EASTER I: 11 APRIL ’21
(Sermon of Paul Fisher)
Do you believe in miracles? …… How would you describe a miracle? …. The word ‘miracle’ actually means ‘something to be marvelled at’, ‘a thing of wonder’. A miracle is something which we see, something which happens in real time, here in our experience – but something we may never have come across before! You and I might well not be able to explain a miracle – certainly not in any scientific way. And yet it happens. It can open up a whole new dimension of life, and lead us to wonder!
We can actually marvel and wonder at the very miracle of life itself – that you and I actually exist: we can be awe-struck at the birth of a baby – we can gaze at the stars on a clear night and think what an immense universe they reflect, one beyond the power of words to describe: we can wonder at a glorious landscape – or at a totally self-giving and costly act of compassion …. And, above and behind it all, we wonder at, we are stunned by, the glory of a Creator God from whom all this flows … and we wonder still more that this God humbles himself to become one of us – the self-giving servant of us human beings, and of all things, and all for our liberation!
Wonder! Mary of Magdala must have been amazed by her encounter with the Risen Jesus. So must those fear-full disciples, in that locked room, when Jesus appeared!
How would you have reacted – how would I? Very much like Thomas, I guess. Thomas is ‘every person’. He needs evidence, clear proof that the person his fellow-disciples saw and heard speaking to them was actually real, not merely a wishful thinking vision! Just like you and me, Thomas doubted – and no wonder! But let’s not think that doubt is the opposite of faith, or its enemy. Because this is not basically true (though there might be exceptions!). If you and I are honest with ourselves, we who claim Christian faith – we have our moments, our times of doubt, even despair. Most if not all the greatest spiritual and faith leaders admit to times of doubt. Indeed, I would claim that such doubt – provided it is not denied or repressed – can be the seed from which a stronger faith grows. And I would say, too, that those who lay claim to faith without any trace of doubt – those who profess absolute certainty-beyond-question … a sort of ‘certitude’ … they can be very bad news! For this conviction locks the door against any possibility of humility, shuts out any openness to learn from the faith of those who think and believe differently. It makes a person blind and deaf to any understanding and vision of truth which other people might have.
So then, Mary Magdalene, the other disciples, and eventually Thomas, saw – touched – and believed. Any doubt Mary might have had quickly vanished when she rushed to touch and hold the risen Jesus. And soon, after a bit more doubt, Thomas touched Jesus – and believed. He now had the ‘evidence’!
But, before we move on, a word about this Mary – the first person to see – and hold – the risen Jesus Christ. It was she who told the others, and so – in a very real sense – she must have been a leading figure, and influence, in the whole dynamic of those first years of Christian faith and its spread. Yet, after that event on the first Easter dawn, Mary is – apart from one or two brief mentions in passing – totally written out from the rest of the New Testament! I leave you to wonder why that is so….. A big question!
A far more pressing question, though, today, is – what of us, who have not seen as Mary and Thomas saw? We, a mixture of faith and doubt. We, who are challenged to bring faith to a largely secular, consumer-driven world – to a world where God and Christ are at best on the margins. We, who face a real situation where, for many long years, belief in God has faded away: it has faded, not just because of science and the requirement to prove a thing scientifically before it can be true – it has faded, not just because of the mounting toll of human evil-doing, especially over the last century – it has faded, above all, because we have collectively lost any real sense of WONDER at the sheer miracle of life – amazement at the blazing immensity of the glory of God – a glory which permeates all the glory of the universe, of creation, of humanity!
So, what of us? Well, this. Because of Easter – the miracle and wonder of the Risen Christ then and now – God continues, in a radically new way, to be very much alive and active in the world, in all people and communities where true justice, peace, forgiveness, and love are done – by whoever! Now, we don’t have to touch or cling on to God, or get preoccupied with God and religion in an unhealthy, possessive way. As the great Jewish theologian and thinker Martin Buber said, God reveals himself to us, not so that we should concern ourselves with him, but with his world. Because God now is IN us, lives in us, works through us! And we – the church, the Body of Christ – are called to take the lead as witnesses to this active presence of God. We do this by how we minister Christ’s Peace to others, how we accept his Forgiveness and so are open to forgive others in his name. For each time we receive Christ’s body and blood in Communion, we become once more His Body on earth!
In this way we keep wonder alive – wonder at the miracle of all this. So does wonder lead us to a deeper sense of the value of everything God creates – a value way beyond money! And so does our valuing lead us to love and cherish one another, to love all life.
It is by acting on this and living it out that we keep faith alive. So, we keep going – “we who” (in the words of the poet TS Eliot) “are only undefeated because we have gone on trying”!
And who knows: there may well be times of the unexpected – times when we are utterly overwhelmed by the glory of God the Creator – by the glory of his universe – by the glory of our Saviour in a small, humble act of human love – and by “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.” AMEN