The springtime of all creation

In the midst of dying dreams of earthly utopias, Easter offers an eternally renewed hope

Artillery Row

“If we had foolish unchristian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon.”

The words are those of C.S. Lewis, from a sermon preached on 22nd October 1939. He delivered the sermon amidst the ruins of a variety of political projects. Post-1918 liberal idealism – self-determination, the League of Nations, global disarmament, principled pacifism – was now exposed as, at best, foolish self-indulgence. Likewise, the hard-headed calculations of the ‘grown-ups’ in the Conservative Party of the 1930s, trusting in the wisdom of British diplomacy, prudently preserving the interests of the Empire at the cost of “people of whom we know nothing”, were revealed to be no less ephemeral and insubstantial than Wilsonian grand dreams.

Political springtimes always, necessarily, fall back into winter

Such is the fate of all political projects. They begin with ‘things can only get better’ or ‘It’s morning again’: they inevitably end with promises broken, pledges undelivered, transformation not occurring, the faithful disappointed, and searching for a new cause, a new set of beliefs, a new leader with new promises to deliver. Now, this is not in any way to dismiss the political sphere or the realities of democratic politics, with its necessary compromises, requirement for a certain ideological agility, and prizing of ruthless pragmatism. These are right and proper characteristics of the political sphere.  Desiring their absence can often be the signal of a turn to a deeply unpleasant, dark political order. As Burke counselled, “the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity”, requiring a politics in which “the whole should be imperfectly and anomalously answered”.

If this all sounds rather uninspiring and undramatic, well, to quote C.S. Lewis, “we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon”. Seeking to construct a politics which aspires to fulfil or renew the human soul is a story as old as the Tower of Babel, each time with the same consequence as was the case with that primordial attempt. A political order, a political project inherently belongs to this transitory life, making any claim to permanence either profoundly evil or deeply farcical. Of course, politics and the political order should be ordered towards prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude, and should be judged by these virtues, serving our common life. Renewing and satisfying the human soul, however, cannot be found in a political project. Political springtimes always, necessarily, fall back into winter.

The renewal of the soul needs a radically different Spring, a Spring pouring forth from another order, bringing life to us in heart and soul.

“Who would have thought my shriveled heart Could have recovered greenness?”

In the Gospel records, the angelic messenger at the empty Tomb proclaims “He is not here”: the One who is raised on Easter Day is not contained by this transitory order, not defined by its constraints, not subject to its necessary limitations, not governed by its laws of entropy and decline. He, the Risen Christ, is God’s Springtime, renewing and satisfying the human soul, drawing us into the permanence, the eternity of divine life, light, and love. To place our trust here, to find our refuge here, to know the soul satisfied here, is, in this passing life of pilgrimage, to be rooted in heart, mind, and soul in the permanent and the abiding. It is what the Apostles’ Creed describes as “the life everlasting”: it is to dwell in, be nourished by, and – slowly, over a lifetime – know what it is to be transformed through God’s Springtime. In the words of the great Elizabethan theologian Richard Hooker, “united with God, we live, as it were, the life of God”.

How fitting it is, then, that Saint John in his Gospel – having already told us that the tomb is in a garden – portrays a confused, distraught Mary Magdalene at the empty Tomb, encountering the Risen Christ and thinking He was the gardener. Indeed He was, He is, the Gardener: the One who is the bearer of life, growth, abundance, and renewal, the One who brings Mary Magdalene, who brings us in heart and soul, into God’s Springtime.

“Who would have thought my shriveled heart Could have recovered greenness?” asks George Herbert in ‘The Flower’. Such is the hope, comfort, and joy of Easter. Our hearts, “shriveled” by our preoccupations and animosities, our resentments and pride, our selfish ambition and fears, are touched by a Springtime that never falls back into winter, by the Risen Christ risen with healing in his wings, making new even us in heart and soul, us with all of our foolishness and failures.

Herbert ends ‘The Flower’ by saying, “Thou hast a garden for us where to bide”. After the Easter holidays – indeed, even during these days – political debates and calculations will continue, political figures will clash, an American president will pay a fleeting visit to part of the United Kingdom, and, on the other side of Europe, war will continue. Such is the nature of life in the body politic, a necessary part of our common life. But this is not “a garden for us where to bide”, where the soul is nourished and renewed. This Easter may we therefore hear the call to be rooted in the Easter garden, beholding the empty Tomb, turning to and trusting in the One who is resurrection and life, in heart and soul experiencing the grace of God’s Springtime.

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