Frances writes on next Sunday’s readings :- I suppose when we actually stop to think about it, not only do we in the modern age find the idea of Christ’s resurrection from the dead extraordinary, many would dismiss it out of hand. Even Christians frequently do this. Ok, we celebrate it at Easter, but as it’s all vaguely wrapped up with eggs and bunnies, its real impact is largely lost on us. Yet for the earliest Christians, as we see in 1 Corinthians (15:1-11) this was the centre, the crux of the argument for the divinity of Jesus the Son of God. I suspect that part of the difficulty also lies with the Christian claim that his resurrection vindicates his death and wipes out sin. A sceptical world loves to hang onto sin.
Everyone knew in ancient times that death was inevitable and that that was the end – finished. Yet the Christian claim of Our Lord’s post mortem bodily existence was the thing about his story which made the difference, compelling belief in some, whilst arousing contempt in others. Our gospels all make very clear that the disciples fled to a man at the crucifixion and thought the entire ‘Christian’ project over. It was what happened subsequently that made the difference, and here in 1 Corinthians Paul recounts the numerous occasions in which the risen Jesus appeared to different groups of believers, confirming them in the faith and fitting them for the task of taking his good news out to the whole world. It was his resurrection that distinguished and confirmed that his teaching and healing ministry actually was the work of the One, true God; and definitively separated Jesus from healers and prophets of previous generations. Quite clearly, the actual experiencing of such an astounding event was like no other. The recipient of this ‘grace’ was marked for life and could not possibly turn back, as we witness in the life and mission of the redeemed St Paul. These occasions were truly life-reforming, turning people in a totally different direction, so different, that they became the hallmark of the Christian movement which they in their turn took out all over the Mediterranean and beyond.
We too then are heirs of the resurrection of Christ from the dead to life, total life now and forever with the Father. It is his resurrection which affirms that he can and does do all he claims for us and for the whole world, wiping out sin and all that gets in the way of our having any relationship with God the Father. Many of us live in a state of continual denial about our personal sins, or become so attached to them that we cannot let them go. Many will say that the rotten state of our world is just the way it is, and that no one can possibly make it any better. True, some good and rich men may try to make a difference, but these are only ever pin-pricks in the over-all highly flawed world, as witnessed to by so-called Islamic State; poverty; injustice and disease. Yet the Christian belief in humanity maintains its fundamentally optimistic stance. True, we do not do complacency or silly acceptance, we face the fact that our world has gone tragically astray and that it can only change fundamentally by God’s grace. That grace is of course not fatalism, for, as with Jesus, it requires his followers to act to bring the world into conformity with his love and grace and compassion.
Our reading from Isaiah (6:1-8) speaks to just such a moment in the 8th century BC when the Northern Kingdom, Samaria fell to the ravages of the Assyrian invaders from what is now north-Eastern Iraq. First Isaiah lived, and died a martyr to the chaos of his time, and recognised that someone needed to speak out God’s message of love and salvation amidst the despair and frenzy that gripped the nation. It was the right time for a truly sacrificial self-offering, and Isaiah was able and willing to make this gesture, well aware that most people would completely misunderstand it. I dare say he would be amazed to think that nearly 3,000 years on wholly different groups of people would read his words, finding within them a message of hope in a darkening world and see his faith in God vindicated.
A few weeks ago our gospel was John’s account of the wedding at Cana, the kick-off point in the Fourth Gospel for Jesus’ ministry and his account of an overflowing abundance of wine – God’s party, everything of the best. In our gospel from Luke, (5:1-11) we find a parallel miracle with the miraculous and potentially wreck-forming abundance of fish, and Jesus announcement that from now on ‘It is men you will catch’. Clearly, where God gives, he gives in overwhelming abundance. Our problem is that as sceptics we think on too small a scale, reducing things down to our small-minded and meagre proportions. Perhaps then, just as with the resurrection of Jesus; our thinking is all too small and contained. It is not God who has changed, but our vision of his power and potential. Only when we look at the world through different eyes will we find the vision to see his redeeming grace shining through the dark in which we invest so much time and effort.