Sunday, 4 April 2010

Easter Sunday, Shaftesbury

Jn 20:1-9; Acts 10:34-43
Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. I want today to say a few words about an aspect of the relationship between the seeing and believing.
We just heard the account where it records how St John, the beloved disciple, went into the empty tomb, “He saw and he believed”(Jn 20:8). What he saw enabled him to believe.

Now I am a scientist by background: I got a degree in mathematical physics before I finally responded to my vocation and went off to train to be a priest. And I still largely look at the world as a scientist: a scientist deals primarily with what he sees, with what he can measure, and with the repeatable testable phenomena that he can analyse to compare theory with measured fact. For a scientist, the phrase “He saw and he believed” can seem quite scientific.

But what I have gradually come to realise, at a deeper and deeper level, is that there are many truths that I don't know because I myself have seen them and measured them, but they are true even though I myself have not seen them and have not measured them. This sort of truth I have to know by a different process: I have to know it by trusting the testimony of another witness.
For example, when I was talking to my sister on the phone she told me that my niece can walk now, but I had not seen this myself, I only knew this because I trust the testimony of my sister. And it would be a foolish sort of narrow-mindedness that said I would only believe things that I have seen myself -I would end up not knowing many truths that I otherwise could know.

The truths that we know by faith we know on the evidence of witnesses. None of us here have met, heard, and eaten with Jesus in the manner that we heard Peter, in our first reading, telling the people how he and those who were with him had "eaten and drunk with [Jesus] after his resurrection from the dead"(Acts 10:41). But to accept the evidence of reliable witnesses, reliable witnesses with written records of what those witnesses saw, who saw it, and when they saw it -to accept the evidence of such witnesses is a reasonable thing to do, a reasonable way to know these truths.

But to know these truths we have to acknowledge that there ARE truths beyond what we have seen for ourselves. Actually, this is what we see in St John, the one who "he saw and he believed". As I said, he went into the empty tomb, saw, and believed.
But I want to make a VERY important point to you: What was it that he saw? What was it that he saw that enabled him to believe? Did he see a choir of angels? No. Did he see a blinding light? No. Did he see a dead body come back to life? No. And hadn’t yet seen Jesus in His resurrected state either.

What did he see? All he saw was an empty tomb. And yet, because he approached what he saw with the right attitude, the sight of that empty tomb enabled him to "see" much more than he physically saw before him. Before he saw the empty tomb he neither realised that Jesus had risen from the dead nor realised that Jesus was going to rise from the dead. As this passage and others make clear: neither the women who first went to the tomb, nor those that went after them, were expecting the resurrection. “Till that moment they had failed to understand the teaching of Scripture, that he must rise from the dead”(Jn 20:9).

But, because St John approached that reality open to the truth, once he did see the empty tomb he saw much more: he saw the truth that Christ had risen from the dead. And of course, as we know from other passages, he and others met the resurrected Jesus shortly after this account.

Now, for ourselves, St John gives us a good role model: to be open to the truth in such a way that we know more than is immediately before our eyes. If we approach our lives with the eyes of faith, then in our daily living we too will see more than is immediately before our eyes: we will see the truth of the Lord's presence, we will feel the guiding of His hand, and know the strength of His grace, but only if we look at things as St John looked at things, as “he saw and he believed”.

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