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The Spirit in Action

15 May 2020 • From Elizabeth, our Vicar

Reflection for 6th Sunday of Easter
Gospel: John 14.15-21

In the 1980s Paul Nicholson was vicar of Turville in the Hambleden Valley, famous for the location of The Vicar of Dibley.  His obituary in the Church Times reports that therehe ‘was surrounded by extremes of wealth and poverty.  For 16 years he made it his priority to support the poorest.  In 1989, Mrs Thatcher introduced the poll tax.  Non-payers were imprisoned not because they wouldn’t pay but because they couldn’t pay. Paul went to court with them to prove that this was the problem and to show magistrates that they could remit the debt.  He worked with lawyers who won case after case.

A sharp barrister unearthed the practice of being a McKenzie Friend: there was a precedent for a lay person being permitted to stand by a person brought to court without legal representation.  Paul was one of the first to apply this to cases of debt.  With the draconian cuts to legal aid in 2013, McKenzie Friending has now become a standard practice throughout the court system.’

This is one example of the working out in practice of Jesus’ promise to his friends that his Father will send them ‘another Advocate, to be with you for ever, the Spirit of truth', or Paraclete, as some hymns and translations say, keeping the original Greek word.  The Paraclete was called on behalf of the prisoner, the victim, to speak in his place and in his name, to act in his defence. The Paraclete is the universal advocate, the chief defender of all innocent victims, the destroyer of every representation of persecution.  He is truly the spirit of truth that dissipates the fog of mythology’ (Rene Girard).

Another writer comments that the Spirit that comes in Jesus’ name comes, not as a pale substitute for the presence of Jesus’ himself, but rather, that the loving imitation of Jesus by his disciples, the remembering of him, will bring into being a community of the presence of the Risen Lord, who is the bringer of a new kind of peace.  New because it is not based on the sacrifice or exclusion of victims but comes out of the deep peace of the Lord who was creator from the beginning.  The Revd Paul Nicholson’s campaigning on behalf of the poorest is one example of that Spirit in action.  Another expression of this is a prayer he wrote addressing Jesus as ‘brother’, because, in Paul’s words, ‘Jesus is a brother to men and women and to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, other faiths, and many to whom any kind of faith is difficult’:

Jesus, our brother, lead us out of illusion,

out of injustice, out of oppression,

out of suffering, out of poverty,

out of darkness into the light, the light of hope,

ofpeace, of love, of understanding,

into the wonder, into the mystery.  Amen.

Sean Cathie