Down-grade the Comfort

Sunday 27th April 2014
Year A, The Second Sunday of Easter
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Acts 2:14; 2:22-32
John 20:19-31

One of the more esoteric aspects of my work is experimenting with haptic force feedback. This technology uses electrically charged actuators to create solid objects in thin air which cannot be seen but which can be touched by using a special glove or thimble; and because the solid objects are created in digital files, they can be transmitted across the internet, invisible solid objects transmitted from computer to computer. That may seem a little far-fetched but we are all now quite blasé about MRI scans that take pictures of our internal organs without the need to open us up. And we now know that 90% of the universe is made up of something called "dark matter" that we currently can't find. And as far back as the late 19th Century when chemists were constructing the periodic table, they accurately predicted the existence of elements still undiscovered but now found.

Science has therefore helped us to understand the existence of solid realities that do not conform to our ordinary understanding of reality. This, I think, helps us to get a better grasp of the Resurrection.

The Apostles clearly knew that Jesus had risen but his body was not the same as that which had been crucified; Thomas saw and touched the wounds, Jesus ate fish and honeycomb; but he had the ability to pass through solid objects. So he was recognisable by virtue of his voice and appearance but was not constituted of his former flesh and blood. And perhaps his insubstantial substance was a template of what we will be like when we are joined forever with God.

What is striking is that only a few weeks after the Resurrection Peter, addressing the Jerusalem crowd on the Feast of Pentecost in our First Reading, was in no doubt of what had happened. He was not a Greek philosopher nor a physicist and, as far as we know, he was not a mystic able to induce a state of trance in himself; he was a fisherman and he said that he had seen the risen Jesus who had been crucified.

On that first day of Resurrection, described in our Gospel Reading, poor Thomas was not so sure; and, frankly, I really don't blame him. It's a lot to take in, particularly after you have seen your Master die and have experienced the  remorse of cowardice. It wasn't just the incredible presence of Jesus that was re-affirmed but also the presence of his faultless, unfailing love.

Today we celebrate, on the Octave Day of Easter, that presence and that love; and we also celebrate the meaning of that presence and love for us in the promise of our own resurrection. In Chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians Paul could not be clearer: the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible.

It is a mystery to me why we find this idea so difficult to grapple with. WE seem to take the incarnation in our stride and we are ready enough to accept the crucifixion, whatever interpretation we put upon it, but we find it difficult, even when we accept the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus, to believe that it applies to us, to take it at face value. We are Easter people; this is why Jesus became incarnate; this is what we mean by his conquest of death; this is what Christianity is; without it, we might as well forget it. Nobody would make a fuss for 2000 years over the wise teachings and remarkable healings of a First Century Rabbi.

And because we can't bring ourselves to believe what Jesus promised and fulfilled for himself and what he has promised and will fulfil for us, we look for substitute concerns, largely focused on the concept of sin, and too often focused on the sin of others. We bemoan the numerical decline of Christianity in our country - which, sadly, is an indictment of the Holy Spirit - and, because we serve up a terribly degraded version of Christianity, we should not be surprised if the world out there is not interested. In their hearts, just about all people know that they make wrong choices, that they are selfish, that they commit acts which induce shame and guilt. We only have to look round the world to know what we have done and failed to do, not so much individually as collectively. And, therefore, when an enthusiastic but misled Christian tells the world how sinful it is, the natural reaction is "so, what's new?"

What is new to most people is the message of comfort and hope which the Resurrection has brought to the whole world. What that world wants from us is comfort but, above all else, it wants hope.

Perhaps we are too comfortable, perhaps life is so easy that we can't see the meaning of existence clearly enough; perhaps we are just too busy being busy; perhaps we are too busy to say our prayers and listen for the voice of God; but, one way or another, we don't have enough conviction of the profound goodness of the news which Jesus brought to go out and proclaim it. If the prospect of everlasting life with God is assured, why are we keeping it to ourselves?

I have seen such faith among the starving and desperate in many of the  poorest countries in the world, a faith which keeps people alive, which sustains them no matter how hard their lives; but most of us seem unable to sustain the Easter light represented by the new Paschal Candle. From which the only conclusion that I can safely draw is that if comfort is stopping us being the Easter children we ought to be, we better down-grade the comfort.