Sunday, 3 April 2016

Taste and see

"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." (John 20:25)

Was Thomas the Twin temperamentally unwilling to rely on what others told him? A natural skeptic? Or did he learn confidence to seek the truth and test the reported evidence from being with Jesus, who encouraged others to find out and decide for themselves?

"If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I in the Father."  (John 10:36-38)

It is all too easy to regard the doubt of Thomas as a weakness, a failure to take anything on trust, but it for him to want to see Jesus again and look at the wounds inflicted on him was an act of courage in seeking the truth of what had happened.

When the imprisoned John the Baptist sends a message to Jesus to ask if he is the promised Messiah, he received this reply;

"Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor." (Luke 7:22) 

John's messengers are invited to consider the evidence and make their own decision on what to report. 

Belief in God and God's saving works must be based on what rings true in our understanding and experience. This enables us to go beyond what is knowable and enter into a relationship of trust in God's love and providence knowing that we have a secure foundation. 

'Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.' (Hebrews 11:1)

'So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.' (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Faith develops by living with an attitude of trust in God above all else, something that prayer nurtures, as we review the whole of our experience in God's presence, express our gratitude and offer up all our concerns to the Author of our existence.

'Cast all your cares on him, because he cares for you.' (1 Peter 5:7)

The reality of these statements can be put to the test through desire and determination to 

'Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing'  (1 Thessalonians 5:17) 

'Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who trust in him.' (Psalm 34:8)

Saturday, 2 April 2016

With us always

The experience of being with the resurrected Jesus changed the disciples utterly. Their fearfulness and lack of understanding about Jesus and the depths of his message was transformed into a confident grasp of the truth and an ability to express themselves in a way that astonished others, given they were uneducated peasants without social sophistication. 

They were men and women who learned by being with Jesus and doing things with him. Learning happens with and without the benefit of structured or designed schemes, in every area of life. Learning a spiritual path relies only on being accompanied by another person. They may have wisdom and understanding to share, but they too may have much to share with others, and will learn more, simply by having to 

'... give an account of the hope that is in you.' (1 Peter 3:15) 

Jesus sends out his disciples to continue proclaiming the Good News to all creation (Mark 16:15), and the more they tell others what they know, the more they will learn and deepen their understanding. He remains present with them always, in and through the relationships they have and the relationships they make, with others and with God in prayer. The love they share is love God continues to pour into the world, through Jesus, through the ages. His passage from the realms of time and place remains an incomprehensible mystery, yet the experience of his living presence with us always has never gone away. Our lack of awareness, our self absorption is what blinds us to greater reality.

No matter how we bring ourselves to stillness and seek to open our hearts to God in prayer, the sense of his love enfolding us will return, heal and restore us, in a way that God alone knows best meets our true need. Sometimes, when we find it desperately hard start praying, it can be enough to be in a place where other people are praying, alone or together. God never leaves us without witnesses to his presence. The love their devotion releases can reach out and touch us, and inspire us to pray despite our weakness and failure to persist.

"Wherever two are three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20)

Friday, 1 April 2016


The disciples of Jesus returned to Galilee, to a place of safety away from the controversy surrounding his death, just as he had told them, and returned to work as fishermen, with no idea of what the future would hold for them. He comes to meet them at work, and at first they do not recognise him in the early light of day, but they hear his voice across the water, suggesting to them where their efforts at catching fish might be fruitful. Perhaps because this is not the first time he has made this kind of intervention, Peter realises it's not any bystander calling out advice, but the Lord. They trust and act upon the advice and yield an impressive catch. When they come ashore, they find he has prepared a meal for them.

In Jerusalem he came to them when they were hiding behind locked doors, but here he comes to them in the open, where they live and work. The experience of meeting the risen Jesus is not restricted to one kind of place or another. It can happen while blessing God for their bread, while talking about life as his disciples, in places of work, in places of sorrow and joy. And when he finally takes his leave he says:

"Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the ages."   (Matthew 28:20)

The importance of remembering, and especially remembering and praising the works of God as part of the story people tell about themselves is deeply embedded in Hebrew spirituality:

'O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make know his deeds to all the peoples.
Sing praises to him sing praises, tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name, let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles and the judgements he uttered.'
(Psalm 105:1-5)

St Paul recalls being told of all the appearances of the risen Jesus

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles." (1 Cor 15:1-7)

He doesn't elaborate on any of them, however, apart from that of his own conversion 

"Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me" (1 Cor 15:8)

His story appears twice in the Acts of the Apostles, once as narrative (Acts 9:1-30), then in his own voice as personal testimony (Acts 22:1-16), and again in Galatians 1:11-16. 

"I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being."  

Paul's story gets so much coverage not just because he is such a key figure in the emergence of the Gospel of Christ as Good News for the whole world, but because his encounter with the risen Jesus comes despite his rejection of the story proclaimed by the Apostles. There are instances of early public preaching meeting a response, with many being converted at one time, where the revelation follows the hearing of the message. As Paul himself asserts.

'So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.'  (Romans 10:17)

Paul's experience causes him to reassess what he had rejected. He has to re-interpret his own Jewish faith anew before he has anything to say to the world. This is decisive for the development of Christianity, and apart from the opening chapter of the book of Revelation where John the Divine speaks of hearing and seeing the risen Lord, there is little else to compare with it in the New Testament. Yet, such unbidden experiences have continued to shape the life of some Christian converts down the centuries since.

One may pray for a lifetime and never have such a life changing decisive experience. It is given by God where it is most needed, so it is not necessary to crave for it or to seek it in order to grow in faith. Those to whom such experience is not given need only to learn how to follow, just like the rest of the disciples, trusting and obeying the message received and understood.