Easter: "Faith, to the moon and back again"

The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams

On the 20th July, 1969 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. I’ve been reading Moon Dust a book by a journalist, Andrew Smith, who interviewed 9 living moonwalkers to hear their stories. Among the many revelations, I’m struck by the way these Astronauts put their faith in the fledgling technology, equipment and people who put them on the moon. They were told it was a 50% chance they would return. They weren’t even certain they could physically land on the moon, let alone take off again. But they put their faith in the programme and took the risk - and none of the astronauts who left the earth's orbit failed to return.

I’m often surprised by the questions I get when people find out that I’m a priest. I went for a check-up with an ear specialist this past week, I was in plain clothes, so it was only when he was asking what I did that he found out I was a priest. Immediately he wanted to ask me a question. The questions one gets in these situations can be pretty varied and they are never easy to predict. Often even more difficult to answer. He wanted to ask me what the Church of England’s position was on Evolution vs. Creation. Asking for a position from the Church of England is never easy. But in this case I said, while there were different points of view - in my opinion it’s not really the point.

It’s not really a question of Creation vs. Evolution, I say, one doesn’t state that the other isn’t possible,  really the two are answers to different questions. However the universe is created, God is behind it.

My expectation in such an encounter is that he is going to give me a hard time for believing in a hokey religion. But, in fact, he wanted to point out that for him something like the Ear is so brilliant, that he couldn’t accept the idea that the theory of evolution was enough on it’s own to create it .And our conversation brought in points about Thermodynamics and the ever increasing Entropy. As well, he reminded me of the quote from C.S. Lewis, that he knew the Sun came up each day because of the impact it had on the world around. It was surprising how the encounter left me questioning the depth of my own faith.

Out on DVD this week is the most recent instalment of the Star Wars franchise - the film Rogue One - I think I’ve managed not to talk about it in a sermon for the 4 months since it came out - I think that’s pretty good. The film covers the events immediately leading up to the original Star Wars film - the one later renamed ‘A New Hope’. Rogue One tells this story of how the plans for the Empire’s Death Star are stollen by the nascent rebellion. The film makers clearly wanted the viewers to remember it was leading into Star Wars: A New Hope - so they use the word ‘Hope’ again and again - reviewers have described the film as being about ‘Hope’. But in reality, I would say it is a film about ‘Faith’, a girl’s faith in her father, the early rebellion’s faith in their comrades, and a monk’s faith in the nearly forgotten and generally undervalued Force, they each base their faith on something, but hold on to it, or rediscover it when the chips are down, and there isn’t really any ‘Hope’ left.

Today’s Gospel is ultimately about faith, Jesus appears to the disciples twice, the first time without Thomas, and he doesn’t believe them - he sees no evidence based on which to believe, but when Jesus comes back Thomas is there and he gets his evidence. Thomas seems to get chastised, because he had to see it to believe it. I would say, we should be careful not to assume Jesus’ blessing on those who don’t see but believe is some kind of criticism of Thomas, because we are blessed by Thomas’ doubts, and by his own enquiry. We have the benefit of seeing the impact of Jesus’ Resurrection. One of the most compelling points ever made to me about the Christian narrative was how ridiculous it would be for this group of Jewish followers of Jesus to decide that he wasn’t just a messiah but actually God - for such a fiercely mono-theistic faith in a God with no image as these disciples had, that was a big step, a massive step. And yet his resurrection causes that leap of faith, for them to take that belief,  without doubt demonstrated here by Thomas, would have been completely unbelievable. 

This week we were told we will have an opportunity to put our little mark on a piece of paper in hope that it will make a difference, that we will, by doing so have a say in the significant shaping of the future of this country. But while we might well have hope, and should have hope, I think we should also take away from today’s Gospel that while we can put faith in God, we can put faith in what we know, with certainty will happen, we must also accept that putting blind faith in human structures and constructs would be foolish. We are, perhaps, wise enough after the unpredictable events of the last couple of years. We are, perhaps, able to recognise that putting blind faith in democracy, blind faith that the result of the ballot on the 8th of June will necessarily bring about more hope for prosperity or justice or peace is mis-placed,  whatever the result - it will be flawed in some way. So hopefully, can engage with the necessary debates in a way which robustly honours both points of view.

Whatever the outcome, what we can hold onto as Christians is a certain faith that in the end, the absolute end, all will be well. A faith in our Resurrection with Christ. And it is as the body of Christ, as the church, we hold that faith for those around us who have none. Because our horizon is not defined by the mere curve of the earth but by the promise received by the disciples and handed down to each of us in the revelation of God’s love. We hold that faith and so we do what we can to give hope to others in the darkest times in their lives, and in ours. It is our faith which sets us free.