Saturday, April 09, 2016

Easter 2C at Coventry Cathedral 3rd April 2016

Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia! 
This time last week, the Cathedral was wonderfully full as we came together to share Easter joy …It was all so bright as a candle lit from the Easter fire, clear as a trumpet fanfare echoing round the Cathedral....An empty tomb...a familiar voice calling by name...surely everything is going to be alright now....fear and gloom banished for all time.
As we sang our final hymn Thine be the glory I was pretty sure that I could actually hear angels ,archangels and all the company of heaven lending their voices.
No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of Life
For a little while that sure and certain hope of Resurrection took hold of us, heart, mind and spirit, and there was no doubt left...or, let's be honest, maybe a smidgeon somewhere... But not enough to spoil things.

But it's a week on now,...a day that used to be known as Low Sunday...a day of returning to earth from the heights of heavenly praise. Even though the Common Worship calendar tries to steer us in another direction, firmly labelling this the second Sunday of Easter, there's still a lingering memory of LOW Sunday...a day when we come down to earth and try to make sense of the reality of a world that is somehow not really different ENOUGH
You see, if we're honest things don't actually seem to be much better. The broken church has obstinately refused to be healed...those beloved people who are hurting continue to hurt...war, hunger, fear have not yet departed from the face of the earth..and me? Well, I have to confess that I'm the same frustrating mix of selfishness and occasional kindness, shining confidence and unspoken anxiety that I was before Easter.
And that's a little puzzling.
If the resurrection truly changed the world for ever, then surely things ought to look rather better by now. Shouldn't they?
What's going on....I just don't get it.

I feel as if I've somehow got stuck with the disciples in S Mark's account of the first Easter. The one where there is no tidy tying up of loose ends..,the women find the empty tomb and say nothing. Because they are terrified.
That's not quite where I am this morning. I did think about it for a moment, but no. I'm not in that place where nothing makes sense but I darent admit it.
Not scared to question, in case everything unravels before my eyes and I find myself confronting nothing BUT an empty tomb.
In fact, I think questioning is going to be the order of the day...

After all, there's a bit of a precedent...set by our good friend Thomas.

Doubting Thomas!
Such a familiar nickname but is it really fair?
Across 2000 years Thomas is remembered not for his obedience in following Jesus
Not for his later courage in taking the gospel to India
but for his doubts.
Imagine if you were to be remembered forever for the thing of which you are least proud...
It's sobering, isn't it!

But in truth, he was no worse than the other disciples
Despite his denial of Jesus, we don't refer to “Peter the Turncoat”
Despite their anxiety to claim the best seats in the kingdom, we don't talk of James and John as the Wannabe Twins

But Thomas...he's stuck with that nickname, come what may.
And honestly, it's not surprising he doubted.
Imagine that you are with the twelve in that upper room in Jerusalem in the days after the crucifixion
None of you will be feeling very confident – in anything.
Each of you has let down your dearest friend at the moment of his greatest need.
Each of you has put personal safety before the claims of God's kingdom.
Each of you has cherished dreams that now seem to have withered before your eyes.
Each of you is, frankly, scared stiff, disorientated, lost...and the wild talk of those women who went to the tomb is certainly not helping. Empty tombs and rumours of angels don't make ANYTHING better.

But into that place of anxiety, fear and confusion comes Jesus – as he always does, into our places of anxiety, fear and confusion (even if we try to shut the doors against him)
Jesus with his message of peace – the forgiveness that each person in that battered and beaten group most needs to receive.

Peace – says Jesus...
It's OK. I understand what you did, and why you did it.
I still love you. Exactly as you are.
You are forgiven.
Peace to make good your failures
Peace to calm your fears
Peace to restore your broken dreams

The Peace of Christ – given to be shared with others
Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 
 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
Peace that transforms them all.
This is the stuff of resurrection right enough

But not for Thomas
Poor Thomas is somewhere else that day, so he misses out not only on seeing Jesus but on receiving that blessed assurance that all is now well.
He listens to his friends, with all their new-found certainty – but while they seem to be seeing the world by the new light of Easter hope, he remains stuck in the darkness of Good Friday.
No Peace for him – indeed, their very confidence increases his isolation.
He must have been tempted to pretend that he too was now secure in his faith once again, or at least to keep out of their way, in an attempt to gloss over his uncertainty. It's so much easier to go with the crowd, isn't it...
....but somehow Thomas has the courage and the honesty to stick to his guns, – and to name his doubts
Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

