The Shard, the crane and the Scream
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
6 May 2012, 00:00 (The Fifth Sunday of Easter)
THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
6 May 2012
The Shard, the crane and the Scream
Today, in our Gospel reading Jesus says: I am the vine, you are the branches – what is Jesus saying and do I really want to hear it?
21st century people living in a materialist society don’t want to be branches. No. Why can’t we be the vine, the centre, the main show, the beginning and the end of everything?
That’s what advertisers plug in to in order to sell us stuff; that is what an affirming, high esteeming, sycophantic, friend, mentor, therapist, doctor, politician, teacher or neighbour should be telling us as well.
As human beings we can be pretty picky and pretty inconsistent: sometimes we want to belong and be a part of a bigger picture and relate to other people, and then we want everything our own way and to have no commitment or ties – just free, free to do just as I please.
Do you remember the cry of the classic Queen song epitomising our demands in a materialistic consumer society:
I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now
Well we think we want it all and that we want it now – but the truth is that when people get it, there’s always something more to want.
Our desires and our yearning are inexhaustible.
Does Easter make any difference?
Has God in Jesus broken our insatiable needs and appetites?
Is the true vine in truth the lifeline we fail to see or recognise?
During the past week or two, our news has been dominated by the weather, by wars and scandals, by murders and mysteries, by elections and financial woes.
Amidst the headlines, two small items appeared: the completion of Europe’s tallest building, The Shard, by London Bridge Station and the sale of Edvard Munch’s The Scream at Sotheby’s for £74 million pounds.
At 310 metres and 87 storeys high, The Shard, has unparalleled views over London.
As the final sections were put into the place, the crane driver, Mr John Young, was interviewed about his work and the weeks he spent swaying up to a metre in the wind balanced over 1.000 feet above London.
In his cab he could see nothing of the building below just a vista that took in the planes landing and taking off at Heathrow and ships sailing beyond the Thames Estuary out at sea!
Sometimes, he would feel utterly alone as his perch pierced the clouds and all he could see was the top of Canary Wharf, and the planes flew so close to him that he could feel the vibrations.
He admitted that it was a scary and edgy experience and as he climbed the three ladders from the terrifying outside lift to the crane, the adrenalin would surge through his veins.
He was connected ...but only just.
Listen to his own words:
There is no margin for error. I drive the crane up until the point when we release the bolts [when the crane is free-standing].
That’s the most critical moment. I dread to think about the consequences if ... I don’t even like to talk about it.
Now what has this to do with the Gospel and our Easter faith?
Easter is an experience more than a fact, and in many ways it is as heady, awe-inspiring and risky as the crane driver’s experience on The Shard.
The risen Jesus appeared to his disciples and changed their lives beyond all imagining; Easter was the crucible out of which was forged the Church at Pentecost.
Defeated and demoralised men and women were transformed and given an energy and a fullness of life that made them brave and daring and innovative.
Is that how the Church is seen and lived today? Are you a Christian because your life is held by Jesus Christ the vine and given a root, a purpose and fruit which come from him and not from you?
This belonging allows us to create that which is beyond us and which comes from God.
This is a new kind of living and it is radical and different from being a citizen of this world.
Which brings us to The Scream and its ridiculous market price of £74 million: art is beyond price and it is ironic that so many creative artists over the centuries have died in penury and poverty when their works today command obscene sums.
Edvard Munch painted The Scream out of his own personal anguish bordering on madness and in the context of his society’s angst and preoccupations born of nihilism and existentialism.
Cut loose in the isolation of self, human beings are consigned to a living hell. Meaning is essential for life to have value and to be lifted out of the biological mechanics of mere existence.
And meaning is found beyond ourselves – in the other and in particular in the otherness of God.
The Ethiopian eunuch knew this only too well on the appropriate route from Jerusalem to Gaza, a wilderness road.
He had the scriptures, a passage from Isaiah, but it had for him no meaning. He needed Philip to be a guide and interpreter – and by baptism he shared in the resurrection of Jesus.
Resurrection and meaning require us to share in God‘s life and love in one another.
We are called to be fellow travellers passing on what God’s gives us.
We have to find an authentic and sincere way of listening and sharing with a sceptical, wary and disbelieving world.
Reading the scriptures alone is not enough.
We have to be people who share and understand and relate naturally to people who rarely or never darken the doors of our churches.
Many if not most of our neighbours around us here in Rochester would probably admit that they can live quite happily without the resurrection stories of Jesus and the passage from today’s gospel.
So what can we do and what might God be saying to us today?
Verse 5 of the Gospel reading ends,
…apart from me you can do nothing.
This is neither an arrogant claim nor the autocratic dictact of a power-crazy controlling God. It is the essence of love which makes for organic unity, community and relationship.
We are never on our own and the efforts and demands of living are never met merely from our own resources. God gives us life and the resources for creativity.
Our independence is not threatened in terms of our uniqueness and personality; no, only in terms of our isolation and mortality.
What we do is a part of eternity: for with God nothing is lost but given eternal and everlasting meaning.
In Jesus he meets us and makes us one with him like the vine and its branches:
…apart from me you can do nothing.
And the converse of this is also true: with me, everything is possible.
God’s story of love and liberation is never-ending.
In Jesus he is the true vine bringing life, sweetness, refreshment and fruitfulness – nothing less than meaning and fulfilment.
And it is ours if we will but love and follow Jesus.
The Shard and the Heart
Shard – mighty tower like Babel built by human hands
and vaunting vanity –
yet a tiny crane assembled
this spike of glass and steel
down through the clouds and into the heart of London.
High above all life
life attached by
bolts and puny girders.
No scream would ever be heard –
not even Edvard Munch’s despair
and the infinite scream he sensed passing through nature.
The crane or the scream?
The shard or the shriek of despair? –
belonging is so tenuous,
a mere breath away from oblivion.
So is there any point? And how could a vine help?
The heady fruit of ecstasy and eternity
flows from the gnarled branch
and the flimsy tendril yet
most of all from the
deep, deep heart
Abide. Neil Thompson ~ Eastertide 2012