Sunday 24th April 2016
The Fifth Sunday of Easter
St John The Baptist, Clayton
BCP Evensong
Daniel 6.1-23
Mark 15.46-16.8

Christ is risen!

Is it possible that there is life like ours on another planet? Is it possible that our planet will one day be destroyed by a comet? Is it possible that Donald Trump will be President of the United States? Is it possible that Leicester City will win the Premiership?

Every day the media bombards us with frightening glimpses of the possible because it knows that our greatest addiction is not to alcohol or drugs but to fear. We simply can't get enough of it which explains, incidentally, why the two sides in the EU Referendum campaign never argue rationally with each other but simply accuse their opponents of scaremongering.

The key to all those questions is the case of Leicester City which started the 2015-16 football season on 5000 to 1 odds to win the Premiership whereas today no bookie would offer you as much as five to one. As circumstances change the odds or, to use a scientific term, the probability, changes. So a good question about any situation is: how likely is it, in statistical terms, that we will find life like ours on another planet, or that we will be destroyed by a comet, or that Donald Trump will be President. If we were to distinguish carefully between probability and possibility and to say that no news was worth reporting unless its probability was even one in 20, there would be very little news. And the bigger the issue the less likely we are to produce an accurate probability ratio: 5000 to one might look pretty vague on Leicester City's chances but it was a good deal more precise than any probability of our being destroyed by a comet or finding life like ours on another planet which puts our Readings into some perspective: sitting in front of the lion's den at sunset, what odds would we have got on Daniel emerging unharmed the next morning? And what odds would we have got on Good Friday afternoon of Jesus rising again on Sunday morning?

Perhaps a little surprisingly, I think that a good bookie who had examined all the evidence - and whoever has seen a poor bookie? - would have given you pretty good odds on both. In the first instance, by the time we reach Chapter Six of the Book of Daniel, we have already seen how Daniel has miraculously escaped the wrath of the Emperor stirred up by his political rivals and how his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego have even escaped death in the fiery furnace and there were no doubt other similar stories doing the rounds, so a den of lions was never going to be all that troublesome.

As for the odds on good Friday afternoon, the Gospels only give us a fragment of the teaching of Jesus, probably quite repetitive, which included clear statements that his physical death would be a beginning, not an end, that he would rise again! All the bookies would have to consider was the question of how likely Jesus and His Father/God were to keep their promises. Pretty likely, I would have thought and certainly more likely than Leicester winning the Premiership at 5000 to one.

Put this way, seeing Scriptural events in ordinary, human terms, shows them to a considerable advantage and so we should not fall into the usual trap of allowing people to compare the near statistical certainty of small scientific things happening with the supposedly less certain possibilities of big Christian things happening; there are big scientific uncertainties and small Christian certainties that would make the scientific probabilities come out unfavourably; but that's not the point.

The key message to emerge from all of this is that we are in a better position than the supposed bookie sitting outside the lions' den or the tomb in which Jesus had just been laid. We know that God keeps 'His' promises, whether it is his promise to Daniel or the promise of Jesus to his followers. And that is why Easter is such a time of celebration for us or, at least, should be but all too often we have donned the sceptical mantle of the sceptical world so that we are not quite sure in our own minds of this good news of Easter. We are somehow more comfortable with the terror of the Crucifixion than we are with the wonder of the Resurrection but, as Saint Paul says, without the Resurrection Christianity is nothing. And here's our problem: we simply think that the promise to us, through the Resurrection, that death has been overcome, seems too good to be true; it's one promise too far.

And so, in conclusion, let's go back for a moment to our statistical discussion. If you were asked to estimate compliance by a man who had always kept his promise against a man who had never exactly broken a promise but never exactly kept one, which would you take? The first man is Jesus, the second man is the man of the world who ducks and weaves, never quite doing what he promises but never quite failing to do it. We live in a world of equivocation but it is absolutely vital that we don't transfer our necessary caution about the world to our attitude to God. Many preachers will say to you that doubt is a necessary part of faith but I think that that is just a bit lazy and glib; of course we will never know precisely why and how God lovingly got us to where we are in our relationship with 'Him' but there can be no doubt about the substance, the WHAT rather than the why and the how but, then, I don't know how electricity works but I firmly believe that when I press a switch the light will come on.

Rejoice, then, and be glad. The women in Mark's Gospel had good reason to be frightened, it's a proper human reaction, be we have had 2000 years to reflect on what happened on that morning!

Christ is risen!