I remember early one May morning, many years ago, driving down to East Sussex, more specifically to The Long Man at Wilmington. This chalk outline of a man standing between two vertical chalk lines has been looking out from the hillside for many hundreds of years. It was a beautiful, sunlit day with cloudless skies and below the Long Man had gathered an assortment of musicians and story-tellers, out in the wilderness to celebrate the May.
One of the story-tellers, making reference to the Long Man behind us, spoke of him as the Lord of Summer, opening the doors of the seasons to let the Summer in. It was a wonderful image that has never left me. And yet there is a sting, as we remember the old adage:
Ne'er cast a clout till May be out Whether this refers to the month of May or to the blossom of the Hawthorn is uncertain, yet there is a warning: Summer at its warmest comes after mid-Summer. But what I love about May is not its warmth but more the sense that something is about to happen and is already happening. The green of the leaves is not the dry, dead green of high Summer, but the light- shedding green that one sometimes sees in stained glass windows. In the famous windows of the cathedral at Chartres there are depictions of Christ crucified on a cross of translucent green. What that tells us is that at the place of death there is the beginning of new life. The green of the cross signifies that this wood comes from the Tree of Life, the other tree that was to be found in the Garden of Eden. Tradition, though not history or the Bible, suggests that Jesus was crucified on wood from that particular tree, so beginning to put right the wrong which had been done when Adam ate the fruit of the other tree that grew in the Garden of Eden. Green signified to our ancestors, and to many of us today still signifies, Life. Also this green of the cross, an often hidden dimension of the resurrection, that the risen Jesus is the first fruit of the new creation, and that a proper care for all of creation is an implementation of Easter.
Throughout May we continue to rejoice and celebrate the risen Christ, and the blossom and translucent greens of May continue to whisper to us the Holy Spirit’s message of “New Life, New Life.” It presents us with a choice: We can either participate in destruction or re-creation.
As I remember that morning, looking up at the Long Man of Wilmington, I see the figure of Christ beckoning us to follow him, the Lord of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, in making that dream of New Life real.
Vicar’s thoughts for May 2017