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The Reverend Canon Dr Christopher Collingwood (Chancellor)
Sunday 22nd April 2018 – 11.30am Matins
Nehemiah 7:73b-8:12 Luke 24:25-32
Beningbrough Hall is a large Georgian Mansion just outside York, owned now by the National Trust, which houses a large collection of 18th century paintings on loan from the National Portrait Gallery. To celebrate the centenary this year of women gaining the right to vote, the four principal galleries are now home to a temporary exhibition called Making her Mark: Celebrating Creative Women, which showcases women who’ve been a significant influence in the worlds of literature, dance and drama. Among the subjects depicted are Judi Dench, JK Rowling and Darcey Bussell.
If you walk around the estate of Beningbrough Hall, you’ll come across at one point what looks like an empty picture frame on a stand. Beningbrough Hall can be seen from all sorts of vantage points on the estate, but the purpose of this frame is that it’s somehow supposed to provide the best view of Beningbrough Hall when seen through it. The intention is to make you stop and look in a focussed rather than a casual way at the house.
The sight of an empty picture frame at Beningbrough seems rather bizarre, but the interesting thing is that we all actually view the world through a metaphorical picture frame all the time, whether we realise it or not. What I mean is this. All of us, no doubt, think that we perceive the world as it really is. The truth of the matter, however, is that our view – our worldview – is structured, coloured, shaped and skewed in all sorts of ways. Our view of the world isn’t neutral. It’s viewed through a frame. Our worldview is a kind of framework which directs us to see the world in this way rather than that.
All sorts of factors influence how we see things before we actually see them. So, for example, if you’re born in India, the chances are you’ll see the world through the eyes of Indian philosophy and spirituality. If, on the other hand, you’re born in Saudi Arabia, you’ll see the world through the eyes of Islam. If you’d lived in the former Soviet Union, your worldview would have been one of atheistic socialism. We can’t escape having a worldview. The problem is that our worldviews very rarely accommodate the whole world. When this becomes clear to us, we find we have a choice. We either exclude what doesn’t fit and pretend it doesn’t exist, or we allow our worldview to change and expand to fit the facts.
One example of this would be the Church’s attitude to slavery. Jesus himself didn’t challenge slavery, nor did Paul the Apostle. It’s only in relatively recent history that it was challenged as an offence against God and human dignity, despite the fact that the defining event in the Old Testament was the exodus of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, into what was promised to be the freedom of the Promised Land.
Many slave owners and slave traders resisted the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, for the obvious reason that it adversely affected their economic interests. We now take it for granted that slavery is wrong. Our worldview is one that, at least in principle, accommodates the inherent dignity and freedom of every human being. For most of history, though, this hasn’t been the case. The prevailing worldview prevented slavery from being seen for what it is.
Similar challenges to worldviews have come in our own time in relation, for example, to women and homosexuality. Those whose worldview is shaped by an adherence to a literal reading of the Bible will argue that there should be no accommodation to the pressure to see things in a different way, while others will suggest that the facts of experience can’t be ignored, and that there are ways of reading the Bible in other than a literal way. So one of the things about worldviews is that there will always be different ways of seeing and experiencing the world and one of the paradoxical things about worldviews is that they actually have to accommodate that fact. One of the tests of the adequacy of a worldview is how successfully it is able to do just that.
In today’s second reading from the Gospel of Luke we see a worldview being changed before our very eyes. The bulk of Luke’s account of the resurrection takes the form of a story about a journey made by two disciples on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Their worldview is under severe strain, because they simply can’t accommodate the fact that the one they’d hoped would be the saviour of Israel had met an ignominious death on a cross. Furthermore, reports had been received that some women had heard that this same person was now actually alive. As they walk, a mysterious stranger joins them, who encourages them to tell him all that’s happened. And it’s he, the Risen Christ, who, step by step, begins to reshape their worldview into one that can accommodate suffering and death in a new way, with resurrection then thrown in to boot. Their worldview has been shaped by their scriptures but they can’t see what the scriptures are actually saying:
‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared. Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As a result of this encounter, their worldview is changed. From the perspective of resurrection, suffering and death are seen in a different light and enabled to take their place in a way that hadn’t seemed possible before.
The claim that Jesus has been raised from the dead is in itself one that many find difficult to accommodate into their worldview. It seems to go against all that’s understood about how the world works. There’s a deeper truth to which the claim points us, though, and it’s simply this. Every worldview, including the Christian one, is limited and struggles to accommodate the whole truth. At the heart of all experience, though, is a mysterious dynamic, forever reshaping things and opening up new possibilities. We’re invited to let go of all that’s limited, to die, and to have new life breathed into us, to be raised. In so doing, we discover that at the heart of everything is an eternal freshness, an openness, a newness, of which the resurrection of Jesus is the supreme sign.
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