This coming Sunday’s lectionary readings include Acts 3.12-19; 1 John 3.1-7 and Luke 24.36b-48. I am grateful to Canon Alan Amos for writing this reflection which focuses on the Gospel reading, and also draws in words from I John.
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As I approach the Gospel for the coming Sunday, first of all I remember that Easter is not over. It is a season, yes – but it is also an experience. I think of the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins. ‘Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us.’
I love that phrase ‘the dimness of us.’ How accurate it seems at times! I think perhaps after the energy we have put into the actual liturgical celebration of Easter, a little ‘dimness’ may be what we are feeling. Not cheered up perhaps by a Sunday reading coming along where the focus seems to be on the risen Lord eating a piece of fish. Difficult to avoid a certain bathos seeming to set in, after the radiant account of the Emmaus experience. So to come to terms with that piece of fish,
In order to do this, I ask myself two questions: what is the evangelist seeking to say to us? And then what is the risen Christ seeking to say to us through the evangelist?
First Luke. He wants us to see the reality of the risen Jesus, and to rejoice with him. He wants us to join him an in experience of resurrection-life, of which the focus is Jesus in all his bodily actuality.
Luke will not let us get away with a kind of spiritualised belief in a bloodless resurrection. Jesus is fully present in the upper room. As present as you and me are in our immediate physical surroundings, handling the objects of our daily existence. He is not a ghost wafted in from outside. He is with us. The first followers of Jesus were astounded by this experience. They were shaken to the core by it. Luke expects us to be shaken by his account as well. It is not ‘normal’; and yet the paradox is that it is normal, because it is the life of the Jesus who walks and talks and eats fish that is present among them.
What about Jesus himself. What is the risen Lord seeking to say to us through the evangelist?
First of all, I think Jesus does not want us to be so glum and serious about things. There is a life-giving joy, even a light-heartedness, about Resurrection. OK, if I have to eat a piece of fish in order to get you to believe, just hand it over! The picture that we often have of Jesus takes him away from the truly human, and the truly human has to include a sense of humour and light-heartedness, as a counterpart to the agony which also belongs to being human. There are those awful wounds recalling the agony – and then there is the piece of fish. All the depths and the inconsequentiality of life are here in a bundle. Life transcending this life, radiant beyond this life, and the mundanity of the here and now. For the piece of fish, read ‘bread and wine.’ Presence, life-giving, mysterious, grace-full. God in ordinary. We are being shown that we do not live in a mechanistic universe where everything is pre-determined. We live in a universe where signs are as real as concrete. And love is as real as crucifixion.
The mystery of Jesus in human form will shortly leave the company of his friends. Luke moves on almost immediately to tell us about that. What remains is the love which is both indestructible and transformative, transfiguring. The reading appointed from St John’s first epistle points us towards this. Having talked about the love which the Father has towards us as his children, the writer continues, ‘We are God’s children now, what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.’
What was disclosed in the upper room, in its human form was to pass beyond sight. But the power of love which was part of the same disclosure experience will never pass away, and we travel on in our lives drawing on the strength that this gives us, towards a destination which is both beyond ourselves and the knowledge we have of ourselves. In God, we are more than we know ourselves to be.
Walls. Jesus travels through walls, does not bother to acknowledge them. We are in a time when we also experience that Jesus travels through all kinds of walls and barriers, even those erected by the virus. This is a special time, and it is worth pausing to reflect on it.
It is also a time, sadly, when in Europe we see walls being erected where they had been removed; a time when ‘each to his own’ seems to rule the day. Perhaps the virus will be the means of restoring a global vision and concern; for the virus surely defeats an ‘each to his own’ way of dealing with human problems. If all are not safeguarded against the virus, ultimately none will be safeguarded.
Just at this time when we are being shown so clearly the value of science and its application, the sharing of scientific expertise and knowledge across Europe is being made much more difficult as a consequence of political actions reflecting an upsurge in populism. And the sharing of joys of life in art and music are also being constrained by new boundaries and processes.
Easter is a time when we celebrate the gifts of Christ to us all, and among those gifts is the will to live in freedom as human beings restored by grace, rejoicing, and caring for all in the world around us without discrimination.