Sunday, April 20, 2008

Easter V: Show us the Father

"Show us the father and we shall be satisfied." This time it's Phillip who chimes in with Thomas.

Poor Jesus... once again confronted with the fact that his disciples, as much as they loved, respected, and trusted him, were absolutely clueless. These men lived with Jesus. They were privy to all his intimate/personal teachings. Unlike you or me who must do with a handful of stories and a smattering of sayings that are still being argued over and twisted in their original meaning... yet they still weren't quite sure of Who he was or what he was really talking about.

I've listened to people (who distinguish themselves as "Believers") speak with contempt and pity about the people who actually met Jesus in his lifetime and couldn't recognize the Son of God. Personally I bet it's easier to imagine the Divine Countenance than to be faced with someone who looks just like everyone else.

Our preacher this morning pointed out one of the Divine Mysteries that we are always faced with... division vs. unity. In the Book of Acts, Stephen announces that he sees the heavens opened and the Risen Christ "standing at the right hand of the Father". This proclamation gets him stoned to death. So in Stephen's vision Christ was standing. That's not what we proclaim in our creed. We say he's sitting. (Maybe he got tired by the time Constantine called the Bishops together in Nicaea.) Either way, we express a division. God has not received His Son back into His Eternal Glory... they are still somehow separate.

We humans understand separateness only too well. I have always thought this sense of separateness (otherness) to be a condition of the physical matter that makes up our created world. The sub-atomic levels of our existence may blip in and out of being, but we are trapped within the physical form. A chair is a chair, not a table, and I am me, not my sister or my child. Neither am I God, although a certain longing tells me I once was part of God.

"The purpose of our human pilgrimage" said our celebrant this morning, "is to bring us into the presence of God." I don't doubt that, but neither do I understand it. Just like Phillip saying: "Show us!" I also want to "see". He went on to expand on this thought by saying that the way of Christianity is not just a way of life. It's not just another way of life, but the way to life. We also hear that the way to life is through death. (Another Divine Mystery.)

If I were to preach on the story of Stephen's stoning, I would no doubt gloss over the part about him seeing the heavens opened, and focus instead on his last words before his own death: Do not hold this sin against them. That tells me more about his understanding of Jesus than any vision of heaven. This was real. His last breath closed the divisions between heaven and hell, between matter and spirit. That was when the heavens truly opened.

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