I’d planned this week carefully.
Knowing I had the Gift Day at St M’s to occupy me all day yesterday, I’d arranged for Mary to preach at both churches today.
I would just turn up and preside and everything would be just fine…After all, last week looked set to be a busy one, with all the admin that had been put on hold during Holy Week & Easter, and had then waited while I took a week off. Today would be a good day NOT to preach.
But then, Tuesday happened…one of those occasions when even the most devout soul is left scratching their heads and wondering how, if God is real, such awful things could happen.
There is no possible way in which it is right and just that a lady of almost 100 should have to stand by and watch her much loved brother being worked on by paramedics as he lies in the aisle at their sister’s funeral…..nothing that can make it OK for a family already mourning the loss of a much loved mother/grandmother to have her service derailed by another death…
That sort of injustice is a perennial feature of life – but it’s possibly easier to close our minds to it as long as it affects people a long way away, - victims or famines, earthquakes, conflicts that touch us only by way of our tv screens.
It’s when it comes close to home – our village, our family, our selves, that the questions are too huge, too loud to ignore.
Yet we’re here in the Easter season, when we proclaim as confidently as we can the reality that Christ is victorious, that death has no sting, that all things work for good for those who love God.
And we know it doesn’t add up.
All that pain, all that brokenness and an omnipotent, benevolent God.
It just doesn’t work.
So, assuming we are still speaking to God at all (and it’s a pretty fair assumption that at least some of us will not be) we divert all our confusion, all our sadness, all our anger into one great cry
“Oh God, WHY?”
and there is, it appears, no answer.
Just the great, cold silence
And in that silence we have to confront the unthinkable question
“Do we really believe what we profess, week by week?
Are the words we cling to an expression of the deepest truth or, quite simply, codswallop?”
And of course, the rational answer is that there IS no answer.
We cannot produce a coherent proof that God’s in his heaven, all right with the world, because we’re not dealing with provable certainties.
In the Easter world of this morning’s gospel, the risen Christ moved among his disciples and reassured them of his presence by sharing in that most prosaic of meals, a piece of broiled fish….
But we’re among those of whom he spoke last week as he reminded Thomas
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”
We eat our fish alone – and sometimes that seems both cold and lonely.
So what do we do?
It seems to me we have 2 alternatives…Either we can dismiss all that we profess to believe, and give way to a desperate cynicism that accords very well with the spirit of the age or we can opt for faith, knowing that we won’t ever have the concrete assurances we may long for.
And it’s not easy.
Christ himself struggled, as the weight of doubt and dereliction bore down on him in Gethsemane, burdened him intolerably on the cross…
And he found the language to express those feelings in the psalms of lament which, for millennia, have allowed people to express the inexpressible, to contain pain that would otherwise overwhelm and destroy them.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” he cried
knowing that the psalm that began thus moved from agonised abandonment to resolution.
That’s important, but what is significant above all is that he kept on talking
Though he felt himself to be forsaken, he carried on as if God were still there, within easy ear-shot.
He never gave up on the relationship but continued to voice all that was on his heart, even in the face of God’s apparent absence and oblivion.
It is the experience that framed psalm 22 and the other psalms of lamentation, which also made it possible for faith to survive even the nightmare of the holocaust. When a council of rabbis met in the late 1940s to determine whether God or man should be blamed for the death of 6 million Jews the discussion was anguished and prolonged. Finally, after many hours of talking, it was agreed that the fault lay with God…a profound silence fell in the room. Minutes passed, until one elderly rabbi went over to the window and drew back the curtain. Outside was the pale light of dawn, and the rabbi turned back to his colleagues
“It’s sunrise” he said “It’s time to worship God.”
Those rabbis had ample evidence to condemn God, but also the remembered, treasured experience that encouraged them to forgive him.
For us, if faith is a matter of intellectual conviction rather than heart knowledge, it will always be harder…Christ knew this. That’s why he gave his disciples such ample proof that he remained very much part of their material world, a world of wounded hands and side, of broiled fish, and bread and wine.
We can’t have that same direct experience, though as we gather to share bread and wine in His name we may feel that he truly touches and transforms us.
Intellectually, we will probably be doomed to fail in any attempts to justify God
Emotionally – this God who cried out in desparation as he hung on the cross surely has something to say to us in our sadness, our fear, our brokenness.
We want to believe that we are in control, that nothing can touch us; we invite God to bless our comfortable lives, and then keep out of our way - but then life slaps us in the face and everything looks very different.
Suddenly we need God in a way we had never envisaged...but we're not sure he can help us, if he's hanging on the cross.
BUT the God who hung on the cross is the same God that rose, the God who floods the world with Easter hope, the God who makes all things new. .So when we witness disasters or all the news is bad or when the people we love die before our eyes...we have the choice, to be transformed by Christ’s risen life or to remain forever in the shadows.
We don’t know, we can’t know while we peer through a glass darkly…but we can hope and believe and so live our lives that they show to others the transforming power of those beliefs.
Almighty Father, who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples
With the sight of the risen Lord
Give us such knowledge of his presence with us
That we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life
And serve you continually in righteousness and truth…….