Sermon for 6th Sunday of Easter – Year A 2017
‘Who do you see?’
Over the years I have engaged in many many bible studies, but one in particular has always stuck out as by a margin the very best. It was given by Margaret Barker, a former President of the Old Testament Society and a scholar of not only the Scriptures but also many other writings which were well known in the time of Jesus, and indeed some of which the Church continued to refer to until about the fourth century.
I don’t remember much of the content, except that it was about ‘Covenant’, yet I remember being enthralled by her Wisdom and insight. But One thing did stick with me, a comment she made in her opening remarks, ‘you always know when you are in the presence of another Christian’ And I must admit my spirit leapt at this, for it was something I had myself noted. Indeed it is a comment that could only be made by someone who was a Christian – for only a Christian would know this recognition or identification with another which spoke in this particular respect.
For myself I think back to my retreat this year at Ngatiawa and the instant bond which was present in my conversations with the Rumanian Orthodox family I met there, despite problems of language and culture – there was Something which was ‘between us’, and which created a deep Understanding.
But what is it that we See, when we experience this? Or rather Who??
I think the scripture which helps us in this regard is the story of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. Reading from Luke’s gospel – you will remember that the angel Gabriel has just announced that Mary will bar God’s Son – ‘In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy.’
‘As soon as I heard the sound of your greetings the child in my womb leapt for joy’! Something Living within me, identifies with something Living within you – and it is an occasion of Joy. And this indeed it how it is to meet with another Christian – even before a word has been exchanged, but often shortly hereafter – there is a bond of Life tangibly present in conversation – a deep agreement which goes far beyond ideas or words.
These past couple of weeks we have been focussing in on Jesus as The Gate and then Jesus as the Temple, the House of God – and last time we heard from the apostle Peter, exhorting us to be built ‘as living stones’ ourselves into a dwelling place for the most High God . . . which brings us to our gospel for today – these beautiful words of Jesus to his Church.
”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
Now the first thing is to note that the Instigator of this is Jesus himself – “I will not leave you orphaned, I am not abandoning you! Far from it, ‘I am coming to you!’ When we are open to the presence of Jesus, he comes to us – ‘Behold!’, he commands us – ‘Behold ! I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.’
Then having made that promise he goes on – ‘in a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me’ The word See is of course as I am sure you may now guess ‘Behold!’ The world will no longer Behold me, for ‘the world cannot receive him (The Spirit of Truth) for it neither Beholds him, nor knows him’. But, ‘if you Love me’ that is if you are in your heart and mind directed towards me, as a plant is to the Sun, Loving its warmth and Light, then you will keep my commands and ‘you will see me’
‘Because I live, you also will live’ to use the flower analogy again, the Light of the Sun is the Life of the plant. Because the Sun shines, the plant lives. Because Jesus Lives, his Light and Life are available to all who turn to him, and they shall See him . . .
Now Seeing and Beholding are ties up with Knowing, Believing – they are woven together is a rich tapestry of meaning. the old saying is true, ‘to See is to Believe.’ Or ‘to Behold is to Know’
Seeing me, Jesus says “On that day you will Know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” I am in my Father, and you [are] in me, and I [am] in you. As St Paul puts it in his letter to the Colossians, ‘the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.’
It is this mystery, which is the Essence of that mutual recognition of Christians one for another, that we ‘recognise’ at a level of deep intuition, we Behold Christ in one another . . . which is the Source of the Reverence which we have for one another.
But many things cloud our vision – things within us. Perhaps we are angry with a person, a fellow Christian. It is as if we cannot see – we talk of ‘the red mist descending’. Not to See Christ in one another we then do not revere the other – we do not treat them as we would Christ. All of the Passions, Anger, Lust, Greed, Sloth, Envy and the like are the things that prevent us from Seeing Christ. As of course Jesus had his biggest problems with the Pharisees, those who were Self Rightesous, Righteous in their own eyes, so to our sense of ‘being in the right!’, or ‘being unjustly treated’ blinds us. We become Spiritually blind. Here again the counsel of St Paul is apt ‘in humility think of [ALL] others as better than yourself’ – I have added ALL to the text, I admit, but I think this is Paul’s meaning, otherwise, being righteous in our own eyes we would pick and choose – we might judge others ourselves as to whether they were Christian or not – that ‘Objective judgement’ has nothing to do with ‘knowing when you are in the presence of another Christian, for it cannot be seen, or judged, it can only be a matter of beholding, with the Pure Heart. For as Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for They shall Behold God’
Who do we see? What blinds us?
As many of you know, I love to cook curry and so one of my favourite shops in Dunedin is the Indian food shop on St Andrew’s Street. If you have visited you will know that it is owned by a member of the Sikh Community here in Dunedin. (Sikhism by the way developed out of Christianity in India) Whenever I go in – we reverence the other as is his custom. A simple bow and joining of the hands. This most sadly is utterly remarkable in our Culture which knows nothing of such reverence for the other, purely in our humanity, let alone as Brothers and Sisters of one another in Jesus Christ. We might well say that this is the clearest evidence of our not being n any sense a ‘Christian society’ – for often if not always there is little more than a ‘Hi! How are you?’ with no expectation whatsoever that we might say how we really are . . . it is increasingly rare for Men to honour Women in their midst, as Bearers of Life in our world, by holding doors, or standing as they come into the room. And this lack of Reverence extends sadly to the Church.
I think if there were one simple practise which might help us better to see Christ in one another, it might be to extend that which happens at the altar, to the whole people of God, that we gently bowed to one another on meeting. Certainly it would give us pause, to hold back from all ‘those important things we HAD to say to the other’ to be together in Christ First and foremost, and there forget ourselves for there is little in little more lovely in life than those incredibly special moments when something leaps for Joy within us at the meeting with another Christian – for it is indeed an encounter with our Own True Life – the Life of Christ in and amongst us – the Life which is eternal.