Preacher Ruth Martin
We have probably all looked back, through the rear view of our lives and said, of some occurrence, or some relationship that has since soured, or blossomed, the signs were there but I just didn’t see them, or I just couldn’t take it in.
We are all quite good at all learn things afresh through the rear view mirror in the lives of others in the events that affect others; whether it is historical sexual abuse by celebrities or politicians; the pressures of a mother trying to cope with three severely disabled children the other side of Richmond Park, the care and attention we assume is present as a ferry of schoolchildren set off on a trip in Korea.
It is much harder when it affects ourselves, but nevertheless, it is when things go spectacularly wrong, in particular, that we say to each other, ‘the signs were there but we just didn’t see them’.
In our Easter season, two thousand years on, we are reading and reflecting on something that went spectacularly right, were God’s purposes all along. We hear today something of the lives and witness accounts of those who have gone before us in their journeys, and struggled, as we may do, to see the signs of God in our lives, to take in the extraordinary fundamental cornerstone of our faith, that there was a human being, divine as well as human, whose death can give us a new life to lead all these years on.
We are used to Easter as a time of Joy, when we can trace through scripture the signs and wonders of God made human, but to the earliest Christians, it was a time also of fear. The signs were there that that they were going to face a terrible death too.
And it is in this context that Peter so confidently sets out for them, and us, an account of Jesus’ death and resurrection – in the passage from the book of Acts of the Apostles we heard just now.
Peter powerfully charts the journey from observing something to engaging with it in some way, recognising its significance and eventually seeing things in a completely new way. The signs were there and Peter is eager to explain them and then to share them.
So what does this faith look like to each of us? Last week David Cameron appeared to get into a potentially divisive mess by saying that Britain is a Christian Country. The media had a field day with data on declining church attendance, letters published from indignant well known secularists and humanists. Yet our brothers and sisters from other faiths, as opposed to no faith, agreed with him, and gave examples of how it benefitted them and benefitted the vulnerable and poor in society.
The commentary David Cameron’s statement attracted seems to be a really good example of the journey each of us takes from observation, to engaging in some way, to participation, and perhaps back and forth to a faith which grips us and can turn our lives upside down.
I think it is remarkably good that people, around 60% in this country define themselves as Christian even though very few go to church regularly; this might be like David Cameron’s description of himself; benefitting from pastoral care, from Church schools for the children, attending church to mark the special times of our lives, and or the special times in the seasons of the church. The Economist described this as ‘warm and fuzzy Anglicanism’ but who are we to say that these matters are not nevertheless significant in people’s lives and draw us closer to God than if we did not value them or participate at all.
After all David Cameron’s statement that he regarded himself as a classic Christian, as he put it ‘a bit vague on some of the more difficult parts of the faith’ is honest, and frankly the church has often shied away from really focussing on difficult stuff too, for example what resurrection really might mean, and how did Jesus appear both recognisably Jesus, super naturally travelling through locked doors and yet in some way so different that he could not be seen by his closest disciples until he revealed his wounds, or spoke their name.
The resurrection account in John we heard today is completely Trinitarian that is it covers God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and yet this mystical Trinity is another area that many Christians and their leaders grapple with. John makes clear that Jesus is the word made flesh, always has been with the Father, and can breathe the Holy Spirit on his disciples to send them out to do His work; we have it all in this reading today. And it is tough stuff to take in…
So does an explanation of the meaning of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection help us to believe? I think it depends where we are with God and our faith today and for each of us it will be different.
Moving from observing this with interest and occasional participation to letting it grip us so hard that our whole life eventually is refocused is often accompanied by a time of doubt ,reflection and where better to learn about the faith than from the so called ‘Doubting Thomas’.
Thomas, couldn’t take in what his fellow disciples were telling him when the risen Jesus first appeared to them, and told them he had not only try and see for himself but to actually use other senses to fully experience the Lord; he felt he needed to touch, too.
Thomas is overwhelmed by the fact that Jesus speaks to him personally, even referring to the fact that he had doubted .It is the personal touch that makes the difference and leads Thomas to make that confident and bold statement of faith ‘My Lord, My God’. And I think that it what it is like for us. It is that deep calling, that tug that wakes us to our knowledge of the love of God, for each of us, that makes such a difference.
And also as we explore in this church our mission to go out and bring others to the grace of faith, the fact that for Thomas as for Mary Magdalene, the recognition of Jesus came through more than simply seeing, with our eyes, but also so many other senses; touching, hearing, is also a sign for us that perhaps in our worship, in our mission, in our youth strategy, we need to try to use as many of the senses as we can to enable the faith we have to grow and to be stated without apology, and with confidence.
That is why it is also such a joy and privilege to have a baptism today ; we will see all the senses in this beautiful and significant service for Arthur, those who love and care for him, and for us; seeing, hearing, touching, feeling- and smelling the oil – accompanied by our most gripping statements of faith. That we believe in God and that we turn to Christ. As Peter said:
‘God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses to the fact’. Alleluia.