Menu Close
12th April 2020

Return to the Light

Passage: Luke 24:1-8


Years ago, when I was doing research, I made an exciting discovery. I learned-from the archaeological record that belief in life after death pre-dates organised religion. Even the Neanderthals- our most primitive ancestors- buried their dead with grave goods, small objects it was thought you might need in the afterlife.
The Neanderthals had no organised society, let alone religion. There was no-one to tell them that human beings lived beyond physical death. Their belief was just some kind of deep-rooted instinct.
At the same time, I was observing that belief in life after death shows every sign of outliving organised religion. No matter how secular our society becomes, you still hear talk about our loved ones being “up there,” a guiding star or a protecting angel. People may have stopped taking notice of religious teaching, but this belief is hard to shift.

All this excited me because when people struggle with the Easter stories of Jesus’ resurrection appearances and complain that they are being asked to believe six impossible things before breakfast, it is worth bearing in mind that Jesus was not actually telling us anything we did not already know. Belief in life beyond death was already part of our make-up and what Jesus did was to give this belief authenticity; reassuring us that we were not hopelessly deluded.

Science, admittedly, cannot prove that there is life after death. But nor can science disprove it. And even scientists admit that science alone cannot tell us everything there is to know about life.

While we are on the subject of believing the impossible, I would like to introduce you to a member of our church -Andy Clare- who is a trustee of the local Foodbank, and who has been working flat out over the last few weeks to ensure that the most vulnerable people in
our area have access to food for themselves and for their families. Hello Andy!


We all admire the work that Andy and his colleagues around the country are doing and we especially applaud them for what they are doing during the Corona Virus pandemic. (CLAP)

But why are they doing it? Why do they feel the urge to reach out and offer help to people whom, it might be said, have nothing to do with them? In the natural world, it is all about survival of the fittest. The strongest of the species live and the weakest die. Animal instincts are for self-preservation and, where appropriate, for the safety of the herd- that is, your own family, your own kind.
And yes, there is a strong sense of herd instinct and self-preservation in human beings, but we find it in us to step beyond that: to reach out to people who have nothing to do with us except that they are fellow human beings.

I heard a story of a young Jewish girl living in Nazi Germany. A law had been passed stating that Jews were not allowed to sit down when using public transport. This girl got on a bus and, although there were plenty of spare seats, she had to stand. She saw a neighbour of hers- not a Jew- sitting there comfortably but, to her amazement, this woman got up and stood beside her for the rest of the journey. She may not have been able to change the law, but she could demonstrate her rejection of it.

Why? This woman was being taught rigorously that Jews were vermin, unfit to live. What made her reject that teaching? And why did many others put their own lives on the line to shelter Jewish people, who were not of their race, not of their family?

Again, there is something inexplicable in us, that moves us beyond basic self-preservation and herd instincts to take pity on those in need, no matter who they are and to reach out in friendship beyond the natural boundaries of race.
Was not this what Jesus taught? Again, he was not telling people anything new. He saw men and women reaching out to those beyond their families, their race, even their religion and he affirmed them. He told them that yes, this was how human nature should be. For this was how human beings reflected the image of God, Himself.

There is a lot about life and about ourselves that we still do not quite understand. I remember struggling through a book on neuroscience which was supposed to be explaining everything there was to know about human nature. Right on the very last page the author pointed out that the uniqueness of the human race lay in our ability to ask the question, “why are we here?” “And,” he said, “I don’t think that neuro-science alone will ever be able to answer that question.”

It is a huge challenge to admit to things we cannot fully understand because, where we cannot understand, we cannot control. And we like to be in control. Things beyond our control scare us.

But maybe some things are not there to be controlled but to be celebrated. Jesus did not explain his resurrection. He just said to his disciples, “ I told you this would happen. Now you go and tell everyone else.”
So, they went. They did not fully understand but, because they believed that Christ had risen from death, so they believed everything he had taught them, and they lived by that belief.
They lived as people of God, loved and loving; forgiving and forgiven; they lived as people who had hope in this life and beyond; they lived as members of the human race rather than as one particular class or clan. They proclaimed Jesus Christ as Son of God, not in order to trample down all other faiths but in order to show them that what they had been hoping for and praying for had become reality.
Faith does not mean leaving your brain behind, but it does mean learning to trust rather than to control.

On this Easter Sunday we offer huge thanks and appreciation to those people with the scientific and medical knowledge which is now saving so many lives. We need you and we thank you.

We also offer huge thanks and appreciation to those people who, for no reason other than deep rooted loving concern are giving support and care to those who are most vulnerable. We need you and we thank you.

And on this Easter Sunday, we offer praise and thanks to Jesus Christ who showed us that there is hope for life beyond death; who taught us that we are people of God, made in His image; who promised healing, forgiveness and renewal as we learned to love and trust in God again.
There is a love and a power far greater than ourselves and we can go forward now, with the words Andy quoted,
“The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid.“
Happy Easter everyone.