And So the Easter Season hits us once again, and it won’t be long before the children have crashed from their sugar rush and the champaigne has kicked in, and finally I can watch Doctor Who.
It’s funny how something like Doctor Who both unites and divides the generations. It’s a rare communal talking point. But we all have our favourite Doctor – and perhaps our favourite companion. Did you have a favourite companion? Yes I’ll bet you did. Chris our organist liked the ditzy blonde one, John our server liked the intelligent brunette – me, I preferred the girls.
But where we divide depends on who “our Doctor” is. Because if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that Doctor Who isn’t as good as it used to be.
It’s like cricket or Pop music. The past was better. It has always been so. If there’s one thing constant in this world, it is that the older generation thinks the past was better than the present.
Now I’ve been perhaps a little frivolous about that but it’s an imporatant truth. There is a feeling, a seemingly authentic, honest, truthful feeling, that the world today is worse today than it was in our recent past. Because bad news feels true.
A couple of years ago there was a conference about church decline, and the statistics were being presented in a very depressing way. The piscy church as a whole was declining, the Church of Scotland and the catholics were in freefall, and the independent churches are only growing because one starts up as another diminishes. And I looked around and all the clergy in the room were doing that “sad but true” expression.
I’ve seen that expression a lot. Sad but true. Sentences that begin “the fact is” are going to be sad facts. Churches are declining, morality is sinking, community is failing, not like it used to be.
And I’ve seen that sad but true expression in the faces of so many people who say, they want to believe in God, but the sad truth is, it’s just a comforting fantasy. You remember that atheist slogan on the busses, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Most atheists feel sad that there’s no God, but feel it has a ring of truth. Because people believe bad news.
I used to think that. I was there, Sad but true. I wished God existed, but thought the sad truth was, it was just a make believe, a comforting fairy tale. And better to have the sad truth, than a comforting lie.
And it feels… cleaner, somehow, more noble, courageous, admitting cold hard reality. Because bad news feels true.
And if there is just one thing that I have learnt from Easter, it is that feeling you get, that feeling of the truth of cold hard reality, – it’s a deceit. It’s a lie. Bad news feels true, people believe bad news, but it’s a psychological tick, a quirk of humanity. Our Gospel today, our mad, strange Gospel, tells us not to be afraid of good news.
So does our first reading. Abraham was locked into his grief at not having children. So locked in that he really didnt’ believe God when God told him he would have a son. Abraham knew the truth. Abraham knew the cold hard reality. Abraham has actually just won a great battle, and he’s become a very rich man But he had no children. And he was old, very old, and so was his wife. What is the point of all this, all this battle, all this striving, if he had no-one to pass it on to? There was something missing. He was grieving for the children he never had.
And this time, along comes God, all hail fellow well met, and he says to him, “Fear not, Abraham, cheer up! Everything’s going to turn out really well! It’s not as black as you think it is!”.
And Abraham, only just manages to keep his temper. You don’t know the half of it. I have no children, he said. You have not blessed me. You dont’ know the half of it.
And God took him gently by the hand, and led him out into the stars, led him out of his enclosed grief and his set-in sorrow. He led him out into the vast majesty of creation and said, “Look. Look at all of this. Don’t be afraid. It is you, who don’t know the half of it.”
The Apostles were locked into their grief, they were well versed in the rituals of despair, and they were living them out. They were ready to accept failure. Sad but true. The venture had failed. The women had brought along embalming fluid for Jesus. They were locked into their rituals of despair, they knew how to cope with bad news. And tthen they saw the empty tomb. And they were terrified. The Apostles refused to believe it even when they saw it, and even when Jesus appeared to them. They knew the future was bleak and they didn’t take kindly to Jesus taking away their certainty.
It takes a lot of guts to believe in the resurrection. Not the appearing after dead stuff, that’s piddling. Any scientist worth his salt will say what is reported in the resurrection can be explained. But the faith to me is not about the physical stuff. It’s about more than that.
Throuhgout the scenes of holy week, we have seen atrocity and degredation, humanity at it’s worst. Just as we see today in Syria. We have seen Jesus, even Jesus feeling abandoned by God, despairing for the world. And through all of that we come to today. Through the twisted world of human sin and evil, into something which is strange, and mind-bending and somehow beautiful.
The faith that we are required to have in order not just to believe the resurrection, but to live it, is the faith that God can take all of that horror and evil and turn it into something beautiful. and good.
The jews said “his blood be upon us and upon our children” and God took that and turned it into a blessing. Saved by the blood of the lamb. Peter’s betrayal caused bitter tears, but because of his betrayal, he became the greatest apostle. God takes all the evil in the world and in his time and if we allow it, he transforms it into goodness, and beauty.
If we truly believe that, then there is no place, no place at all, for despair.
Because that sad but true face is not true, it is never true. There is no room for despair in a world where God’s love can transform everything.
There are places in the world which are as dark and as horrific as Gethsemane and Golgotha. There are people in the world who suffer just as Jesus did, and the easiest, the safest, the most childish and the most selfish thing in the world we can do is to despair. Because it requires us to do nothing, to make no effort, to help no-one, to throw up our hands and say “what can we do?” and to decry the world of God’s creating as evil and forsaken.
We cannot be followers of Christ if we seek refuge in despair. Our only option it to exercise compassion, to share the suffering of those who have nothing, and to find it unbearable, so that we are moved into action, to know that we can and we shall and we will make a difference, because there is never room for despair, there is never a point at which our compassion cannot change the world, there is never, never a point at which love cannot transform everything.
And when we truly believe that, we are living that risen life, and the question no longer is “what can we do” but “what shall we do” – because we can always do something and because our comapssion for those who suffer mean that we will never be beaten down by despair.
You know how much I love Doctor Who, so let me quote a little of it.
‘There’s a mountain made of pure diamond. It takes an hour to climb it, and an hour to walk around it. And every hundred years, a little bird comes, and sharpens it’s beak on the diamond mountain.
And when the entire mountain is chiseled away, the first second of eternity will have passed.’
You might think that’s one hell of a mountain. I think that’s one hell of a bird.”
We are the bird. And we will not stop until those mountains of injustice and suffering are chiselled away. Because our faith tells us we can, and our compassion tells us we must. And our love tells us we will.
And when we do, as we always do, fall into that darker place, where hope seems thin and the world seems an anxious place, when we fall back into the comforting memory of the past, and retreat from the anxiety of the present, then let us remember the story of the Resurrection, and to allow God, as Abraham did, to take us gently by the hand, so that he can say once again to us “It’s okay. Because there is so much more than this. You don’t know the half of it. And the half that you don’t see, is wonderful.”
And that is hope. That is faith. That is love. That is resurrection.