Sermon: Second Sunday of Easter
Sunday 23 April 2017
The Revd Canon Alison Adams, Canon Pastor and Sub-Dean
Well we’re now in the midst of election fever! During these next few weeks we will, in this country, be bombarded by assertions, pledges, claims and counterclaims, statistics and maybe, just maybe, some visions of what the future might promise. Brexit will feature, of course. It is difficult to get near the truth. Even without cynicism, many of the issues on which politicians campaign, have no easy solution and it is often a case of seeing the whole picture in its complexity, before balancing one desirable outcome against another. How, therefore, to be wise?
I have Radio 4 on a lot. One of the programmes I enjoy is ‘More or Less’ which explores the figures used in politics, the media and everyday life – and not infrequently exposes myths. Gender gap, pensioners’ poverty or wealth, benefit figures… etc. With surprising conclusions at times. They did some really good programmes around Brexit last summer – not making judgments but testing the accuracy of claims people were making. Truth is hard to uncover and sometimes in short supply. Certainty can be dangerous.
The epithet ‘Doubting Thomas’ is not often taken positively. Listening to today’s Gospel, we say to ourselves ‘why doesn’t Thomas get it?’ But that’s with the benefit of hindsight. It’s really not surprising he wasn’t leaping up and down when his fellow disciples said they’d seen Christ. It’s an outrageous claim to make and he wanted to test it out first. Neither Jesus nor Scripture condemn Thomas for that. And let’s remember Thomas was, anyhow, coming from a place of commitment – he’d not run away, he’d ‘got’ Jesus’ message and, of course, he was the first to recognise the meaning of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. ‘My Lord and my God.’ Explosive personal engagement.
Today’s world feels a bleak place. Turkey ‘s deeply divisive referendum feels likely to increase the fractures there and ripples. France as we speak is holding the first round Presidential elections which, again, feel polarising and with the potential further to destabilise Europe. I’ve already mentioned our General Election. Whether it will bring stability, as the Prime Minister claims… And I haven’t even begun to list the places where the theatre of action is beyond political – bombs and chemical weapons in Syria, stand-offs with North Korea… and so many countries where violence and injustice prevail but which rarely make the news. How difficult it is to be positive about our world today.
There are many factors fuelling extremism, one of which is certainty. The radicalised are not necessarily highly literate in their espoused faith, but are very sure in their convictions, and quickly claim a higher authority. The same, while without the violence, is true of religious fundamentalists. There is no arguing, no room for doubt. And, as Western politics polarise and fragment, with ordinary people becoming disillusioned with the ‘system’, they vote outside the box, easily attracted by simplistic certainty, backed by promises impossible to keep. In this high octane Trump-Twitter world, or Marine Le Pen appealing to so-called ‘forgotten’ voters, a healthy dose of doubt and uncertainty speaks of wisdom. Trouble is, generally we want quick fixes, and public figures musing aloud are seen as weakness. We, The Church, Christ’s body, have to be wise. Not sucked in; interpreters of God’s voice.
We know the Crucifixion and Resurrection to be game-changing events, but, in reality life in those parts went on much the same. People woke up to the same injustices, oppression and violence. However the disciples, encountering the risen Christ, knew what a powder keg they were sitting on. As the penny dropped with Thomas, I suspect another realisation began to dawn, namely the truth they were holding and the mission that lay ahead of them. Which they embraced – what a lesson for us today!
There is no simple truth about the Resurrection. It is truth, but truth deeper and, in some ways, more elastic than truths as we know them. In ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ the Christ character, Aslan, when resurrected says there is a deeper magic than that which was known. He only partially explains it: it is enough to witness it.
Jesus famously said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’. That understanding of truth is no set of precepts, nor does it imply any rule book or prescriptive theology, even a definitive way of life. It is open to interpretation. What it does imply, though, is a commitment to taking seriously his attitude to everything he experienced – suffering, ignorance, power, injustice…. and so on. In accepting Christ as the Truth, we must view the world and its inhabitants through his lens. This is a far cry from closed down doctrine but, rather, an invitation to dialogue with him in all that we are called to do. Which, in today’s Gospel, is quite definitive – to go forth among the people. No forced belief – Jesus never did that – but discipling in the sense of following where he led, caring about what motivated him, being moved to tears and anger, challenging and, above all, inviting people to board the train. Aligning ourselves with him and, through that, knowing what he would have us do and be. And acting upon that knowledge. Hoping and carrying that Resurrection hope into the dark corners of our world.
In this county we are not currently at the sharp end of global instability. We are cushioned. But much concerns us too. What is happening in the USA, Turkey, France and other countries has its connections with us, namely, as the media term it, the ‘politics of identity’. Who are we? Where do we belong? Are we European, British, English or what? And those of us with multiple heritages – how do we identify ourselves? On this, St. George’s Day, the patron saint of England, the question is particularly apposite. The answer is, of course, if we are serious about our faith, that our identity lies foremost with Christ. And from that flows our attitude and approach towards all that is going on around us in this world. ‘My Lord and my God.’ Thomas got it right.
I’ve preached a bleak view of current times. Let’s remind ourselves that God’s time – eternity – has an entirely different rhythm. This is not to negate or belittle the pain and despair in the world today, but to remain attuned to the Resurrection promise and hope. This we share with Christians the world over, including those, like the Egyptian Coptics, under threat from violent and ill-informed extremism. You’ve probably hear me say before, but it bears saying again, that we live in the temporal with one foot in eternity. I know I will die and that affects how I live today – which means fully living, as best I can, hand in hand with Christ. A particularly haunting piece of music to which I have oft returned is the 20th century John Tavener’s Funeral Ikos. Reiterating the loss of everything bodily, it nonetheless returns repeatedly to sing ‘Alleluia’.
So where does this take us? Into aligning ourselves not only with Thomas, but also with Peter, whose rhetoric (which we’ve heard this morning) rings in our ears this Eastertide. It is our duty and responsibility to keep alive the vibrant hope of Easter, fervently to sing ‘Alleluia’. And, with those first disciples, to take up the charge laid upon us, proclaiming God’s promise, and thus signalling an alternative and more long-term reality than any proclaimed by quick-fix politicians. Christ continues to offer a different future, which it is our task to call into being. No dogma, just the pure unadulterated eternal hope of love. I hope, I trust, our response as an Easter people, cannot but be a resounding ‘Alleluia, Amen.’
Canon Alison M Adams