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The Seen and the Unseen

Three Reflections - Andrew Gardner, 15 April 2012

Darkness and Light - 1 John 1 to 2:2

What do we mean by darkness? As a child becoming interested in physics, my father asked me: “What does it take to create a shadow?” The answer is light, for without light, shadow cannot exist. I was reminded of this when working on a production of ‘Peter Pan’ – when Peter first met Wendy his shadow had become detached, and the kind-hearted Wendy sewed it back on for him. He needed the darkness as well as the light, and with one missing he was paralysed. We each have our dark and light sides, and it is important to be in touch with both of them, and not deny them.

“Darkness” is used in scripture to encompass sin, emptiness and hollowness, a detachment from God. It contains a lot of pain, physical and psychological. “Darkness” is used too in secular poetry to denote loneliness and depression – which are difficult to cope with when one is secular, more so when one is of faith.

John’s gospel gives us hope. He tells us of communion with each other, and of our individual relationship with our Saviour.

 

Before and After - John 20 v 19-31

Jumping the centuries a little, Pink Floyd sang, “Ticking away, the moments that make up a dull day; we fritter away the hours in an off-hand way”. I imagine Thomas felt empty and hollow in the days after the resurrection, not believing for a moment that the teacher he had placed such faith in might see him again. Scripture holds tales of many miracles, but having seen your guiding light crucified, would you have not doubted? Thomas did, and his name has since been much abused. Historians ought to cherish him, for he wished to have evidence of truth before giving testimony. Thanks to his wariness of being deceived, we have one of the strongest testimonies of all in the New Testament.

 

Disunity and Unity - Isaiah 65: 17-25

The major and minor prophets in scripture write of Babylonian captivity and separation; of dispersal; and division. The Sephardim travelled from North Africa to Spain and Portugal; and the Ashkenazim found their pale of settlement in Eastern Europe. Some would later reach England and the Americas. Many would, later, reach unity only in death, and we will think more of that next Sunday, following Holocaust Memorial Day.

Within church we mark unity with communion, in a building of our own, where once we would have celebrated privately and secretly in each others’ homes. Our pre-Constantine ethos of self-governance continues: if I were to sum up non-conformism in eight words, they would be “You do not have to agree with me”. In non-conformism we are not bound by the strictures of Canterbury, or York, or Rome. We talk to each other, encouraging questioning of doctrine, and supporting and encouraging each other in our interpretations of scripture. We might go on to reach the same conclusions, but we find our own paths as we are ready. What we have is a shared faith that over-rides differences that may sometimes come between us.


Meditations on the Seen and Unseen - Graham White, 15 April 2012

I John 1:1 - 2:2 We are told to walk in the light"; be aware, that is, of where we are going. But we can all see, surely? And even if we are blind, we can compensate: we can come to know where we are going by other means. Is this not obvious?

But this walking in the light is metaphorical: we are talking about our life before God, and talking of whether we know where we are going in that sense. Whether we can see what is in front of our moral or spiritual eyes: whether we can see reliably what is in front of us, whether we want to, whether we can see the people in front of us { their needs, joys and sorrows, that they are all loved by God - and whether we can see that God is with us. Whether, indeed, we want to see.

 

John 20:19- 31 Whoever wrote these words could, he says, have gone on for much longer: there is far more to be said. Maybe so: but what is written here is what is essential, essential, that is, for our new life as disciples of Jesus. And it seems an odd mixture: one story of empowerment, one story about, it might seem, lack of faith. But in the context of the first reading Thomas had at least got one thing right: he wanted to see. And Jesus reveals himself to Thomas, with the reservation that those who haven't seen (but who believe) are blessed (more blessed than Thomas? Who knows: Thomas was, at least, blessed in that he had seen the risen Jesus).

But the disciples (and, by extension, Thomas) have also been tremendously empowered: they can forgive and retain sins, and they also have life in Jesus' name. As I've said, an odd mixture: we should probably not divide up the disciples into good disciples and bad disciples, and we should probably not simplify matters by turning this into a story about two stages of life (the doubting, pre-conversion life and the believing, post-conversion life); all of our lives are made of this strange mixture.

 

Isaiah 65:17- 25 There is something rather paradoxical about the statement in the first reading: “I am writing these things so that you do not sin. But if anyone does sin . . . ". So this letter has a purpose, but the author is tacitly admitting that this purpose will not be fulfilled. We should remember this: we are told throughout the bible to aim for peace and unity, and we read a good deal of stuff about how empowered we are, but we should not forget how difficult this is. It is not something that we can just do: peace and unity are described as simply miraculous in Isaiah. Rather, the sort of peace and unity that is described here is something which will always be frustrated by what the Bible calls sin, which does not mean simple naughtiness, but rather separation from God, blindness, being unable to go ahead with the opportunities that God offers us. So there is some point, after all, to this letter, failure though it may be: the Christian life is a life of perpetually reminding each other, and ourselves, what we are called to.