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Easter 6,  Yr A (2011)
Acts 17.22-31: Paul’s Areopague speech
Ps 66.7-18: Our God ... holds our souls in life
1 Peter3.13-22:  baptismal homily baptism: not just cleansing but given god conscience (i.e., new orientation/life) (1136)
John 14.15-21: If you love me, keep my commandments; because I live you will live

Risen Christ, by the lakeside you renewed your call to your disciples: help your church to obey your command and draw the nations to the fire of your love, to the glory of God the Father.  

(Let us ‘see’ the whole Jesus in our lives and in our life together.)

 There is a parish church where the preacher, entering the pulpit. is faced with the words, ‘Sir, we would see Jesus’.  This is what the Greeks say to Philip in the 12th chapter of St John’s Gospel (12.21).  When Jesus is told of the request, his reply is, ‘Now is the hour for the son of man to be glorified’.  Since ‘son of man’ simply means ‘man’ or ‘human being’, Jesus’ reply means that if you would truly see Jesus, you see him as a human being.

About 1950 when I was studying chemical engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor , I was staying at Canterbury House, the Anglican Chaplaincy centre.  We had a copy of a photograph called ‘Christ in the Snows’.  It was a combination of black and white areas on the ground made by patches of snow and black earth. Well, I stared at that photo for a long time and I saw nothing.  Then one day as I was returning to Canterbury House, someone had propped the photo in a window facing out, and as I approached the house, I saw this wonderful picture of Jesus looking at me, and I realised that it was Christ in the Snows.  After that I could see it any time, but when I thought about it I realised that the reason that I had not seen it earlier was because I had been concentrating on the black parts.  It was only when I gave the white areas equal value that I could see Jesus in the photograph.

Here is the picture.  I hope that you can see Jesus, but if you can’t, don’t worry.  There are other ways to see him.

Now think of that old story about an elephant in a room with three blind men.  Each man gropes his way to the elephant; one finds the tail, another finds a leg, and the third finds the trunk.  Each one describes a different kind of beast on the basis of what he has been able to grasp. 

My point is that we often, in effect, miss the whole picture because we only see part of what is there.  And we can only build up a picture that makes sense to us on the basis of all of our own background and experience.  So my question is, so to speak, how much of Jesus’ face do we see?

It is now over forty years ago that my students and I began to discover that Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is built upon the ancient and pervasive pattern of wisdom, power and well-being for humanity that you have heard me mention more than once.  Paul uses it to set forth the humanity of Jesus as that humanity to which you and I are called both individually and collectively.  He also relates the functions of the ministry of apostles to wisdom as love, prophets to power in terms of building up in hope, and teachers to well-being in terms of faith.

Next I found the same base being used overall in Matthew and in Mark, with the pattern clearly being spoken of in Luke, John and elsewhere in the New Testament.

It became clear to me that the central message of the New Testament is about the good news that Jesus is the true human being and that through him we too can become truly human like Jesus through obedient trust in God our Father and his loving will.

Now what has long puzzled me is why over the centuries this has not been the core of what the churches have proclaimed as the Gospel.  And at long last I think I have found an explanation.

During Monday to Friday of Holy Week this year The Times ran a supplement each day on Christians worldwide.  One day it was on the Orthodox Churches of the East and it was written by a Russian Orthodox theologian at Durham University .  He pointed out that a major difference between Christians of the West and the Orthodox is that in the West Christ is basically thought of in terms of overcoming sin, whereas in the East he is viewed as overcoming death.

Why the difference, and why has neither really latched on to the central proclamation that Jesus is human as God intends all of us to be human?

Both the East and the West saw that there was a problem in human life, which the East identified as being death and the West identified as being sin, with both sides being able to point to clear evidence in the New Testament for their views.  But they are both akin to someone whose eyes see only the periphery and miss the central vision. 

For centuries Christians in the West have been conditioned by Roman Civil Law, with its clear emphasis on penalties for wrongdoing.  So any wrong must be paid for. Thus it is not surprising that the West emphasised the atoning work of the cross, often in terms of a transaction that paid the price of sin.

But we can see Jesus more holistically than this, when we see him as the one in whom we find life.  Thus in, for example, 1 Corinthians 15  Paul speaking of the risen Christ, says ‘the Last Adam became a life-making Spirit’ (1 Cor 15), and in Romans 5 where he contrasts the first Adam and Christ, he stresses that what was lost in Adam is far less than what has been gained in Christ.

All during Easter we have been hearing St John’s Gospel, a gospel in which Jesus says: ‘I am come that you might have life and have it abundantly’.   As I pointed out a month ago, all the ‘I am’ sayings in John point toward a new quality of life, and this is linked with seeing Jesus, as in Jesus’ words to Philip: ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father’. This is much more than physical seeing: it is spiritual insight, and it is front and centre in today’s gospel, where it is not only linked with living, but the whole passage combines the Spirit, the seeing, the living and the loving. The ‘seeing’ and the ‘living’ go together.  We see Jesus  as the Way, the Truth and the Life in order to live, that is, to live in him as members of the body of Christ, which we do by the guidance and power of the Spirit, namely, love.  And it is when we see Jesus whole that we are best prepared to live in Christ. And when we do this we show him to the world by our lives of loving service to the glory of God our Father.

Let us ‘see’ the whole Jesus in our lives and in our life together.