Friday, April 01, 2016

This open door

A recurring dream I’ve had over the years has a door appearing in the hallway of one of my childhood homes in Winnipeg, Manitoba where no such door ever existed.  Doorways in dreams, I’m told, represent novelty, change and new direction.  Apparently it’s very good news when doors appear in your dreams – well done you!    One of the icons of Easter is the empty tomb with the large stone rolled to one side.  You might see it stitched into church banners and worked into stained glass windows.   An empty tomb is an open door.  It’s an uncompleted story – a marvellously altered trajectory.

Isn’t there something “sadly wearying” about the events of the last few weeks with the airport and metro bombings in Brussels?  Shock comes first, of course, but then we see the true intent of such terrorist attacks as they compel people to harden and reinforce their prejudices.  Ah, we say – here’s the trajectory:  Communities driven in upon themselves and communication across cultural and ethnic boundaries faltering.  Suddenly we hear things from normally good-hearted people which seem shocking and abnormal.  We find ourselves thinking some of these same things.  We mediate the shame of feeling this way by appealing to its normalcy.  That’s what always happens, we say.  It’s the way things go because that’s the way the world is or because that’s the way we are.  Why fight it?  They go that way because powerful people are pushing events along that path.  Who are we to stand up to them?   

The Good Friday opponents of Jesus felt that the trajectory was on their side.  They had settled and ended forever this particular rabbi’s take on the Kingdom of God, clicked shut his open door to restoration for the outcasts amongst the common people he’d met and preached to in the Galilee and Jerusalem.  All those parables, those healings, those glimpses of the kingdom – all these were locked away forever. For their part, Jesus’ scattered disciples knew the trajectory was against them.  The story had no extra chapter.  The Jesus story was sealed in a guarded tomb – the new normal.   

The Easter tomb is not an “ordinary” outcome in any generation.  Within the plot of the New Testament this open door remains God’s extraordinary pledge that the world’s predictable downward spirals are not the last word.  

Stitch that on your banners.   Set it in your church windows. Love will achieve its outcome and hope will have its day. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The 2nd Sunday of Easter

Year C
John 20:19-31

Thomas doesn't have much of a speaking part in the Gospel of John.

Thomas appears to decline each time he opens his mouth. His first words (John 11:16) were a pep-talk he gave to the other disciples when Jesus suggested a return to Judea where he and his disciples had already been threatened with mob violence. Thomas suggested that they should together go and die with him.  All very noble, this, and the very thing you'd expect an apostle to say.  But something happened to Thomas along the way.  A few chapters later Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them - a home in the heavenly places.  Thomas' response (John 14:5) shows not only that he seems a bit thick and has misunderstood the big picture of what Jesus is saying.  It reveals a deep dis-ease and uncertainty at the centre of his soul

Lord we don’t know where you are 
going, so how can we know the way?

Show me a map.  Explain how it will be.  Tell me where to put my feet.  Which is more or less how Thomas will later challenge the other disciples (John 20:24-29) when he finds himself among people who have witnessed the risen Christ where he himself has not and is asked to share their joy which he believes he cannot.  Show me the map, he says again.  Show me the prints of the nails.  Show me the wounds in the side. 

I will not believe unless…..

This is not a story where the Church mocks Thomas.  Rarely does the question boil down to a  binary issue of whether we have faith or whether we don't as if there were a lottery going on and the lucky among us scratch the little box that reveals with an exclamation mark that “Congratulations you have faith!” and others merely uncover the words “Better luck next time!”  Our Gospel reading this Sunday is a story about God’s active and continuing interest in bringing faith to the surface and nurturing it into visible reality – exactly as Jesus does for Thomas in the story. Faith is discovered by needing and using it and by finding that God indeed makes it possible.   

I've been at this for well over thirty years now and have sat next to all sorts of people facing things which led them to wonder if they had the faith necessary to get through the next month or even the next six hours.  Most of them proved themselves pillars.  Most of them would testify to the active support of something beyond themselves as and while they forged forward with a degree of faith they were not sure they had.

Later stories about Thomas, while in no way certain, are reasonably well-founded.  From his base in Edessa in western Turkey he is said to have then traveled to India.  We may reasonably assume he did so without a map.  He had been schooled in faith at an uncertain time at the wounded hands of Jesus.   You may have been so schooled yourselves.  You may yet be.   You should pray to be.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Seek, find and be amazed!

Easter Sunday - Year C
Luke 24:1-12

…these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did
not believe them.  But Peter got up and ran to the tomb;
stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves;
then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

The ancient rubbish tip outside the ancient Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus yielded a Greek fragment of the curious text of the Gospel of Thomas - an enigmatic book which contains morsels of Jesus material at least as old as our first three Gospels mixed in with odd philosophical and even heretical musings from the third century.  It’s not been included amongst our canonical Gospels for some quite good reasons.  Nonetheless it does yield the odd gem:

(2) [Jesus said], "Let him who seeks continue [seeking until] he finds.
When he finds, [he will be amazed. And] when he becomes [amazed],
he will rule. And [once he has ruled], he will [attain rest]."

There is no question that the disciples and other early witnesses to the resurrection were perplexed, thunderstruck, disturbed and, in the case above, “amazed” by the events of Easter Sunday morning.  That they did not understand immediately doesn’t seem to matter because our Evangelists are telling two parallel stories about the Easter morning events and the appearances of the risen Christ in the days which followed:  What did God do?  And (because the Gospels are designed to be read by men and women of faith and to help refine and underpin that faith with the historical record) How did men and women react to the Resurrection? 

The resurrection of Jesus is not an incomprehensible loud noise which deafens the attending disciples. Their perplexity is temporary.  It will be nurtured into faith through their fellowship with the risen Christ, through his words in the following forty days and through the future confirmation of the Holy Spirit.  This is the remaking of a fallen creation.   God’s pledge is to make that creation new again.  The risen Christ will be not only observed but in fact witnessed (there’s a difference!) and then proclaimed and for that to happen the Resurrection will come to be understood. 

I want to point to one very early response, on Peter’s part, which even preceded his sprint to the empty tomb much less any coherent understanding.  The women had returned with a story which seemed, to the gathered and grieving disciples, a vain and empty tale.  Without any particular textual justification, I can imagine Peter in another room hearing every second word shouted out by grieving and perhaps even angry disciples as they argue with the women.  The words beyond the wall sink in – idle – tale - master – gone – tomb – empty.   The merest shred of possibility presents itself that all is not in fact ended.  Like a dull ember buried deep in the ashes, hope finds a little tinder in Peter’s soul and catches light.   He’s off like a shot.  Prior to faith in full flower there can be both will and openness.  

Keep your ears open.  
Honour the hunger within you.  
Seek until you find.   
Be amazed!