Thank God for Thomas.
We need him – just as we continue to need those who, in any group, ask the questions we are afraid to voice ourselves...
We need him because he shows us that it is absolutely OK to have doubts, OK
to ask questions – and that God honours those questions....
When Jesus returns to the group the following week there is no lecture on the essentials of faith, no reproach for Thomas's uncertainty.
Instead he is invited to come close to Jesus (what could be better) and to touch with his own hands Christ's body in all its resurrection life.
It's hard to imagine a more wonderful confirmation that questioning is welcome, that we are to come to Christ as we are, - not resting on the faith of others but discovering it for ourselves as the complicated individuals that we are....complicated individuals with our own unique relationship with God in Christ.

Not something you can receive off the peg from another person
Your faith is shaped by your life experiences, by the people you encounter, the books that you read
It's rather like a jigsaw puzzle. As you go through life, you slowly assembly the puzzle, until perhaps you get a lovely picture, with no gaps.
At that point, life intervenes, and doubt takes the puzzle and throws it up in the air, so that you have to start reassembling the pieces once again.
Every time that happens, the puzzle comes out with a slightly different picture...YOUR picture, created through your own encounters with God and his people.

Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, writes
"To be without questions is not a sign of faith, but of lack of depth." And he encourages people not only to ask questions about the meaning of the faith, but to question God. We ask questions, says Sacks, "not because we doubt, but because we believe."

So – that's my invitation to you today as well
ASK questions.
Nothing is off limits
Ask your clergy, - we would really love that.
Ask one another.
Join a group, read a book, - ask God, who gave us minds as well as hearts and souls...

And if you feel that there's still not enough evidence – then look around you.
Yes, the world – and the Church – is still wounded as the risen Christ...whose hands and side Thomas touched that day.
You see, the resurrection is much MUCH more than painting over the griefs and failures of the past...It does not obliterate them but transforms them – and we are invited to take that process of transformation forward, starting today.
Whether you are feeling confident or uncertain, excited or despondent, here and now WE are the best evidence for the Resurrection that Coventry Cathedral can muster...– the best case that can be presented to those who come with questions and uncertainties, feeling that an empty tomb is not enough on which to build a life. Writing in the Guardian, Giles Fraser sums it up nicely

The resurrection is more an identity than an argument. That’s why we turn it into participatory theatre, with incense and candles. It is who we are – our word for how we go on in the face of overwhelming odds. It’s the Christian term for defiance. In Newington, we have no money, a heating system that doesn’t work, a church hall that was recently burned out by bored teenagers and, most challenging of all, a community that is not really a community, but often a place people simply pass through. Even the old flats of the notorious Heygate estate have now been demolished and their long-term residents pushed further out of town to make way for the younger and the wealthier. Change and decay in all around I see. All this sounds pretty miserable. But the resurrection is the name we give to the multiple ways we push back against the darkness.For too long, our little garden of remembrance has been a place thick with the deathly thorns of heroin needles and the excrement of rough-sleepers. But now all that’s been cleared away by a few determined parish gardeners and a little strip of cared-for land has emerged, resplendent with daffodils 

An identity...The resurrection shown to the world in the life of the Church.
People who have had an encounter with Jesus and set out to make a difference for his sake.
People like you. And me.
People who help at the Night Shelter, visit the housebound, volunteer for Work Clubs and toddler groups, go the extra mile, welcome strangers as they would welcome Christ...People who carry his life and his hope within them, so that they seek daily to serve the world for the sake of His Kingdom...

Earlier this year I wrote in Cathedral Matters that I wanted an Easter Garden here to provide evidence for our visitors that this was Easter...the great 50 days of rejoicing...and I'm delighted that the garden is here for all to see. But for evidence in the face of doubt, I'd rather look somewhere else each one of us...If you like, we need to BE the garden...showing new life and beauty in every aspect of our being, pushing back the darkness for all we're worth
No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life...because we are working beside you to show that love wins and that Jesus is loose in the world, turning things upside down and making everything new.

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