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

s163g10  Fifth Sunday of Easter  2/5/2010

'Where I am going, you cannot come.'   John 13.33

As I have been reflecting this Easter season, it has come to me how ethereal the resurrection experiences were.   The risen Christ flits hither and yon, certainly not at the direction of any of the disciples, in places where they least expected to meet him.

While the risen Jesus was met ever so briefly near Jerusalem, it was really only to get the message across that he was going before them to Galilee – and there is the quite definite expectation that they were to follow, to go to Galilee to look and find him there.  Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room, but they are told to go – elsewhere.   It wasn't specified where they were to go.   It didn't really matter, as long as they didn't stay stationery, they didn't stay in Jerusalem.   Jesus comes to the disciples after they had left Jerusalem to return to Galilee to go fishing, to the two as they journey away from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  

And as I thought about this it came to me that other significant things happened to people as they journeyed away from Jerusalem.   There was the story that Jesus told of the Jew on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho, the one who fell among thieves.   But he wasn't the only one on that path.   There were also the priest and the Levite travelling the same road, and, confronted with their fellow countryman lying injured on the road, passed by on the other side.   They met the King, but in terms of Matthew 23, they didn't recognise the King, lying there on the road in a pool of blood.   Help came to the injured Jew, the King in need, from someone who could not be expected to recognise the King, a heretic and a foreigner.   And we might also conclude that the Jew who was attacked by the brigands, met the Christ too, as he travelled away from Jerusalem in the most unlikely of persons – the despised foreigner who came to his aid.

Another person met the risen Christ on his way away from Jerusalem on the road to Damascus, and that, of course, was Saul.   He 'met' the risen Christ in the persons he was going to persecute.

Acts tells us that the eunuch from Ethiopia was also travelling away from Jerusalem – travelling back home, where he was met by Philip, and in Philip, the risen Christ.   As I read the account of their meeting the other evening, I thought, here was a deformed foreigner leaving after being excluded from the Temple, continuing to seek the Lord by reading the scriptures of the very people who had excluded him!   The words he was reading were 'like a lamb who was lead to the slaughter ..'    He asks Philip who was this person, Isaiah or someone else.   Philip is said to have talked about the Christ, but no doubt the eunuch would have felt as despised and outcast as Jesus.   He met the risen Christ in Philip, and he met the risen Christ in himself.

We meet the risen Christ away from Jerusalem, away from our sacred space, in the people we meet – if (of course) we are looking.  And the people we meet, meet the risen Christ in us – if (of course) we intend for them so to do.   Time and again those who had walked with Jesus for the years of his ministry completely failed to recognise the risen Christ before them.   And we who have worshipped the risen Christ all our lives, the ones who claim this special and personal relationship with him, are as likely to miss him as well, for he is in others who are not so 'privileged' as ourselves in the divine relationship stakes.

Which brings my thoughts to the tower of Babel, that ancient attempt to attain the heights of heaven that the apple Adam ate promised.  How strange that Western folk law says that Yuri Gagarin who became the first man to travel into space on 12 April 1961 said "I don't see any God up here."  (No such words appear in the verbatim record of Gagarin's conversations with the Earth during the space-flight – Wikipedia)   God never has been 'up there', and it is not our job to attain the heights of heaven.   The constant command has been to love our neighbour, whoever he or she might be.   And the confusion of languages means that we have to listen to our neighbour and learn his or her language, not expect others to join us in a fruitless 'wild goose chase' for God somewhere else, where God isn't.   God never has been anywhere else, and therefore doesn't want us to try.

To return to my first statement: 'how ethereal the resurrection experiences were'.   If the primary purpose of our Lord was to get everyone to believe in the resurrection, then it seems we could do with a little more help from the risen Jesus in this task!   If the primary purpose of the resurrection was to get everyone to believe it, then why on earth doesn't Jesus appear to one and all in Damascus road type experiences each and every day?   Not just our friends and neighbours, but people of all nations, cultures, and creeds.   Then they would have no excuse for their recalcitrance in accepting the faith!  

But the risen Jesus excuses people for their recalcitrance, their denial, their doubts and hesitations, their failure to recognise, their complete misunderstanding.   This is the constant witness of all of the resurrection experiences.   The very paucity of resurrection experiences shows me that my belief in the bodily resurrection is of secondary importance to doing what Jesus says, not trying to go where Jesus went in terms of some personal corporal identification, but meeting the risen Christ in others along the road, in the real world, as I travel away from the sanctuary I have constructed – the safe haven I have built for me and my god.  

We can use our religion, our church or indeed our friends and family to avoid moving.   We can avoid moving theologically as well as physically - as we expect others to save us from having to make hard decisions, like moving into supported accommodation.   In my sermon for two weeks ago, I spoke about the difficulty of deciding to leave the family home after many years, but also of the blessings of making such a move.  

‘Where I am going you cannot come’.  We are not to follow Jesus in that physical death and resurrection, we are not to attempt to follow Jesus into heaven - whatever we conceive this to be.   Twice Jesus said this to his disciples, here and just afterwards he repeated it to Peter, before predicting Peter’s denial.   And immediately he goes on to talk about us loving one another.   While Jesus might be with us always, this doesn’t mean we can dismiss others as irrelevant, expendable, or unworthy.   Jesus is with us - to embrace others that might be considered irrelevant, expendable or unworthy.   In is in precisely these others that we will find the risen Christ, and come to really know that he is with us, to the close of the age.

Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"