Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Acts 4.32-35; 1 John 1.1 - 2.2; John 20.19-31
The journalist, Christopher Hitchens, reputedly said ‘Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.’
Well, thanks to social media we can all get whatever we want to say into the public arena – me included – and you know, perhaps Hitchens is right, perhaps some stories should not be told!
But I was at the Tate Modern the other day for an event connected with the new Picasso exhibition being staged there. The thing that’s special about this exhibition is that it features the artist’s work from a single year, from 1932. One thing you can say for Picasso is that he was prolific. The quantity of work on display probably means that he produced even more than a gallery full of paintings and drawings – it was clearly a very good year.
In one of the rooms tables had been set up where we were invited to write something of our own story, from a particular year – and of course I couldn’t resist that, thinking about some aspect of my own story and getting it down on paper. Telling the story is after all a cathartic experience.
The gospel reading for today comes to an intriguing conclusion when St John says
‘Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe.’
And then at the very end of his Gospel he adds this
‘There are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.’
What John is clearly telling us, in this tantalizing way, is that there is so much more that can be said of Jesus, so much more that can be written about Jesus, that there are stories and miracles and encounters and appearances that we’ve never heard of, that were never recorded, never recounted. There are memories that went to the grave with some people, personal moments with Jesus that the disciples never saw because they were looking in another direction, never heard because they were listening to another conversation.
Biblical scholars have often imagined another document, a first source from which the gospel writers were working, but it’s never been found, never been put back together. There were people who let their imagination run wild in the apocryphal gospels, making up outlandish stories which served their own purposes. But we aren’t talking about that, John isn’t talking about that but about the fact that the story of Jesus and especially the post-Easter story of Jesus is bigger than books can contain, more wonderful than stories can convey, that the story of Jesus is ongoing, being played out in so many lives, written in so many lives and in so many ways.
We heard a bit of that in the First Reading. The Acts of the Apostles paints a picture of what life for the early church might have been like. Part of that is about the relationships that quickly developed in the Christian community, the way in which they lived that was different to the people around them, set them apart from the people around them.
‘There was not a needy person among them’
we are told, because of the close community that was created as the apostles testified amongst them to the resurrection.
It all flowed from that event that we were celebrating last Sunday. What emerged from that empty tomb on Easter Day was life, new life, resurrection life shaken free from the shackles of death and it manifested itself not just in the confidence of the apostles when they’d been filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost but in this new way of living, this new way of being the people of God.
John begins his First Letter as we heard in the Second Reading like this
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life - We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
The writer had experienced so much, every sense had been caught up in the encounter with Jesus, what had been heard and seen and touched and, at the table, tasted, every part of his being had been caught up with Jesus and he was filled with such joy that to complete it, to complete that joy, he had to write, he had to tell his story, he had to let it out.
St Paul was concerned about getting the story out to those who had never heard it and in his Letter to the Romans says this
How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?
My brothers and sisters, we have a story to tell, each of us. For each of us the story is different, the story of what brought us to faith, what keeps our faith going. We have a story to tell about the good things that God has done in our lives. We have a story to tell about how faith has sustained us in the difficult times. We have a story to tell about what it felt like when with Thomas the doubts overwhelmed us and about how we were made strong again – if we have been. We have a story to tell about Jesus – about our encounters with the Lord of which no one knows and unless we tell it, unless we tell our story in the way we live our lives the story will not be known.
Hitchens is right that not every story has to be told. Some things are too private and too painful and too intimate for sharing and it must have been so for those who met with Jesus and it must have been so even for the apostles who testified to the resurrection. But unless we tell some of the story, unless we also testify to what we’ve heard and seen and touched and tasted, then others will never know what it means to be a Christian – we are the gospel writers now, ‘We have a gospel to proclaim’ as the hymn puts it.
This Eucharist on this eighth day of Easter is to encourage us in our story telling, in our testifying, in our witnessing, in our living and to know that that story is always being written, on our hearts, in our lives, day by day, as we meet, as did those disciples, not in the locked room of fear but in the world in which our joy is complete and at this altar where we again touch and taste and see the one of whom the world keeps telling stories.