Believing is Seeing
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
27 April 2014, 10:30 (THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER)As you sit here in the cathedral this morning, are you in control of your life?
Do you like being in control of your life, and if you are not, would you like to be in control of your life?
As privileged people here in 21st century Britain, many of us reckon that much of our lives is focused and centred on who we are and what we individually want.
We have the power and the opportunity to see things in our own individual way and to judge and live in the world largely on our own terms.
Those of you who are pupils or students at school may have a different view but even so, in the main you too, set your mind and preferences at the heart of all you do and choose.
Today is the eighth day of Easter and already the secular world has forgotten about the word and chocolate eggs and bunnies are already discounted to clear the shelves now that the holiday is over.
But for Christians, the celebration of Easter has only begun and our thoughts and reflections, our worship and our common life, are formed by the miracle and adventure of Jesus’ resurrection.
Today’s gospel reading takes us into the upper room in Jerusalem where the frightened and grieving disciples are holed up lest the authorities seek them out as accomplices of Jesus.
This scene recorded by John’s gospel is full of theological significance for the Christian community. But just as a picture in 1st century Jerusalem it is utterly different from the world and culture in which we live and are steeped.
Can the risen Jesus break into our world, our minds and our highly resistant 21st century secular culture?
This week our news has not only seen the recurring ferment and wars in Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Rio de Janeiro but a public discussion about whether Britain is a Christian country.
How does any of this relate to Easter Day and the Resurrection?
I want to say to you this morning quite simply that ‘believing is seeing’ and not the other way round!
We want to demand material verifiable proof of the miraculous. We are insecure creatures and expect to understand life and the world on our own terms.
Today, Pope Francis is creating two new saints: Angelo Roncalli, Pope John XXIII and Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II.
By the Vatican’s own disciplines, two significant miracles are required for canonisation (though Pope Francis has let Pope John through with only one!!).
To a cynical, sceptical secular world this means nothing and such experiences are dismissed as primitive or mediaeval superstition.
However, in spite of our sophisticated world of communication and material comfort, we are essentially vulnerable, easily frightened and undoubtedly mortal.
Behind our brave stance as modern men and women, we are little different from any other generation.
And to this, God comes to us in the risen Jesus as a brother, a friend and a saviour.
He comes to us in the bolted upper room of our lives, where fear and self naturally dominate and where history and human failure underwrite this reality.
We may think that we are victors, achievers, healthy, wealthy and whole but only in our own small and fleeting worldview. To every life and community, the risen Christ comes as someone in power beyond our control or understanding.
God is miracle because he is God and we mistake his laws and presence among us as being finite and in thrall to us.
It is we who are part of his creation: he is not some construct to enable us to get our own way and to make the world we want.
The resurrection of Christ is not a ‘get out of jail’ card in which we win and get immortality on our own terms.
For most of the world’s population, fresh water, regular food, shelter, safety from oppression, rest, family and friendships are all it wants or needs.
And for many of our fellow citizens in this land, whether Christian or not, they are just not interested in resurrection if they have got what they think they want.
That sounds disparaging and condescending but it isn’t intended as such. And why, because to some extent it us Christians who are at fault.
We have failed to live out our faith in a way which reaches and touches the world around us.
We are an Easter people – and most of this land has hardly an inkling as to what that means.
We are all in the upper room, isolated and fragmented by doubt and by the burden of our own egos, certitudes and prejudices.
So, if Christ is risen and lives today amongst us – where can we see him in the world around us?
Well, I don’t think he is recognisable in the happy ending and good feeling that we project and yearn for.
We live in a world of continuing pain and suffering, injustice and tragedy ...and it is there that the risen Christ comes as hope and redeemer.
So in the upper room, Jesus startles the disciples and says first of all: Peace be with you.
He then breathes on them the Holy Spirit, the power of love, forgiveness and imagination which brings reconciliation, hope and new life.
Jesus then commissions his disciples to share this life of the Spirit in the world.
Then we are told that Thomas is absent and doubt prevents him from believing and hence from seeing.
A week later, Jesus appears again and confronts Thomas in his doubt and unbelief and blindness.
And if we look at the other resurrection appearances of Jesus they are in places of darkness, crisis and death: at the graveside and in the daily routine of work on Galilee after a fruitless night of fishing.
Similarly, Jesus appears to Saul on his way to kill Christians in Damascus.
The risen Christ appears as the crucified one, time and time again.
There on the cross – forsaken and thirsty and dying – he forgives those who nail and taunt him, he gives hope and promise to the penitent thief and offers comfort to Mary his mother and John the beloved disciple.
It is in the breaking of the bread that the risen Jesus is made real for the world.
Resurrection begins in the passing of time, in the wounds of the oppressed, in the anguish of the poor and the darkness of grief and death.
It doesn’t bring a cheap and deceiving false happy ending but works within our limitations and our common end with a radical and utterly different power and outcome.
Within the compass of our human experience is the most exciting freedom that takes us out of the finite into the dimension of saving love.
Intellectually we are not asked to suspend belief but discover a new quality and possibility in how we see and think and live.
Easter is the greatest adventure ever offered to you and me – and it is offered to everyone.
This flies in the face of everything our current society invests in.
We are not here principally to make money.
We are not here to survive, or to compete or to succeed whatever the cost.
We are here to love in relationship which starts with the mystery and revelation of God and his love.
And that is what it is to do God’s will.
Easter breaks down our laws in their meanness and inadequacy and rewrites them with the dynamic power of redeeming love, forgiveness and imagination.
God’s new life is here today,
Challenging our fractured way -
As we grasp to gain and own,
Placing self on Jesus’ throne:
Easter breaks the death of greed,
Humankind can now be freed
From the pains of history’s years
To a future saved from tears!
(© Neil Thompson 2004)