A sermon preached at St Martin-in-the-Fields at Bread for the World on 31 March by Revd Jonathan Evens.

Jesus and Pilate / head-to-head / in a clash of cultures. / Pilate is / angular, aggressive, threatening / representing / the oppressive, controlling /

Empire of dominating power, / with its strength in numbers / and weaponry, / which can crucify / but cannot / set free. / Jesus is / curves and crosses, / love and sacrifice, / representing the kingdom of God; / a kingdom of love, /

service and self-sacrifice / birthing men and women / into the freedom / to love one another. (Jonathan Evens ©)


Stephen Verney began ‘Water into Wine,’ by talking about ‘ano’ and ‘kato’ the Greek words for up and down. He suggests that when these words are used in John’s Gospel, Jesus is speaking about two different levels or orders to reality. What he meant by this are different patterns of society, each with a different centre or ruling power. In the first, ‘the ruling principle is the dictator ME, my ego-centric ego, and the pattern of society is people competing with, manipulating and trying to control each other.’ In the second, ‘the ruling principle is the Spirit of Love, and the pattern of society is one of compassion – people giving to each other what they really are, and accepting what others are, recognising their differences, and sharing their vulnerability.’ These two orders or patterns for society are at war with each other and we are caught up in the struggle that results. Choosing our side in this struggle is a key question for us as human beings, the question being ‘so urgent that our survival depends on finding the answer.’ Verney writes that: ‘we can see in our world order the terrible consequences of our ego-centricity. We have projected it into our institutions, where it has swollen up into a positive force of evil. We are all imprisoned together, in a system of competing nation states, on the edge of a catastrophe which could destroy all life on our planet.’ He was writing in the 1980s but could have been describing today’s populism and nationalism.


These two orders confront each other in the moment with which we have just begun, the encounter between Jesus and Pilate. Verney writes: ‘The authority given from above, from the order of ano, is the authority to set people free, and it flows through powerlessness. Pilate has not got this authority; his empire is … from here, based on power, and it can crucify people but it does not know how to set them free. Jesus has this authority; his kingdom is … from above, and through his powerlessness flows the compassion which can transform men and women, so that they are born again into the freedom to love one another.’


So, with this section of the book and the Gospel we have reached the events which enable us to be born again into the freedom to love one another. The crucifixion and resurrection are those climatic events. Verney says that ‘John is telling us what really happened on that third day after the crucifixion of Jesus… It is not simply a physical event… Nor is it simply a spiritual or psychological event… John has been preparing us to see that it is more than either of these; it is an event born out of the marriage of heaven and earth. “On the third day there was a marriage”, he had written at the beginning of his story, and as he described to us a wedding feast… he was pointing us to another third day and to another marriage which would happen in eternity – and “eternity” does not mean out of time and space, it means NOW, in the depths of each present moment, and in every place where the eyes of men and women are opened to see. This new age of eternal life began on the third day after the death of Jesus in a garden not far from Golgotha, about six o’clock on a Sunday morning, and it continues in our experience…’


So, what is this new age and how does it begin through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection? Verney locates the new age in the I AM sayings of Jesus and what they reveal of his relationship with God. Earlier in the book Verney explained that, ‘When Jesus says I AM he is affirming his humanity – the whole of himself, from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. He accepts what he is … He is totally self-conscious.’ Yet, ‘At the same time he is using the name of God: I AM. So, ‘The heart of the consciousness of Jesus is I AM, God/human being. Human being/God. In his consciousness … earth and heaven, flesh and Spirit become one as they interact with each other.”’ In Jesus there is a marriage of heaven and earth – a bringing together of ano and kato, up and down, water and wine – and we are called, by Jesus, to become part of that marriage. The marriage of heaven and earth reflects an even more astonishing union that Verney calls ‘The Dance of Love’.


He notes that ‘Jesus said again and again – and here is the very centre of his teaching – that [the] energy of resurrection is “the Father who sent me”. He knew … in his own self-consciousness, that resurrection was the Love of the Father flowing through him… He can only say “I AM the resurrection”, because this energy which raises from death into life is the to and fro of Love between himself and the Father NOW. It is a dialogue, or exchange, in which he lets go everything and receives back everything; for that is what he sees the Father doing, and that is the Truth of how things really are. Into that reality Jesus calls his friends, and creates around himself a new world order.’ Jesus does only what he sees the Father doing and the Father reveals to Jesus everything that he is doing. In that dance of love between them, says Jesus, “I and the Father are one.” The Son cries, “Abba! Father!” and the Father cries “my beloved Son”, and the love which leaps between them is Holy Spirit – the Spirit of God, God himself, for God is Spirit and God is Love.”


