Bishop Cherry invites us to explore the image of God within us
Bishop Cherry reflects on Jesus' relationship to the Father and the image of God found within each of us.
She encourages us to try “simply resting in the stillness and being present to the divine within us: letting God do what God will do – which will always be what’s best for us .”
You can read the full sermon and watch Sunday's Holy Eucharist below.
Easter 5 - Sermon
In the opening pages of Richard Rohr’s latest book, The Universal Christ, he quotes at length an experience described by Caryll Houselander in her autobiography, ‘A Rocking Horse Catholic’.
Here’s the first paragraph:
‘I was in an underground train, a crowded train in which all sorts of people jostled together, sitting and strap-hanging – workers of every description going home at the end of the day. Quite suddenly I saw with my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all. But I saw more than that; not only was Christ in every one of them, living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them – but because He was in them and because they were here, the whole world was here too, here in the underground train; not only the world as it was at that moment, not only all the people in all the countries of the world, but all those people who had lived in the past and all those yet to come.
I came out into the street and walked for a long time in the crowds. It was the same here, on every side in every passer-by, everywhere – Christ.'
That’s quite a story and one that we might struggle at first to identify with. It reads as a profoundly spiritual experience, a mystical experience that not many of us will be blessed to have. But at the heart of this experience is a recognition that Christ is in every single person, and although you and I may not see or feel that, or with such an overwhelming vividness and clarity, it is, in the end, what the incarnation is all about; the seeds of which are to be found in the gospel reading we’ve just heard.
Today is the 5th Sunday of the Easter season and we continue to explore who Jesus is in the light of his resurrection; and not just who Jesus is, but who we are because of what we’ve come to know about Jesus, the Christ. The gospel passage set for today has Jesus’s closest disciples, once again, struggling to understand what Jesus is telling them. First Thomas and then Philip try to get some clarity on what Jesus is actually saying. He seems to be speaking in riddles, except that he’s clearly expecting them to grasp what he’s talking about. ‘Have I been with you all this time’, he says, ‘and you still don’t know me? You still don’t understand?’
And no, they don’t. They’ve seen the miracles and heard the teaching and know in their hearts and minds that this person, Jesus, must have come from God; otherwise he wouldn’t be able to teach with such insight and authority. Neither would he be able to do the things he’s done. But they’re still thinking in terms of God - the one who Jesus calls Father - as being somehow separate, somehow different, somehow beyond. And why wouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t they think of the Creator of the Universe as described in the opening chapters of Genesis in those terms? Such a being is indeed beyond our imagining, beyond our understanding.
But what Jesus is saying - and what John is saying throughout his gospel account - is that this Creator, whom Jesus knows as his Father, is so intimately bound up with the very being of Jesus himself that he can say, ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me.’ Or, in another passage from chapter 10 ‘the Father and I are one’. Or, again in chapter 12, ‘whoever sees me, sees him who sent me.’ It’s the essence of the good news that John wants us to know and understand, and it rings out from the very beginning of his book, that much-loved passage read each Christmas. The Word, which was in the beginning and through which all things came into being, that Word has become flesh in Jesus: the Jesus for whom the disciples left everything, the Jesus who they watched, listened to and lived alongside for three whole years, the Jesus who they’d come to know as their Lord and Master. But to take the step of grasping that Jesus and the Father are one is beyond them. Even though at every stage Jesus tells them plainly and clearly, they can’t get their heads around it.
What marks Christianity out from all other religions is that it proclaims a person. It’s not so much about doctrines to assent to or a set of practices to adhere to. It says, if you want to know what God is like, then look at Jesus. That’s what the incarnation means. It’s why Jesus can say ‘whoever has seen me, has seen the Father’ and why he can say ‘The words I say to you, I do not speak on my own, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.’ The Word has become flesh: incarnated.
But what about us? And how does that relate to the extraordinary experience that Caryll Houselander describes in her autobiography?
Well it seems to me that what Jesus is saying in our gospel reading today is true for us too, and if that sounds pretty radical, then it’s only what the scriptures tell us from the opening chapter of Genesis. ‘God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.’ We carry that of God within us by our very nature whether we acknowledge it or not, recognise it or not, embrace it or not. The difference is that this divine image, gets hidden and smothered because of our selfishness and self-centredness, our egos and our insecurities. We’ve marred the image that’s within us through what Christians have traditionally called ‘sin’. But the image is still there, nonetheless and it’s that image, rather than our sin that we’re invited in prayer to concentrate on and allow space for within us.
The other day, in conversation with a good friend of mine, we got talking about prayer and meditation. She said that she was feeling drawn into a more contemplative way of praying which takes the form of sitting still and in silence for a good hour or so. We discussed how difficult it is not to be distracted with wandering thoughts, and how hard it is simply to let go and let God do God’s work within us. ‘Part of the problem’, she said, ‘is that we bring with us so much baggage about what we should and shouldn’t do and what prayer should and shouldn’t be like.’ We don’t trust that God knows what God’s doing or trust him to give us what we need. Instead we get worried and guilty and feel that the quality of our prayer is down to us. So we’re tempted to try or try harder. But in our very striving to connect with God we can in fact get in God’s way. We castigate ourselves for not getting it right or for not feeling how we think we should feel, rather than simply resting in the stillness and being present to the divine within us: letting God do what God will do – which will always be what’s best for us.
Towards the end of our gospel reading today, Jesus points his disciples to a reality that as yet they’re far from being able to grasp. And I guess most of us struggle to grasp it as well. ‘Very truly I tell you’, Jesus says, ‘the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.’ The only reason for that has to be that God is present to us, as he was to Jesus. We just have to believe it and allow it to be, which is, of course, a lifetime’s work.