Visions Beyond the Veil
I have entitled this morning’s talk, ‘visions beyond the veil’ after a book by a missionary H.A Baker to China in the early to mid 1900’s. In this book, Baker writes about the visions orphaned children in China had of heaven, angels and so on.
It resonates with the readings this morning concerning the resurrected Christ. Peter in Acts 2:32 declares, concerning the resurrected Christ, that they, the disciples, are ‘witnesses to this fact’. The gospels give us at least 2 accounts where they encounter the risen Christ; one in the upper room and one where Christ reinstates Peter.
What impact would experiencing the risen Christ have on you? Is it something you desire or pray for, ‘God reveal yourself to me’?
In visions beyond the veil, these orphans experience very real visions of another reality. In another book published in 1975 entitled, ‘tell it to the mafia’, ex-mobster Joe Donato tells his story of being encountered by the risen Christ and as a result coming to faith, he turns his back on his mobster lifestyle. Similarly published in 1978, Bilquis Sheikh in her book ‘I dare to call him father’ tells her story of a changed life after encountering the risen Christ. These and many other stories from around the world speak of encounters with the risen Christ.
But what if this is not our story? What if this will never be our story?
The reading from John 20:29 encouraging says, ‘blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet have believed’. So too the reading from 1 Peter 1:8 which says, ‘Though you have NOT seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy’.
I want to pause here and look at a few aspects in this verse. Firstly, even ‘Though you have NOT seen him, you love him’. What Greek use of the word love is being used here? Conditional love? If you do this for me, I will do that for you? Or put in the context of this verse, if you conquer death, I will believe in you? No, on the contrary it is agape love that is used her…unconditional love.
Secondly, in the second part of this verse, ‘even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy’. The ‘do not see him now’ is a present participle meaning continuous. It indicates an understanding of continuing not to see i.e. things will never change and you will never see.
And so thirdly, note the use of the word ‘now’ in this passage, ‘Though you have NOT seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him’. The opening verses help us understand the reason for the use of this word ‘now’. They are struggling, they are facing persecution and in the midst of such suffering the hope so explicitly linked to the resurrection seems dislocated and untenable. In many ways we could re-name the title of this talk, ‘living in the absence of the resurrection’.
Perhaps a story could illustrate this challenge better. I read from ‘How (not) to speak of God’ by Pete Rollins (p80-81)….
Augustine asked, ‘what do I believe when I believe in my God’? I don’t discredit the stories of people encountering the risen Christ, as reading them encourages our faith but for most of us this simply won’t be our experience. We are the ‘not seeing’ in 1 Peter and yet, nonetheless, without seeing we still believe, we still hope with joy. Why? How?
May I suggest one possibility? Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth says, ‘and these three things remain, faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love’. I’d like to suggest a link or connection in these which have an impact on our understanding and experience of the resurrection, of hope. The writer of Hebrews says, ‘faith is being sure of what we hope for, certain of what we do not see’. Note the connection between faith and hope and the connection to our readings of ‘not seeing’. In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome he says, ‘and hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our heart through the Holy Spirit’. Again note the connection between hope and love and in the days to come towards Pentecost the link to the Holy Spirit. I suggest the reality of the resurrection, of hope is experienced for the man on the street through the experience of God’s unconditional love.
The ‘Blessed’ (all that is good) as used in the passage from John is an aorist participle in Greek which is used to express any time; past, present and future. In other words believing without seeing may mean we experience the blessing of God immediately, or perhaps later or perhaps now and until later. The point is, it is not conditional…if you this, you will that. This relates back to the story I read.
But what about others? How do they experience hope, particularly those of no faith using my understanding of the connection between faith-hope-and-love? Well you will remember the time Jesus said, ‘many will come to me on that day and say lord, lord did we not this and that in your name and…yet he will cast them away for he did not know them…while to others he will say come into my kingdom for when I was thirty you gave me something to drink, when I was ill you visited me and so on. You see if hope means anything in a real world, it needs to be really true in the midst of suffering as the passage of 1 Peter is describing. And it is you and I as we serve the poor, thirsty and sick, that represent hope, that represent the resurrected Christ for as we do these to the least of them, we do it unto Christ. I suggest Christ is not only encountered in visions beyond the veil, but also and possibly even more profoundly in our and others sufferings, in the realities of a torn veil, in the absence of seeing.
May you know the hope of Christ even though you do not see. May you be the hope of Christ, even though others do not see.