read all Pastoral

It’s a new world

It’s a new world.

On 7th April this year the death was announced of the final native resident of Hirta in the archipelago of St. Kilda. Rachel Johnson was only eight years old when the last remaining islanders left for the mainland in 1930. Life had become increasingly difficult for a shrinking population, struggling to provide for themselves and their families in the harshest of environments. With their departure a particular kind of life ended too.

Rachel Johnson, as a young girl, could remember a rope being tied around her body as she was lowered over a cliff edge to capture birds’ eggs. Health and safety just wasn’t an issue in those days. The people needed to eat and collecting eggs was just the perfect job for a wee light lass.

Norman Gillies, who was five years old when he left Hirta, recalled seeing his first tree when he arrived on the mainland. It’s difficult to imagine the feelings of disorientation that the islanders must have felt.

Maurice O’Sullivan who left the Great Blasket Island off the west Kerry coast in the 1920s described in his book, Twenty Years A-Growing, how bewildered he was when faced with a door handle on the train at Dingle station. Doors just didn’t have handles on the Great Blasket!

We are charmed by stories like that but for those experiencing this new world it could all be a bit overwhelming. For the Christian there should be a similar challenge in life.

When the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples they had seen nothing like him ever before. Jesus was uniquely part of a new world walking about in the old and we can detect how surreal it all was for the disciples as we read their accounts today. Mary Magdalene, in fact, didn’t recognise him at all; she thought he was the gardener. Thomas refused to believe until he could see him for himself. Peter might have wished he would disappear after having let him down so badly. And so it goes on for all the disciples and for ourselves as we wrestle with the implications of God’s extravagant love for this world in making it new again through the one man, Jesus.

The temptation is to turn back and look to the old: to live as if the resurrection was an isolated incident with no repercussions. We can try and cling on to the things we love now and blindly hope that they will not fade away or be lost. However, the evident passing of all things including our own hopes and ultimately our own lives will not allow this. Instead, we are left with the writings of an old man on an island far from St. Kilda who recorded his astonishing new world vision: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them… he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” Revelations 21:1,3-4 (New Revised Standard Version) Here is the Christian hope in all its life affirming, new world power.

God has come to us in Christ. The unrecognised ‘gardener’ is now tending a new Eden which will fully open before us. Let’s look forward to this new world and live its way in the present while resisting the temptation to turn back to the old.

Rev Geoff McKee Minister of St. Gerardine’s High linked with St. James Church of Scotland, Lossiemouth