In Fred Watson’s book, ‘Cosmic Chronicles,’ he speaks of Galileo and his work around 400 years ago. Galileo and his telescope proved Copernicus’ theory that the Earth was not the centre of the universe. He presented his scientific evidence that conflicted with the traditions of the powers of the world (ie. Holy Roman Church!) that held to the Aristotelian (Ptolemaic) view that the Earth was the centre of the Universe and the sun (and everything else) moved around it. Galileo’s writings on his research and observations, astronomical and mathematical, rattled the cages of many senior figures who were part of the scholarly classes of Catholicism and held strong views and interpreted their own observations within the context of their world-view: The Earth is the centre of everything!
Galileo challenged this world-view. He challenged their thinking, their beliefs and their way of understanding life, and God’s world. If the Earth wasn’t the centre of the Universe but ‘just another planet’ in a vast universe then much theology, tradition and their sense of importance and power was threatened. What if we aren’t the centre of everything, but spinning on another small planet in one galaxy amongst innumerable others in an infinite universe? The importance and centrality of human beings, and more importantly at the time, the Church, was challenged and threatened. If clerics were not correct and this ‘ignorant mathematician’ and his new-fangled telescope proved Nicolaus Copernicus’ theories from seven decades earlier correct, what would that mean in terms of truth, trust and power?
Newton and other scientists emerged and pushed their scientific evidence-based physics further and further, eroding the wisdom and knowledge of the all-powerful elites,, the Church who controlled the minds of ordinary people. In essence, the church was dragged kicking and screaming into the new era of modern science but of course it didn’t go quietly or graciously but with power and violence where it could. There were inquisitions and trials, courts and guilty verdicts. Heretics were made examples of and punished for ‘persecuting the Holy Spirit’ and defying God’s good way in the world.
Still, the world-view changed and we have lived with it for a few centuries now. This paved the way for many other advances and modern assumptions about life and the world. Our willingness to dominate the earth and conquer every habitat and environment, seeking resources for our own benefit arose from these early sciences and the discoveries they made. Science also, helped desacralize the world, explaining the many mysteries that were previously the domain of God and God’s Spirit. Interestingly, many of these scientists were Christian and sought to find ways of understanding God’s world to glorify God.
The world changed, as the way we saw and experienced the world, changed. Flowing through the Reformation era and into the Enlightenment, were cultural, political, religious and intellectual changes. Industry, nuclear families, growth in city-states, liberal democracy and capitalism are a few of the changes wrought through this era of transformation and change. A world-view provides a powerful lens that shapes who we are, how we think and what we believe is important. Our current world-view is now crumbling after a few centuries and the failures of systems to adequately deal with life in our world in the late 20th century/early 21st century, is acute.
The Coronavirus epidemic has given us an opportunity to recalibrate – a necessary opportunity. Many social media postings point to the possibility of change rather than reverting back to where we were. Amongst the suggestions are a new relationship with the Earth itself, simplifying our lives and reducing the profound stress humanity has placed upon Mother Earth. Simplifying our lives to find space for one another, relationships, which in our solitude we discover are very significant! The world economy has been impacted severely and the temptation will be to restore it and all things to the ways they were. Such economic growth relies on more of the same – acquisition and accumulation, a focus on personal wealth, higher [economic] standards of living and the ‘affluenza’ that has been rife across our society. There is simply not enough for everyone to share the same materialistic ideals as we have. Despite our affluence and prosperity, we do not seem happier or more content. There is more stress, tension, addiction, anxiety and depression across this wide brown land, along with suicide. It is time for a different view of life!
This Sunday we continue to read John’s story of Jesus (John 20:19-31) and encounters with the Risen Christ that left his followers mystified, confused, fearful, hopeful and transformed. The followers were hidden away behind locked doors on the evening of the day of resurrection. They were fearful of those who killed Jesus. They were lost in their grief and despair – life has changed and can never be the same. Jesus captured their imagination, their hearts and minds, and even to an extent, their lives. They lived with him, followed him, listened to his teaching and participated in the mission of Christ. They saw a new way but their world-view remained – they still had the typical Jewish expectations of the Messiah and God’s liberation of their world from Roman Imperialism.
Jesus died, killed by the powers and principalities of the world, Roman and Jewish in their attempt to hold power. Jesus would not betray his passion and life in the Reign of God, that which he proclaimed, lived and embraced in his being. The Reign of God stood, from Jesus’ perspective, as the original and deepest truth, the only true source of life, hope, salvation and grace. It is a Reign of love and compassion, forgiveness and mercy that stands over and against every other reign of empire or Earthly authority. It questions every world-view and provides a lens that challenges everything through the love and justice of God The disciples had their view of everything turned upside down and inside out!
In that locked room, followers gathered fearfully; they were lost. Into their confused presence Jesus appeared and presented himself as this new resurrected self, transformed but contiguous, it seems, bearing scars of suffering. He blessed them with peace and breathed upon them saying, ‘Receive a Holy Spirit.’ He commissioned them with a mission of reconciling forgiveness and love, proclaiming God’s gracious acceptance of all into this Realm of true love, forgiveness and peace – for all people, and the Earth.
There is always the accompanying fear, even terror, in the stories of resurrection because it challenges everything we hold to, what we know in our world and our view of life. It isn’t enough to know about God or Jesus or Spirit. We are called, invited, challenged into the way of life, of following this path of love, grace and justice. It is a vulnerable and courageous way that will challenge our world and what is held dear!