Sermon for Easter 2 2019
‘All too much?’
CS Lewis in his stunning allegory – ‘The Great Divorce’ – suggests that the reason we do not seek the True Life of ‘The Great World we are made for’ is that it is too Real, Too much for us.
In this he imagined Hell not as fire and torment, but dark and somewhat dismal – like a Northern English industrial town on a rainy afternoon in winter. In his story, every day a bus left Hell to go to Heaven and anyone could make the journey, and anyone could stay in Heaven should they so wish, but Heaven was too Real, it was too much. Almost everyone got back on the bus to return to their lives of quiet desperation – Too Good to be True – Too Good to bear . . . perhaps their lives had not prepared them to bear the beams of Reality, to bear the beams of divine Love as william Blake puts it . . . for our lives here are meant to prepare us to Life in the fulness of the Reality of the Great world for which we are made. Each day an opportunity to grow deeper into the Life that is Life in its fullness
Here we have an echo of our suggestion of last week, that we struggle with the Resurrection of Jesus, because it is Too Good to be true . . . how can anything be Too Good? Yet if Goodness is Too much for us when we encounter it? Unbelievable – and we all too readily shape our lives to comfortable mediocrity and our perception of heaven is to say the least vague and nothing we set our hearts on – The Good. God Himself. Our struggle to believe something Too Good to be true is a sign of our alienation from the One who is Good.
And the early days after the Resurrection find the disciples struggling to come to terms with the Good Reality, to use Tolkien’s word – the Euchatastophe – the good Catastrophe – that has come crashing in , like bright sunshine rousing us from comfortable slumbers.
Yet the idea of a catastrophe, can this be Good? Can’t we keep things just as they are? Ok? Nice? Safe even? Safety having become the secular version of the Good – there is no room for Aslan in New Zealand for Aslan is not Safe . . . which means there is no place for the Good!
I think perhaps we are so insulated here – we struggle really to comprehend the Good. Evil breaks in and we cannot comprehend, but good also.
My primary school headteacher, whose class I was in – had been evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk railed against the word ‘nice’ – and I guess anyone who had survived such an ordeal – a Life and Death Reality, would want something more Real, Awake, Alive! from what we wrote.
The Reality of the Resurrection of Jesus being Too Good to be true may be in no small part the product of our desire not to believe, for if it is true, it is the announcement that the world is not as we thought – our lives don’t fit a World shaped by the Resurrection. And we have two choices, to remain as we are or to begin the long hard work of reconfirming our lives to fit the new reality.
The Resurrection calls forth from us is a life that is we had not known – New Life, in Jesus. Now and again I hear this phrase but not for some years now.
Is it just easier to doubt and hope that things will turn out ok? That the Resurrection in its Catastrophic nature isn’t true?
Is it not an avoidance of the Responsibility of walking through the door to a new life which the Resurrection of Jesus holds open to us? Perhaps when one is growing old, new life is not something we readily desire . . . I remember one of my former bishops railing against ‘it’ll see me out-ism’. He would visit dying churches and all folk could say was ‘it’ll see me out . . .’ Just leave us as we are . . . don’t disturb us with tales of New Life in Jesus
Yet if the Resurrection of Jesus is True, then like things being ‘nice’, this is a failure to walk in the new Life, to receive the Gift, a failure to take Responsibility, to Believe and not doubt
Of course here we have an echo of the words of Nicodemus who comes to Jesus in the dark, at night . . . and Jesus’ telling him that unless he is born again, born from above, born of God he cannot See the Kingdom of God’ But Nicodemus is getting on in years – ‘‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? . . .’
Being born is the greatest catastrophe – it is a Good Catastrophe – it has happened to all of us, but we forget it. There we are in the comfort and the warmth, food on tap, we don’t even have to think about it, no responsibilities, we are the centre of our own universe, everything is nicely arranged – and then the catastrophe takes place and we’re forced out into light and a place where after a time we discover that we’re not the centre of things, and then seemingly try and get back, to construct the world as it was in the womb when we knew no better . . . Too much effort, all that change. Don’t bother us with your promises of sharing in the Eternal Life of God . . .
So New Birth is highly appropriate as a means of describing the Good catastrophe that is the Resurrection of Jesus, that in Him we are raised to a New Life. A life which calls us into the full stature of our humanity – a life of Responsibility. A Life in which fear has no part, for Death itself has been trampled down. A Life that can only be lived from the clean wellsprings of faith, not doubt. A Life which comes from and is directed towards God . . . and perhaps it is too much?
So this week Jesus comes to his disciples – their door locked for fear of the Judeans. And says the most earth shattering thing to them . . . What had they said? ‘Only God can forgive sins!’ If we push it onto God, then we can cary on not forgiving because it’s God’s job not ours, and Jesus breathes on them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit – whosoever sins you loose, they are loosed, and whosoever sins you hang onto, they are hung onto . . .
There is a starkness in these words – We have the responsibility – We are now by the Life of God in us Sent into the World, as Jesus was sent by the Father – do do God’s work of forgiveness. But we are responsible . . . This is why He gives us his Life! That we might do what he does . . .
but in freedom, so the door always lies open to return to the sleep of death and sin – to hang onto sin and not release . . .
We are Sent – sent into the World as the Father sent the Son, so Jesus the Son sends us – to do the Father’s work of forgiveness and reconciliation . . . And Sent in Faith of the Risen One
Which brings us to Thomas . . . frequently over the last couple of weeks I have recounted how Thomas is badly done by. He believes in Jesus far more than the rest of the disciples – ‘Let us go with him that we might die with Him!’ He is the one who asks Jesus What is the Way you are going? He identifies with Jesus – there is no ‘I do not know him’ as with Peter. He sees Jesus as his Life . . . and he has seen that Life go . . . is it any surprise he struggles at this point?
He Loves Jesus . . . Jesus who said ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall See God’ To be pure of heart is to Love truly. Thomas Loves Jesus, and now he Sees Him for who He is. ‘My Lord and My God!’ John has thought his gospel kept the true identity of Jesus open to differing interpretation – but not now. Thomas declares the Risen Christ Jesus to be LORD, and God . . .
it is because of who he is that we go out – He has passed through death – He calls us from Death to Life – all authority is given to him and he sends us to responsibly carry that into His World. Forgiving Sins and pointing all to the Centre of Life – God, manifested to us in Jesus Christ, the one who has trampled down death by death. He is Risen indeed! Or is it all too much?