Sunday, April 24, 2016

Easter 5 - beads on a prayer rope

Easter 5

Readings: Acts 11.1-18; Revelation 21: 1-6; John 13: 31-35;

I propose an exercise in the imagination: a way of thinking of those 3 readings we have heard this morning.  How do they work?  How do we read them?  What are we meant to do with them? Are they there as bits of a puzzle which somehow we are to render intellectually coherent? Try to think of them as three prayer beads on a looped cord: we finger them and reflect; we roll them, thought against thought; nudging each against the other; image and silence; trying to sense what The Word is saying in the silent spaces.

Peter always strikes me as a rather unimaginative  character.  But in Acts he becomes an amazing change-maker, a man of immense character and faith.   Peter has been shaped and formed by his Jewish faith and culture and the young Christian church that is forming through the apostles is very much a Jewish community – and the big question was how to cope with those who joined the church but were not Jews.  It seems to have been table fellowship that caused the trouble – food – because the strict Jewish dietary laws very quickly showed up who did not belong.  Strangely it is Peter who crosses the boundaries and eats with the gentiles.

Oddly enough he describes it in terms of a dream that recurs three times: in which he sees animals that no Jew would eat but which God invites him to eat nonetheless. The command violates everything that Peter has been trained against and the realisation that it brings changes him and the way he sees the world.  God is more than he thought; more than he ever dreamed.  That must have been an agonizing awakening: the self you thought you were is now turned inside out and God is not what you thought or as you thought.  More than this, the future that is to be the church, turns upon a dream.

This thoughts rubs against the reading from Revelation – for however you read Revelation, it has a dreamlike quality in its images.   In fact of course Revelation radically changes how we see the world; it takes us imaginatively beyond time and reality is reconstituted.  What we thought was real is no longer; what we thought defined us, will not.  The dream language opens to us a new dimension , a multiverse in which a new heaven and earth are inaugurated and the wounds of memory find healing and the anguish of finitude is no more.

Just as Peter’s dream  changed his world, in Revelation we are given a coded glimpse of a new creation; we sense something going on within the universe in a cosmic drama – in which we are all involved.  The drama and energy of the universe, the powers involved, are terrifying should we actually grasp the reality, but the dream language insulates us from existential terror and reassures us that we are safe – secured by one who loves us and whose purposes are benign.

When we come from Revelation to the gospel we may start to breathe a sigh of relief – we are awake and in our familiar world, out of dreams and listening to the familiar words of Jesus: except we feel relieved too soon; because as we listen to Jesus our familiar world starts to feel a little strange.  He speaks of being glorified and that he is going away, somewhere we cannot come.   The boundaries  of our world start to feel fluid and uncertain and in this context we receive the new commandment – to love one another.

Is this what life is all about? Is this the real power that creates the universe?   Is this what we are here to learn “to love just as I have loved you?”  Is this what all prayer and meditation, all the disciplines of the spiritual life, the whole ascetic tradition of our faith, the quest for holiness,is about: to teach us to love – to draw us beyond the baggage of self and into the great dance of the cosmos?

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