesus our Lord. From here, Jesus’ triumph is assured, reigning from ‘ on high’.

In our Church calendar this marks the transition to the time of the Church – it also takes us into another realm. The kingship of Christ, the lordship of Christ ‘ reigning from on high’, establishing the kingdom of God. Previous to this event, we have worked through the days of ‘Rogation’, when we ask God’s blessing on our parishes, marking our parish boundaries and praying for the fruitfulness of this place in which we live, in our work, in our homes, in our families.

So we pray now ‘ thy kingdom come’. Many have joined this Anglican prayer movement , praying through the Lord’s Prayer, especially ‘ Your Kingdom come’. God created this world good, but the world is flawed and broken , so God entered the world through Jesus and made it new and good again. By his ministry and death and resurrection, Jesus proclaimed the beginning of a new age: the Kingdom of God. The age has begun but it is not completed. We live in the imperfect in-between times. So we pray ‘ thy kingdom come’ – we connect with the times in which we live; we lift the suffering of the world to God and we long, with God, for the world to be restored to goodness and fruitfulness.

A vision of the Kingdom is given to us in the Old Testament , in Isaiah 65.17-25. Isaiah’s manifesto is simple and profound: health for the young and old; the right to secure housing; the right to fulfilling work and to enjoy the fruits of our labour; for peace and security in our national borders. As we say the Lord’s Prayer each day, we remember that the basic elements of the good life are still not enjoyed by all, either in our own country or in many other parts of the world; so we say this each day, joining together in the simple vision to be realized across the world. As God’s people of today, we understand about the interdependence of all things – we humans need the natural world, the non-human, to sustain our lives – we need water, food , shelter, to flourish and to be fruitful. We need our world to be sustainable for future generations – for our children and our children’s children… The passages from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1.15) ensure this continuity, continuity with Israel ,with this world, with the gifts we have been given as they are showered down from ‘ on high’ - ‘showers of blessings’, as the words of the worship song proclaim. Now it is our job to care. UN Global Goals for a better world