Easter 5 Year A
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
You may be experiencing a strong sense of having heard the gospel words before.
So, on your behalf, I looked up the hearing equivalent of déjà vu. It is … you guessed it: déjà entendu – literally “already heard”, and it’s defined as ‘the experience of feeling sure about having already heard something, even though the exact details are uncertain or were perhaps imagined.’
Perhaps I imagined I heard the first part of this gospel at mass on Friday.
Perhaps I imagined I heard the second part at mass yesterday.
Perhaps I imagined St Philip and St James were reciting this same gospel to us on Monday.
What I certainly am imagining is that we hear it on other Sundays in the 3-year cycle. We don’t, bar once.
So the frequency of it this past week suggests we need to be paying attention, and doing so now.
And I will say something on the gospel.
But in the interests of escaping that uncanny sense of déjà entendu, let me begin with a new world.
Indeed, the film entitled ‘The New World’, written and directed by Terrence Mallick.
This re-tells the story of Pocahontas, and has been praised as an “American foundation myth”, in which as viewers we are experiencing events which “seem to be happening for the first time”. Captain John Smith comes ashore in this new world and it is as if we have never heard waves lapping a shore before, or seen sunlight dappling through forest leaves. Placing a footprint on firm ground feels like a world-changing first.
Such is Terrence Mallick’s cinematographic skill – a poet’s skill.
Our Mattins OT reading of Noah brought this to mind.
“God said to Noah, ‘Go out of the ark … . Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh … so that they may abound on the earth and be fruitful and multiply on the earth. … So Noah went out”.
He placed his foot on the ground, the world where no living creature was.
It’s actually a fearful scene in the scriptures, for the world is made new by the cleansing waters of death – all else have drowned.
It is both terrifying and carries breath-taking simplicity and freshness.
When Stephen the Deacon is on the edge of martyrdom he gazes into heaven and sees something new: something awe-inspiring and perfect,
the glory of God … and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
Glory encompassed in and expressed by one man: infinite, pure, and an oikumene, a world for human living, this new world of God.
“Look,” he says, “I see the heavens opened,” and they stone him.
He belongs now, not there, but in this new world.
And in today’s gospel – these well-trodden words – we hear Jesus saying,
“No one comes to the Father except through me”:
words which Philip and James heard, and they lived by what they heard;
words we may believe the gospel writer heard
and pondered, through a long life, bringing their fruit of this good news to us.
And is it good news?
Is the doctrine of Christ a gate to the sheepfold, or a barrier?
How are we to take: “No one comes … except through me”?
You may be relieved that I am not intending a doctrinal argument at this point,
but rather to say again that the glory of God is known in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the pioneering inhabitant of the new world.
So, looking to Him, we know our way there
is not the way of legal scrupulosity, reserved for the good.
Our way there is not on the coat-tails of an elitist hierarchy, so that we enter under sufferance.
Our way to this world made new is by Jesus: – by one whose life is not marked by success as we know it,
one who does not put priority on succeeding in any worldly terms,
one who humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death,
one who hasn’t sought more of wealth, or opportunity, or length of life,
but who has stayed with us, abided with us, in our day-to-day needs,
as he did with his disciples, even into that Upper Room,
one who would endure the cross, making light of its shame,
and one who it proved would not be held by death,
one for whom such a basic fact of our everyday world could not define or determine him.
“No one comes to the Father except through me.”
It is a perception of human life destined for glory, discovered in humility and trust and generosity, not ended or defined by death,
where what is most simple, most common
and what is breath-taking and beyond our hopeful imagining
come in one and the same way:
the form of a human being as God has made us to be.
And this 14th chapter of John’s gospel acts as a fanfare trumpet,
heralding the Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Trinity.
It is an intensification of liturgical time,
telling of this new humanity for a new world:
human beings in Christ, the Church in Christ.
I conclude with one look at yesterday’s liturgy in the Abbey:
a rod with a dove, an orb with a cross, a crown with fleur-de-lis,
a King anointed in a simple shift,
a nation recognising its King,
a King pledged to the service of his people, according to law and with mercy: –
all this is to employ the things of earth as reminder to behold who and what opens heaven and
a reminder of Easter in ordinary.
We have entered a new reign as a nation:
we can make it, if we choose to do so,
a reminder of that first fresh step onto new ground.
The step that is not only Noah’s,
not only the new dawn of Easter Day,
but which comes in the midst of our every day.
as we look to the Son:
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Amen.