A Reflection for Sunday May 10th Easter 5

A Reflection for Easter 5
On this fifth Sunday of Easter we hear some familiar words from St John Chapter 14 verses 1- 14. These are well known words for a variety of reasons. First, we hear them read a lot at funerals, but also, they form one of the most basic tenets of our Christian belief that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life!
Over the past few weeks of lockdown, I guess we have all had extra time to think, to pray and dredge our memories and reflect upon certain aspects of our life, this of course can be really enlightening and yet at the same time quite challenging.
I have found myself reflecting on the regular meetings I enjoyed as Rector of All Saints Church in Redding, California with Pete Vanderkoolwyk. While Pete may have had a Dutch surname, he is in fact a native American who had been adopted. I really loved and enjoyed my deep discussions with Pete for a variety of reasons. Pete attended my Church, and had been a Churchwarden, but always remained faithful to the deeply held beliefs and spirituality of his Native American roots. Pete could swear like a trooper, tell the naughtiest of jokes, but was an amazingly deep thinker when it came to his love and knowledge of God and the world around him.
Looking back from this lockdown perspective, I now realise that much of what Pete shared with me was the pain he felt of a real theft of the Spirit. He and his fellow tribes had been very badly treated as Native Americans and had suffered horribly at the hand of the White Man! Pete always talked movingly about the loss of his native culture and religious traditions. The White Man had literally taken their land, their totems were sold off in antique shops, many of their solemn rituals had been lost, and when herded on to reservations their life was reduced to running casinos, tobacco outlets and so it was that in time with the rise of boredom they experienced alcohol abuse on a grand scale.
This theme of the “theft of the Spirit” came to the fore in my mind as I read John 14: 1-12. Can life have meaning when our ancient beliefs and symbols are taken away? So, my reflection on those frequent conversations with Pete led me to question the “theft of the Spirit” that we have lived through in our modern world in my own lifetime. Is there a purpose in our daily routines, punctuated with an odd holiday here and there? Is there sufficient purpose in an odd night at the pub with friends, or a meal out in a nice restaurant? Why is it the suicide rates are up among the very young in so many countries of the so called “First World”?
The famous G K Chesterton of Father Brown fame, said back in the early 1900’s that “when people choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, but become capable of believing in anything.” Perhaps we could say with a certain confidence that we have arrived at that time. Today we see a militant atheism in writers such as Richard Dawkins and friends, just as there is a very fashionable agnostic stance in many professional people, and some folk just seem to have jettisoned any belief structure or spirituality for a hedonistic approach to life that seems to be lived in a weekly cycle of work and then get drunk at the weekend. Has binge drinking in the UK become the new norm of regular life patterns that have replaced the Church, Church going and its norms of fellowship?
At the risk of sounding alarmist and reactionary or even fuddy-duddy, and even worse a kill joy, I cannot help but make the link with the idea that we have all suffered a grievous theft of the Spirit of God.
We have given up so easily on the belief that there is such a thing as absolute truth, and exchanged it for a moveable feast of pick and mix when it comes to our most profound hopes and dreams. I am aware that most Sundays our new glass fronted Cathedrals of consumerism are the new gathering places – Shopping malls such as Blue Water, The Ashford Outlets and many other shopping malls are the new worship centres for the modern free-thinking citizen. It is no coincidence that the design of many of our shopping malls resemble temples and Cathedrals with towers and clocks, high vaulted ceilings and just enough artwork to create a modern sacred space.
The theme of today’s Gospel states very clearly that Jesus is saying to us, “There is more, there is a greater meaning to life than the immediate provable reality.” He says to us with words that have echoed down the last two millennia – I am the Way, the Truth and the Life! This is an amazing promise of Jesus to us and to all people at whatever point in history, and we need to make a personal decision as to how we respond. Jesus, in my humble opinion, is not saying his is a signpost or a suggestion, he is saying He is the Way!
Perhaps the western world has lost its confidence in knowing where truth is to be located, yes indeed perhaps this pandemic is raising some profound questions for many people, but dare we reconnect again to the glorious truth of our faith? It was St Therese of Lisieux who once said, “I know that behind the darkest cloud my sun is still shining.” Don’t let anyone or anything steal from you the Spirit of the loving and living God.
Fr Paul
Below is a picture of my good friend, Pete.