Re-light my fire

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, is not the place to be on the eve of Easter if you suffer from claustrophobia. The church is thronged with thousands of people, there to witness the mysterious coming of the Holy Fire into the tomb. The Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem accompanied by an Armenian monk emerge from the tomb with the holy fire which is then passed around the church and taken in lanterns to the airport and flown off to Athens and elsewhere. We tried to copy this at Winterton where we had the dawn vigil down on the beach with an enormous bonfire, and took a lantern, via breakfast at the church hall, back to the church. One year someone blew it out for health and safety reasons!

The symbolism of the fire connects the beginning and the end of the Easter season. The fire shows that there is continuity, between Christ and the Spirit. The Holy Spirit did not come into being at Pentecost. The Spirit of God had been with the people of Israel in the wilderness as a pillar of fire by night; the Spirit anointed the Judges and Prophets.  John the Baptist had foretold that the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Although Jesus had foretold the coming of the Spirit, the comforter, he was already at work in Jesus. The Spirit led him out to the desert to be tempted. Jesus chose the words of the prophet Isaiah to say that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and had anointed him to preach good news to the poor. Luke describes Jesus as being full of joy through the Holy Spirit, as he addressed the Father.

We might compare the coming of the Holy Spirit to the eruption of a volcano. A volcano appears dormant until it erupts in all its power.  The supernatural event of Pentecost was difficult to put into words. This was a sudden, dramatic event of the greatest spiritual intensity. A sound like the blowing of a violent wind was heard by the disciples. They saw what appeared to be flames of fire resting on them. They were endowed with the ability to speak in other tongues or languages about the wonders of God.

The flames of fire are a reminder of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus who when they realized that  Christ was with them felt their hearts burned within them as he talked with them along the road.

Prior to ordination I was asked to attend a charismatic service at the Fountain of Life in Ashill, so that I would experience another kind of Anglican worship. It blew the spiritual cobwebs away, and when I spoke with the founder, Martin Down, about his aims and mission, I felt a spiritual intensity, my heart burned within me.  You too may have experienced moments of spiritual intensity in other churches, and in listening to other Christians, when your heart glows.

We cannot expect spiritual highs on a regular basis. The Holy Spirit does not come at our command, like ordering a pizza.  We are the ones who are subject to his commands, to his promptings. The history of the church displays instances when certain individuals at certain moments know the Holy Spirit and have experiences of divine illumination, of revelation, which have an effect on themselves, the church and the world.

The coals of faith can easily grow cool and dim. I remember asking a church lady how her vicar was and being told he had 'gone off the boil, my dear.' You can see it in priests who trudgeup into the pulpit because they have to say something, rather than because they have something to say. You see it in the priest who has downloaded his sermon from the internet. You see it Christians who are just going through the motions, who have lost the willingness to love, who have let the joy drain away from their Christian lives.

As in a relationship where the love is not as strong as it was, the answer is often to spend more time together, to get to know the other person afresh. So it is with us, if our spiritual relationship with God grows cool, we need to spend more time with him. And we certainly need to remain faithful.

The Spirit is generous and indulgent to us in bestowing a variety of gifts in the worship of our churches. And if we no longer find it in one style of worship then it is quite all right to allow the Spirit to lead us to another church, but we must not separate ourselves from the church. If you love God and are faithful to his great command you will show it in worship, giving him back a tiny part of what he is worth to you. Just as a piece of coal that is taken out of the fire grows cool and dull, but is reignited when put back in the fire, the same is true for Christians when we are exposed to the Spirit in the church of Christ.  

Were I the Rocking Bishop of Lynn, I might end this sermon by singing to you 'Relight my fire' by Take That and Lulu. But I am not he and so this sermon ends here.