Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Future that you Anticipated has Been Cancelled

Burton Dasset has been trying to persuade me to listen to OMD's album, English Electric, since it came out a couple of years ago. And after my experiences trying to enjoy its predecessor, History of Modern, I did my best to resist. But I've finally succumbed, and I like it. I get the feeling it's a lament for the modernist optimism which was where OMD came from in that time around 1980 - a world where the Buggles could sing of the "Plastic Age", and Poly Styrene could warn us about Germ-free Adolescences. By now, we should all be riding on jet packs and commuting by monorail in the sky, not still on Intercity 125s and rubbishy little electric trains on Thameslink. We should be living off food pills, communicating telepathically and wearing silver jump suits. Though not, please, Burton Dasset. Not in a silver jumpsuit. That's more than human flesh and blood can bear. Those Lycra cycling knickerbockers are bad enough. No, as one track tells us, "The Future was not supposed to be like this." We were supposed to use all the technology to wipe out disease, to solve world hunger, to revolutionise democracy. But instead we used it to show each other pictures of animals doing cute things and make up hash tags like #HellYesEd.

The future that you anticipated has been cancelled

There's lovely introductory intro lyrics, on the first track of English Electric, "Please remain seated..." - which is effectively set in an airport waiting lounge....
"May I have your attention please.
The future that you  anticipated has been cancelled.
Please remain seated and wait for further instructions."
Which is kind of apt for John's account of the appearance of Jesus to the disciples. Because that's where the disciples are. Whatever future they were anticipating, was cancelled. I presume John and James could see a future where, as Jesus ruled the Jewish empire from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, they sat next to him as princelings, holding the power of life and death over their subjects. Hot-headed Peter - maybe he was dreaming of battles way beyond just cutting one ear off one High Priest's servant. Mary Magdalene - maybe the silly archaeologists and silly novelists are right to a degree, and maybe she was dreaming of becoming Mrs Jesus of Nazareth. And perhaps Mary the Lord's mother was dreaming her son would come home, pick up Joseph's tools, and get on with the safe job of being a carpenter.

Well, that was all gone now. The future they anticipated has been cancelled. They remain seated - apparently around that same table, in that same room in John Mark's house where, just a few days earlier, Jesus had broken bread. And they're reeling from a whole series of odd events.

The Resurrection stories in the different Gospels don't quite hang together. There's different details, different narratives, different viewpoints. A young man in a white outfit for Mark becomes an angel in Matthew - two in Luke.

And the truth comes in from many angles - as well as several angels. Mary and the women see the empty tomb. John runs to the door - Peter into the tomb. But it's when it's quiet after the two action men have gone back to bed, that Mary sees Jesus. He appears - in Luke - to the two on the road to Emmaus. He appears to the disciples there in that upper room. And, a week later - on this Sunday - he appears again, this time to Thomas.

We can see Thomas as someone special, special - the doubting one, the one left over - we can focus on his leap to faith as if it's something individual. But in fact, it's not. It's actually part of that whole community of love that Jesus had created before his death, coming to know the truth of the resurrection. Thomas isn't being saved all alone as he realises what has happened. Let's face it, for all his scientific "show me the holes in his side" - if he'd seen Jesus all alone, by the following day he would, quite rationally, be asking himself - "did I really do that?" What was I on last night?

No, the first Church has been built up over that week. The apostles, the women, the two going to Emmaus, Thomas - each have seen their own sights, had their own experiences of the living Jesus. This isn't about individuals coming to faith - it's a community, each with their different roles, coming to a dawning realisation - and each, with their own experience and reflection, contributing to the community's worship and belief. Thomas has become properly part of that faith community - in the way God made us to be. You'll notice that even a great Evangelical, right at the Englightenment, like John Wesley, still set up "classses", where his Methodists could be together, learn together. He didn't just give them each a copy of his Sermons and tell them to go home and work it out for themselves.

And what Thomas gets to do, is put the words that are needed, to describe the experience his friends have all been having over the last, rather odd week. He takes Mary's "Rabboni", and raises it all the way to "My Lord, and my God." It's his insight, but it's what they have all been realising gradually. He's brought it all together, and summed up the Church's witness for the Age to come.

When we come to Church, some are smart and some are dim. Many are old, but hopefully some are young. Some have amazing spiritual insights. Some speak with tongues of angels. Some just like the hymns, though they may be a dab hand with the Pledge when it comes to polishing the furniture. But collectively we make up the Body of Christ.

We have a habit of saying that when we come together, Christ is there in the midst of us. Of course he is - but then he's God's Word. He is the rules of love that make up the universe. He's always and everywhere here with us. But when we come together - as the disciples did - and each brings their insight, each brings their personality and their gifts - he is among us and, like Thomas on that Sunday, we recognise him. We see him in each other, we see him in the words of Scripture, we recognise him at the breaking of bread. He is here, and we know it.

When the disciples were together, Thomas was with them. And when he saw Jesus, he made their understanding complete. The future they anticpated had been cancelled. One they didn't expect had kicked in. One where death need no longer be feared, Jesus was with all of them, and joy was to be found in that. That future they got, is the one we're living as well. Jesus is still alive, the Kingdom is near us and working through us, and because one person has been raised from the dead, we can believe we all will.

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