This pattern of reflection is designed to encourage us to deepen our understanding of what it means to be an Easter people.
- What have you had enough of at the moment?
- Read this week’s passage.
- Keep a few moments of silence
- Read the passage through a second time
- What word or phrase strikes you or stands out for you?
- Read the passage a third time
- Think about what that phrase might mean to you and what questions it raises.
John 21: 20-25
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ So the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’
This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
Whilst the Master was preparing for his final victory, Martha Jones prepares for the most unlikely of fight backs. Travelling around a war-torn earth she spreads a story of hope and liberation and links that promise to one word, “Doctor”. At a preordained moment the collective hope of the people of earth is directed on that one word and name providing the needed psychic energy for the Doctor to regain his power, to throw off his chains, and defeat the unsuspecting Master.
Fantastical stuff which you either like or you don’t, but like much great fantasy writing Doctor Who draws on deep themes in our own belief and self-understanding in its story telling. In this case that sometimes there is a truth deep, so powerful, so abiding, that nothing can overcome it. Another genius of fantasy writing C.S. Lewis, in his Chronicles of Narnia, described this abiding and enduring truth “deep magic”.
Our gospel reading today is a strange reading which has, in the past, be prone to fantastical readings and interpretations. These final few verses of John’s gospel very rarely find their way into our public worship. In some ways they act as a final coda to the Gospel, mopping up a final few details in the story. They also carry with them a few red-herrings which have led to their own fantastical interpretations over time. Such as the belief that John never died, but remains alive and hidden waiting for the second coming. A view common in, amongst others, Mormon teaching. But such red-herrings miss the point of these final few verses.
This coda to John’s gospel points to a deep truth that runs through all of John’s gospel. The heart of this is the final verse itself:
But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
This verse points us to the oblique meaning of this short passage, that the truth of the resurrection, the truth of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ is not containable or controllable. The Word who, as we hear in the opening lines of this Gospel, becomes flesh and lives among us, is the same Word through which all things came into being. That the Word, God in Jesus, reveals a truth not just present here and now, but which echoes through all time and eternity.
Over the last few weeks of this lock-down there has been a tendency of some to comment on where the Church has not been. The Church has not been in our buildings – sometimes because of government regulation and sometimes because of our bishops’ interpretation of those regulations. The Church, it is said, has not been giving shape to the national debate. The Church, it is said, has hidden itself from view. My concern with this view is not whether this is true or not, but rather whether this view misses the deeper and more abiding truth of what has been happening over the last few weeks.
A recent survey found that one in four people has attended a church service online over the last two months; a similar number of people said that they were praying regularly through the crisis, and one in twenty people said they were praying for the first time having never prayed before. My own experience of speaking regularly to people on the phone is that we have established a deeper and more regular pattern of shared prayer for one another and for our communities than existed before.
Like with so many of these things it is hard, and probably too soon, to draw conclusions of what is happening. But one thing for me seems to ring true, even if some think the Church has retreated the deep truth and hope of the resurrection has not.
This coming week we will mark the Feast of the Ascension; that day when forty days after Easter Jesus revealed his glory in his ascension into heaven. Through that feast, and the days of prayer that follow it, we will wait for the culmination of our Easter observance as we prepare for the day of Pentecost. As we do this, we will be reminded that God’s grace and truth is not something which can be contained or controlled. God’s grace in Jesus is, as C.S. Lewis described Aslan, a wild animal that cannot be tamed.
Through this strange season we are living through we might have lost sight, for a time, of the ways we might expect God to be visible in our world, but that is not to say that God’s resurrected power is not moving among us – far from it. When we eventually come to reflect on this time and write its history I believe that we will find that God has been amongst us and working through us in more surprising ways than we can imagine or see at this time. And that as we seek to account for these, all of the books in the world will not be able to contain the acts of grace and hope and comfort that have defined our shared life during this strange season.
- What has surprised you in a good way over the last few months?
- Have you found God in these surprises; if so how?
- What of those unexpected things should we look to hold on to into the future?
- You might like to gather this time of personal or collective reflection in prayer by saying the prayer for the Parishes by the Wall or your own prayers.
- We finish by saying the Lord’s Prayer