Is Jesus just an imaginary invisible friend?
I’d like to introduce you to Alice and her friend, Humphrey.
Here is Alice
and here is a picture of her friend, Humphrey
Humphrey is 8 ft tall, he is blue and is a very furry rabbit. He is also invisible.
Humphrey is Alice’s great friend
He is always with her
She talks to him and tells him her secrets.
He knows everything about her
And he comforts her when she is sad or scared.
What then of Jesus?
Is he just a grown-ups’ version of Humphrey?
Someone who knows me, is with me and comforts me when I am scared or lonely?
Today's reading tells us that Jesus is not an imaginary friend.
It is the story of what happened on that first Easter morning.
And it tells us that:
1. There really was a person called Jesus
He was as real as .. Ben, here.
You could shake his hand. You could have a conversation with him. You could know him.
And this Jesus really lived and he really died. He was crucified. We have quite a lot of evidence for that, both in the bible and in other literature of the time.
But then something remarkable happened.
On the first Easter Sunday, the women went to the tomb, and there they met someone. They said that he looked like lightening. And he was dressed in pure white. White is, of course, absolute visible light, the merging of all the colours in the spectrum.
And this angel has a message for the women: ‘Jesus is not here; he has been raised. Tell his followers to go to Galilee. There they will see him’
Jesus did appear to his followers. They saw him. They touched him. In our story, the women clasp the feet of Jesus. They even ate fish with him. Their lives were changed. From being terrified secretive followers of a crucified leader meeting in locked rooms, they became men and women who travelled throughout the world telling people everywhere that Jesus rose from the dead.
This is not fake news. Last week Lionel helped us think through the evidence for the resurrection. There is ample evidence: the tomb that was empty, the grave clothes, the many different people who met Jesus, the changed lives of the disciples.
Jesus Christ was as real as Ben here.
Jesus Christ rose from the dead and is as real as Ben here.
2. Jesus spoke and Jesus really speaks
It is easy to deceive ourselves and turn Jesus into a Humphrey who only says nice things, like: God loves you so that means God wants you to have an easy life and be happy, healthy and rich; everybody is going to heaven – so it doesn’t matter what you believe or what you do, provided you are sincere.
But because Jesus really lived, we know what he did say.
It is recorded here
Over the past few weeks we’ve been looking at some of those things:
‘Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is close at hand’
‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’
‘If you forgive others .. your heavenly Father will also forgive you; if you don’t forgive others, your heavenly Father will not forgive you’
‘If you want to be my disciple, you must deny yourself, die to what you want and follow me’
That is quite challenging. If Humphrey said that to me I wouldn’t be very happy. I’d tell him he was demanding too much.
But it is not Humphrey. It is Jesus, who rose from the dead.
He tells us that the Holy Spirit will take the words that he spoke then so that when we read them, or someone speaks about them, those words will come into our heart and mind; and they will change us.
Because Jesus is alive, there are times when he speaks specially to us, to guide us or reassure us. And he will speak to us through people, circumstances and personal conviction. But because Jesus is not a Humphrey, but really lived and spoke, we can check that what we think he is saying to us is really him. And the way to check it is to test what we believe he is saying to us now against what he said then.
Jesus spoke and Jesus speaks
3. We will really see him
Alice, sadly, will never see Harvey.
But we will see Jesus.
The angel tells the women to go and tell the disciples to go to Galilee.
Because there they will see him.
And it is while the women are going to tell the disciples, it is while they are being obedient to the command, Jesus comes to them and they see him.
They meet Jesus and it overwhelms them; it is too big for words. They fall down at his feet. They worship him.
Those sorts of meetings with Jesus are unusual, but they still happen. I have met a few people who say that they have seen Jesus.
Last year Jenny Ashman was in hospital in the last few weeks of her life. She had terminal cancer. Those of you who knew Jenny will know that you can hardly have got a more no-nonsense person. She was not prone to fancy imagination. She told me that Jesus came and stood in her side room. She could only look at his feet, but he lifted up her head so that she could look him in the face.
And Barbara at St Peter’s tells of how, about 12 years ago, she was kneeling at the communion rail, and suddenly Jesus was there. She could reach out and touch his robe. Even now she cannot speak of it without being moved.
And maybe some of you here have had similar experiences. I’d love to hear about that if you have.
But the promise of the resurrection is that if we are obedient, if we listen to him and trust him, if we go to our Galilee – wherever or whatever that is for us - then Jesus will come and meet us and we will see him.
I suspect that for most of us that will not be this side of the grave. But it will happen on the other side. John writes, “What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (1 John 3.2)
And when we see him, like the women we will truly worship.
One final thing.
Humphrey does not have to be an 8 foot invisible blue furry rabbit; he can be a security blanket or a cuddly toy or prayer book or beads or whatever.
Yesterday I heard an amazingly gifted violinist speak of her beloved Stradivarius violin that was stolen from her. She spoke of her desolation, and she spoke of her instrument as she would speak of a lover: of one who knew her and had become part of her and from whom she was inseparable. I’m sure musicians here will know something of that.
But I just wonder whether that deep longing for a Humphrey or for someone or something who – even if we can’t see him – knows us intimately and deeply and who is always with us and for us, is in fact an expression of a God given longing and desire for the real thing: the risen Jesus.
So I invite each one of us today to come to Jesus who really lived and died and rose again. He speaks and you will one day see him. He was and he is and he is to come again.