Easter Sunday 2021, 4th Apr
Can you picture a Jack-in-the-box? I’m not sure if children really play with them any more: it’s a while since I’ve seen one. A Jack-in-the-box has a clown usually or some other slightly colourful figure in the box and when some mechanism or other is turned, out pops the Jack-in-the box. One possible origin of this child’s toy goes back to an English bishop six hundred years ago in a small village in Buckinghamshire. A devil appeared to the godly cleric and asked for his soul, of course meaning the soul, that bit of us which is eternal spelt s-o-u-l. The Bishop lured him in to a false sense of security and said, “Yes, of course, you can have my sole,” meaning the base of his boot, spelt s-o-l-e. “Great!” thought the devil as he rubbed his hands together. The bishop revealed his joke and the devil filled with rage flew in to the boot to grab the sole. Once the devil was inside the boot, Bishop John Schorne placed a crucifix on top of the boot so the devil couldn’t come out again and there it stayed. The Bishop’s soul was kept for God.
The obvious analogy with the Jack-in-the-box as we celebrate Easter Sunday today is God bursting forth from the tomb. Alleluia! Christ is risen. It looked on Good Friday as if death had won, that sin had had the last laugh, that the Son of God could indeed be outdone by Satan. But no, the tomb cannot hold God, the grave cannot hold Life, satan has been led into a false sense of security and its reign ends now. Today.
When are we in danger of making God too small? As if he can be contained in a box?
The Welsh priest poet, R S Thomas (1913-2000), gives us a little hint when he begins one of his poems:
You have made God small,
setting Him astride
a pipette or a retort
studying the bubbles,
absorbed in an experiment
that will come to nothing.
There’s a danger we make God too confined by what we know. Science and our own knowledge and reason are wonderful things, gifts indeed from God. And perhaps one good thing to come out of the pandemic is that we understand a bit more about how immunology works. But we can’t restrict knowledge of what God does exclusively to what we discover through these fields of knowledge and exploration. Some things of our faith are only due to revelation, what God has revealed to His Church and in the Scriptures. It may be that if we were creating a Church we would do things differently but that is not necessarily how God has ordered His Body, bought with the price of His flesh and Blood.
We must never think we know everything there is to know about God. We must never be so arrogant to think we can read the Bible and work it all out for ourselves without reference to another. I certainly don’t. When I read the Bible I’m doing so only because others have translated it. And I do so as a member of Christ’s body the Church, seeking to receive that which was given to the apostles and handed down through the centuries by those much closer to Christ than I am. And we know we are aided by their prayers when we read the Scriptures now (see Ephesians 2:20).
The immensity of God is good for us to remember when we think about arguments within the Church; when we can be tempted to throw our toys out of the pram and sulk off. God is bigger than this. We worship God in the Church because that is what is pleasing in His sight, even when there have been disagreements. The immensity of God is good for us to remember when we ponder these pandemic restrictions. We can’t sing, which is a shame. We have to wear a mask, which is a right nuisance. But God is bigger than that and surely we can endure this for His sake, that we might worship Him and receive from Him what He longs to give us.
R.S. Thomas continues with his poem, pondering God, by saying:
I think of Him rather
as an enormous owl
abroad in the shadows,
brushing me sometimes
with His wing so the blood
in my veins freezes, able
to find his way from one
soul to another because
He can see in the dark.
It’s an unusual parallel. I’d not thought of God as being an owl before but they do look quite expansive don’t they? As if they might explode at any moment! But the best thing about the analogy of the owl is when the poet says we’re brushed sometimes by its wing so the blood in my veins freezes: we can imagine a shudder perhaps in such a situation. The owl can find our souls because he can see in the dark. God comes to us, even in the darkness of our own sin. We have a brush with Him at this and every Mass. The bread and the wine become for us His Body and His Blood and through our communion received in them we are just able to touch that which is untouchable and beyond us.
Fr Faber wrote in his glorious hymn, which was written to be sung after Holy Communion,
“Jesus, gentlest Saviour,
God of might and power!
Nature cannot hold thee
Heaven is all too strait
For thine endless glory
And thy royal state.
The word ‘strait’ here does not mean straight line, opposite to bendy. Rather, it means as in a narrow piece of water, a restricted space. Nature and even the expanse of Heaven is too small to contain the wonder of God. Yet He pours Himself out: into human nature in Christ; on the Cross through His pierced side; through the Mass in to our soul and our body. As the hymn continues:
“Yet the hearts of children
Hold what worlds cannot,
And the God of wonders
Loves the lowly spot.”
Yes, God can dwell in the hearts of the child and even the unborn, made in His image. And through Baptism He wants to refashion them by His grace renewing His image within them.
This proclamation begins with St Mary Magdalene saying God was bigger than the apostles first realised. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put Him,” we heard in the Gospel, Mary explain to Peter to John. In the sequence that was sung we imagine Mary Magdalene witnessing to “the Tomb of Christ who is living … Bright angels attesting … the shroud and napkin resting. Yes, Christ my hope is arisen.” The empty tomb witnesses to this vastness of God, not as originally conjectured because someone had stolen the body, for Mary encounters Christ later, as recorded in John 20. The apostles share this message as we heard in our first reading. Peter proclaims days later to Cornelius: “We can witness to everything Jesus did … three days afterwards God raised Him to life and allowed Him to be seen, not by the whole people but only by certain witnesses.” It behoves God to choose a few and for them to tell the world.
And that’s our calling, my brothers and sisters, to witness to the immensity of God. His generosity and His love which excels all we ever knew. And He is risen! The tomb couldn’t hold Him. Alleluia!