Sermon 19 April 2015    Easter 3   Luke 24.41  

The people who see Jesus today who are disbelieving and still wondering are not hearing the news for the first time. This day - for everything happens on Easter Sunday in Luke – they have already heard from the women who went to the tomb, already they have heard from Cleopas and his companion about meeting Jesus in the breaking of the bread and we have heard that he has already appeared to Peter. Indeed they have already greeted each other with ‘the Lord is risen’.

Luke, however, presents these fine guys as still quite a distance from anything like a faith in the God who has raised Jesus from the dead. Despite all that has happened since before dawn, they remain frightened,‘startled and terrified’; in short, in the words of one commentator, “thoroughly rattled”. It has not sunk in.

It is at one level a taut narrative, courtesy of the scribe of the gentleness of Christ; it presents those close to Jesus as being quite resistant to His presence. Even while they are getting over the hang-up over his being a ghost, they react with joy and wonder but are still disbelieving. The response of the women we heard about at the Vigil in Mark was stronger than that; much stronger in fact but why Mark has a claim to be the strongest of the resurrection stories, that is for another day.

However, these guys are to be witnesses and on the first Easter what we have is a tale of cold hearts, suspicious minds and a trying reluctance to see what is to us hearers clear. Almost embarrassingly clear after Thomas on White Sunday; here we have broiled fish, flesh, bones, hands and feet, to be sure; it is almost as if Jesus is shoving it in their feckless faces. It does not say he actually burped but it is of this order. This is so real and you lot are making heavy weather of this!

You may call the attitude to the Risen Christ to be one of unbelief but that may be misleading; happily the translation has “disbelieving”. Just as it is not doubt which lets Thomas down - enough of that canard - it is not bare unbelief which puts the apostles in a poor light; it is more like suspicion or at least an attitude which is trying to hold things together and which fails. It is similar to that attitude of looking at the world with in a double focus, in which there is a simple one of  acceptance of what is and all its woe, naif if you like and the other stands outside with a view of reality which it thinks it can judge. You know when you look through binoculars, how it takes some care to avoid seeing things double.  When you do the two together, you get some confusion. The result of the two together is often suspicion, especially of anything that which exceeds our control and it marks much of late modern culture. It has been round for a while and was behind the shift to the value of ‘self-expression’ in Romantic art and why that remains such a pull but it is an assertion of self, the assertion of the self in response to some daffodils.

Far be it from me to suggest that the right response to the God who has raised Jesus from the dead, is something which is necessarily simple - straightforward even, if you just go with the evidence, as some crude apologetics will have you believe (dead end stuff that really). Rather, the force, the ground of belief is in Jesus Christ, something full body, hands, feet, digestive system, communications and stuff; what it gets is this long run of suspicion, a matter of a response which is simple but which does not fit easily and a response which is full of buts and no’s and oh yes! Luke’s Jesus is not limited by that; what He is does not depend on what we make of Him, not in what our culture can deal with but in Him, as we heard from Isaiah yesterday, ‘you are inscribed in my hands’. Often our approach can be one which goes for that focus on the attitude of suspicion which is common to modernity and its gaudy extension. True, suspicion is part of us, part of the world we live in.

One of the challenges it may be said now, is how to respond to the sure gift of Christ while looking for a single focus. Some twiddling of the binoculars is needed. We are to be witnesses and we cannot be witnesses unless we have understood, perhaps in our person, that inherited suspicion which marks the age. Yet you will not be a witness if you are seeing double. For that to be necessary it requires that we see, with some apprehension, that the centre of gravity is not in our possession, not at all but it is in the hands of  the divine Christ.  He meets us in disbelief and puzzlement; suspicion, to be sure.

Indeed, that world which fails to trust, to trust whence it grew or to trust even in the language which shaped it, needs to be seen as something which is addressed by Christ, capable of being touched and brought to witness. 

Mindful of being in a country which is so wealthy but where the difference between the healthy and the sick and the rich and poor continues to widen and the cant to cover it does so exponentially, mindful of the tender-parts-crunching ideology of the pastor’s daughter from Templin-Brandenburg,mindful of the centenary to be marked this week, that of the Assyro-Armenian Genocide, you would be right to say that there is something to be said for suspicion, at least if one is being critical. To be critical can often serve to foster trust, at least a single focus.

The Jewish writer, Josipovici, regards trust as necessary for creativity, indeed for a responsible engagement. “The problem is how to keep suspicion from turning into cynicism and trust from turning into facileness”. Our challenge is how to keep a single focus in a world of cultural suspicion with a trust fashioned in the same world, a focus which owns itself held by that beautiful reality beyond our control, that divine reality, that Jesus Christ, those hands on which as we heard yesterday, God has inscribed your names. So pray and hope; one focus, one truth, one Lord 

Thomas Seville CR