HOT on the heels of the recent volume for Lent (Books, 19 January), here is a collection of sermons by the late Michael Mayne for Easter and Pentecost, including Ascension.
One sentence seems to set out his manifesto: “I will be trying to speak as one vulnerable human being to other vulnerable human beings, out of our shared human experience and in words that must always be inadequate and approximate, of a mysterious truth of which I am persuaded with all my heart.” His stance is not to tell us what we should think, but, rather, to say: This is what I see — can you see it? And the foundation of all that he says is a sense of wonder, not least “a sense of awe and wonder that I exist at all”.
In the earlier book, it was clear that his understanding of the Passion sprang from the incarnation, and here it is clear that resurrection and creation are inseparable. As always and enviably, Mayne speaks with a hard-won simplicity of what he has found to be the central truths of the faith: “the man Jesus who alone of all our race looked into the transcendent mystery and said his name was Father and that his nature was Love.”
Many of these sermons were preached at Westminster Abbey and, therefore, to changing and largely unknown congregations, among them “the searchers and the half-persuaded, who know in the deepest part of themselves . . . a hunger to be known and understood, to love and be loved”. These are not, therefore, exegetical sermons; nor are they much occupied with church matters or particular social issues. They are basically apologetic, in the sense that each sermon seeks to present compellingly the truths of the Christian revelation as speaking to our deepest humanity as good news.
As Mayne says in the book’s final words, “Those of us who mount pulpits and preach sermons do so because of what we lack, not because of what we have. We speak of what we long for, not of how things are. For all of us travel on the same journey, not very confident, not very loving, yet always with hope. For we know ourselves forgiven, we know that we are loved, and most important of all, in Christ we see plain what God has shaped us to be and are given a vision of a world transformed.”
The Revd Philip Welsh is a retired priest in the diocese of London. He was formerly Vicar of St Stephen’s, Rochester Row, Westminster.
Alleluia is Our Song: Reflections on Easter and Pentecost
Joel Huffstetler, editor
Canterbury Press £10.99
Church Times Bookshop £9.90