The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s106g12  Third Sunday of Easter  22/4/2012

‘Touch me and see’   Luke 24.39

John, in the epistle reading, exhorts us to not love the world, yet the risen Jesus invites us to touch and see.   The incarnation didn't cease with Jesus' death.  The risen Jesus is as firmly grounded in earthly reality as before.   Our faith is not blind acceptance in an other-worldly phantasm, it is as tangible and real as physical intimacy.   Indeed we are not expected to believe without touching and seeing.  The real scandal was the incarnation itself and the reason for having Jesus killed was to kill incarnation itself.   So the resurrection is the restoration of incarnation, the victory of incarnation over death.

Recently someone posted the saying on Facebook: 'Hugging is good medicine.   It transfers energy and gives the person hugged an emotional lift.   You need four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance, and twelve for growth.   Scientists say that hugging is a form of communication because it can say things you don’t have the words for.   And the nicest thing about a hug is that you usually can’t give one without getting one.'  One original is at:   Surely Jesus would agree!

So some of the 'things of the world' are good and some are not.   When I look at John's definition of the things of the world that are not good: 'the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches -- comes not from the Father but from the world' I think of the desire to possess and become rich.   But the hugs described above are mutual things - each benefits.   No-one possesses the other.  No one benefits at the expense of the other.

I have been reflecting on 'spirituality' and how this is related to relationship.   Spirituality is not about intellectual belief but about touch.   Ours is not a faith in a whole set of religious propositions.   Jesus invites us to touch and see.   We are to know one another intimately, and we all know how growth comes through intimacy.   We are helped to discover who we actually are by our relationship with others.   But when I talk about relationship, I need to make it clear that the master - servant relationship is not what I'd include.   The servant knows his or her proper place!   They are impeded from becoming everything they could possibly be, through their subservience.   The one benefits at the expense of the other.   The last thing the master in such a relationship would ask of the servant, would be to touch and see, for this implies human equality.   One 'possesses' the other.  

It is instructive that we speak of 'demon possession'.   It is interesting to me to ponder how those with mental illness are less able to control their emotions and those with religious delusions also have experiences that are compelling rather than chosen.   This flows on to those with supposedly no delusions who still believe they are impelled by scripture, tradition or whatever.

Freedom, health, equality and community are inextricably linked.   And we have to ask how the church of which we are a part fosters freedom, health, equality and community, or how it hinders these things.   Are we mainly concerned how many supporters we 'have'?   Who are Anglicans rather than Catholics ..?   Such considerations are entirely inimical to the fostering of spirituality, freedom, health, equality and community.   They are inimical to eternal life, here and now, and if being a possession of this or that church is what the bulk of society is rejecting when they reject the church, then I can only applaud.

'Touch me and see' is the invitation to incarnation for the incarnation is the divine touching humanity and seeing our condition.   The incarnation bridges the inequality; there is no longer sacred and secular, the divine and the human.   No longer do we look beyond ourselves to see the divine.   'Touch me and see' is the invitation to reciprocate the incarnation, but not to reach up but to reach across, as Jesus reached across the religious divide.

The risen Jesus bore the scars of life and death.   The risen Jesus comes to us, not as a miraculously healed victor over death but with the battle scars present still, unhealed.   If the disciples did touch him, they would have got blood on their hands.   This would of course incur ritual impurity.

And if comes to me that ‘spirituality’ is really all about connection.   I have sometimes said that there are some mothers who are content when they have a baby at their breast, some people who are just so content when they are in a garden, others when they are grooming a horse.   There is a spirituality of the surfer, the motorcyclist, the artist, the musician.   All of these spiritualities are about connection.   Sometimes the connection is more ethereal than others, but it is a connection none the less.   Jesus invitation to ‘touch and see’ is an invitation to connection and to ‘see’; to feel the importance.   And, of course, the times when we are intimate with another is a prime example of the importance of connection, of touching and seeing.   Of touching and seeing the divine - in the ordinary, in the wounded, in flesh and blood, in the unclean.

And spirituality, being about connection, is all about communion, not primarily of communion with God for that only comes with our communion with others.   Our communion of equals around a common table is all about connection.

Recently I attended a mid-week service – it was from the 1662 prayer book.   While I have my difficulties with the lack of gender sensitivity, I guess I can let it happen around me and get on with my own thoughts and prayers.   But I was thinking about the words, the selfishness of which is masked by the fact that we admit we are praying for the baptised communicant Anglicans ‘here present’, not just my own self.   It sounds like selfishness still, only writ large, group selfishness, not in essence any different from the motivation of the Mafia, only we have the more powerful threat of eternal damnation to wield.

So when people say things like spirituality is important to them, it is, I suspect this connection that is important.  Somehow we are not alone.   And my role as the chaplain is to be someone with whom others can connect.   For it is these connections, in our children and family, to a garden, an animal, the creation, an object, a piece of music, our times of intimacy, that people feel uplifted, valued and valuable.

I am constantly astonished how people, most of whom would not call themselves ‘religious’ invite me into their room and their life.   At the very time when they are not at their best, in pyjamas or hospital gown rather than Sunday best, in a strange place where our natural feelings of privacy are invaded, sometimes welcomed but often dreaded, people welcome another stranger into their midst.   And I do not know why it is important to them and I certainly can’t quantify ‘the good’ I do, but the connection is made.   I attempt to make them feel uplifted, valued and valuable.

In another context I have been looking at prayers of other faith traditions and was reading some Buddhist prayers.   And I was reminded how they emphasise the connections we all have to every other sentient being.   There seems something particularly wholesome as we perceive the truth of this perception.

And the story of the woman who tried to surreptitiously touch Jesus and was healed tells us that each is aware of the connection being made, of the other being made whole.

'Touch me and see' is an invitation to enjoy life in all it's fullness, to appreciate the beauty all around us and the beauty of our own bodies.   Or in the words of Bishop John Spong who invites us to "live our lives fully, love wastefully and become everything God created us to be."

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