There is a relationship of love at the heart of the Godhead where love is constantly shared and exchanged and we are invited into that relationship of love. Jesus described this when he said that he is in the Father and the Father in him. He then extended that same relationship to others too – I am in you and you are in me. Becoming part of the Dance of Love through the marriage of heaven and earth is the new age into which we are born again through the death and resurrection of Jesus. To be born again in this way is to be raised from a consciousness which is really death into a quality of life which is eternal. Verney says that ‘It was in this paradoxical way that the disciples saw [Jesus] for forty days after his death… they had to let go the ego that wants to look at him and comprehend, and open their minds and their imaginations to receive the energy of resurrection flowing through them. They had to get up, and go out, and do the truth in order to know it… then they would come to know in their hearts that the real Jesus really comes to them in real people and through real events, and that he is having a conversation with them now through what happens in the present moment.’ Jesus ‘does not try to force his objective truth into our thick heads, he says, but … invites us to know him in our hearts through an interaction and an interplay between us.’ Jesus provided a vivid example of this while he hung in agony on the cross. Verney says of the moment when Jesus gives Mary, his mother, and John, the beloved disciple, one to the other: ‘Mary gives to Christ, and John becomes Christ; these are the two realities which have to be woven together into the life of the new age. We give birth to Christ as we see and set him free in each other. We become Christ as we receive his Spirit from each other into the private depths of ourselves.’


All this happened within the exchange or conversation or dance of love within the Trinity and it is this that enables us, as Verney does in ‘Water into Wine’ ‘to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time’. That is why he ends the book with his discussion of the Prologue to John’s Gospel. I want to do the same thing but in a different way by reading a translation of the Prologue based on translating ‘logos’ as conversation, not word, and then to end with a meditation on resurrection. ‘It all arose out of a conversation, conversation within God, in fact the conversation was God. So, God started the discussion, and everything came out of this, and nothing happened without consultation. This was the life, life that was the light of humanity, shining in the darkness, a darkness which neither understood nor quenched its creativity. John, a man sent by God, came to remind people about the nature of the light so that they would observe. He was not the subject under discussion, but the bearer of an invitation to join in. The subject of the conversation, the original light, came into the world, the world that had arisen out of his willingness to converse. He fleshed out the words but the world did not understand. He came to those who knew the language, but they did not respond. Those who did became a new creation (his children), they read the signs and responded. These children were born out of sharing in the creative activity of God. They heard the conversation still going on, here, now, and took part, discovering a new way of being people. To be invited to share in a conversation about the nature of life, was for them, a glorious opportunity not to be missed. (Clive Scott © http://cornerstonemk.blogspot.com/2009/04/in-2001-i-was-listening-to-radio-4.html)


The one who invites us into that conversation is I AM, the one in whom the orders of up and down, earth and heaven, flesh and Spirit are reconciled. So I end with a reflection on Jesus’ I AM sayings, written by my friend Revd Alan Stewart: I am the ground beneath you, / the earth from which you rise. / I am the arms that hold you / through the loneliness, / the terror and the lies. / I am the spring that thaws your winter, / the sun that warms your skin, / the light bleeding into your disappointment. /I am your horizon. / I am the song that speaks for you, / the symphony you’re born into, / the dance that carries you, /the breast you lean into. / I am the click in your head, / the language making sense, / the perspective in your chaos, / your mother tongue, your present tense. / I am the strength to reach beyond yourself, / the courage just to be yourself, / the grace which helps you forgive yourself, / the dreams you harbour inside yourself. / I am your roots, your history, / your future and your mystery. / I am the lifter of your head, / the eyes that simply say, “It will be okay”. / I am your vindication, / your celebration, / your consolation, / your destination. / I am the stirring of the waters, / the waker of your sleep. / The shout that calls, / “Lazarus, arise!” / The mud I spread into your eyes. / I am the one who writes in sand / as stones fall from your enemies hands. / I am the footwasher who bathes / your wounds, your pride. / The one who sits with you / through the cold watches of the night. / I am the father who watches your desertion. / The smile that greets you on your returning, / the hands that bless you, the clothes that dress you, / the words that free you, the embrace that heals you. / I am the bread that meets your hunger, / the living water for your thirst, / who was and is and is to come. / The last, the in between, the first. / I am / the resurrection / and the life. / Whoever comes to me, / though they die, / yet shall they live. (Alan Stewart ©)