The liturgy of the Easter Season is full of hope. God is a God of hope and it is this Divine Hope that springs in the ‘soul eternal’. Above all the experience of hope is an experience of life in the Spirit. Hope is ‘Christ in you, the hope of a glory yet to come.’ (Colossians 1). Life in the Spirit is a life informed by the Love of God which ‘hopes all things, believes all things, and endures all things.’ (I Corinthians 13). In his letters St John makes clear that this hope within, this experience of the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, should have a transforming effect on the believer.
He writes in his first letter ‘whoever hopes in him [Jesus] purifies himself as he is pure.’ Life lived in the light of the resurrection will be a life of purity. It is at this point that many readers will recoil. Purity is a word more associated with the ritual cleansing of the Old Testament than the life of the Christian community. The instruction to ‘purify ourselves’ stirs up negative associations with ‘puritans’ and ‘puritanism’. In fact there is something ‘counter intuitive’ in the Christian psyche to ‘purifying ourselves’. This is because the New Testament (Hebrews 9 and Titus 2: 13-14) teaches us that Christ’s self-giving death is the source of purity – a purity that is beyond humanity’s reach. Seeking purity seems contrary to a Gospel of God’s grace.
Yet, there it is in the gracious wisdom of John: ‘whoever hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.’ The spiritual ‘dynamic’ or ‘power’ at work in this purification is the hope that is Christ. A spiritual life that is not grounded in hope is by an irrefutable theo-logic not Christian. This is why the Easter Season provides such a wonderful opportunity for renewal in discipleship and ministry.
The Gospels and Acts provide the Christian with such rich and vivid images of hope, and the Epistles such clear teaching on living a’ risen life’. From the moment we renew the vows of our Baptism on Easter Day we are given every encouragement to set ‘our minds on the things which are above, where Christ is’ (Colossians 3: 2-3)
This ‘purifying’ of ourselves is not then an act of self-will. It is not the outworking of some drastic self-destructive asceticism. It is rather the joyful response of the soul to the indwelling of Christ, it is the response of love to Love. This is surely what John means when he states as a clear and obvious truth ‘whoever hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.’
This response to the ‘Love that loves us first’ is found in the communicants’ prayerful and penitential preparation for Holy Communion. As the Easter Gospels remind us it is in the breaking of the bread that Christ reveals himself. Purity of life is a mark of holiness, and holiness must be the aspiration of us all. For, until we come to this holy purity we shall not see God.
Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House