COME AND SEE
Patronal for Feast of St. Philip St. Philip, Earls Court Road. Sunday April 30th 2017
© The Rt Revd Dr Stephen Platten
Ask anyone outside London about Earl’s Court and as likely as not they’ll talk about the now demolished exhibition centre. It was the home of the Royal Tournament, and many remember it for the Motor Show. Indeed, as a lad, I parked cars there for that very event, for National Car Parks. The founder of that esteemed company was at my school – a good deal earlier on – I think at the same time as Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus Cars. You can see that the Stationers’ Company School was at the heart of automobile development.
The great 1937 Art Deco building was one of the magnets for many – its exhibitions covered a great variety of different trades and industries. I’m not sure it ever had a motto or a strapline, but if it didn’t, and remembering its function, role and purpose, it could easily have snatched yours, Come and See. That simple line comes, of course, from the mouth of Philip and is reported in that rather remarkable piece of dialogue and action in the first chapter of the Gospel of St. John. It’s a passage of many ‘comings and goings’. The phrase is first used by Jesus, when one disciple asks Jesus where he is staying. ‘Come and see’, Jesus says. Then a succession of people appear – Simon and Andrew, Philip and Nathanael.
Both that passage, and the piece we heard just now, are fairly enigmatic. There is the bid to ‘come and see’, but there is also a series of obscurer and puzzling cul-de-sacs. In chapter one of John’s Gospel, then, Nathanael asks Jesus ‘How is it you know me?’ Jesus says, ‘I saw you under a fig tree.’ Nathanael then addresses Jesus as Rabbi and Son of God, but Jesus still foxes them: ‘Did you know this simply because I said I saw you under a fig tree.’ ‘You’ll see greater things than this’, says Jesus and he makes a veiled reference to Jacob’s dream of angels going up and down ladders into heaven.
This morning’s readings are equally mysterious. ‘Show us the Father’, says Philip, but Jesus hints that Philip has missed the point and that again greater things will follow. Then that piece from the Letter to the Ephesians, which we’ve just heard, notes of God: ‘He has made known to us his secret purpose.’ Again there’s a sense of enigma and mystery. Almost certainly much of the reasoning behind this comes from the context in which the New Testament was written. It was a time of upheaval, uncertainty, and oppression. It makes our funny world seem positively stable! Many groups – often known now as Gnostics, purported to know secrets that could only be revealed to those ‘in the know’. Jesus and the New Testament witnesses to Jesus were keen to offer something entirely different.
Rather like the aims of the latterday Earl’s Court centre, they were about display, about a momentous revelation of God to the world, indeed to the entire cosmos. This is the essence of the incarnation. If people had still not figured out the nature and presence of God, here it is now – in this man Jesus. God now makes clear to us his character, his love and his promise for all humanity in Jesus. Who is God? Where is God? Come and see!
Our own world is a strange mixture of dramatic openness and privatised relationships. The internet, computers, facebook and twitter offer untold opportunities for communication. But they also require us to live in our own private worlds. How frequently have you been frustrated by walking very slowly behind someone, only to realise she was on her mobile telephone. Some months ago I was on an underground train which was halted peremptorily in the station because a man had dropped his mobile down in the famous location of Mind the Gap! It turned into a huge personal crisis
Interestingly – and rather depressingly groups and organisations have suffered huge losses in numbers. Political parties, uniformed organisations, working men’s clubs have all faltered. Pubs are closing down nineteen to the dozen. When we hear reports of the churches suffering similarly, it’s amazing in fact that they have held me up so well. But all these symptoms are facets of an increasingly privatised, secret world.
In contrast to this, of course, at the heart of our faith lies community. The central act for all Christians is the sacrament of Christ’s presence, which is also a communal meal. St. Paul compared the Church with the human body – all limbs and organs come together to give the body life. This lies at the centre of your strapline. For, come and see, means not drop into the exhibition centre for this occasional exhibition. Instead it says, come and see and become a living limb within a living community.
This Easter season, within which the feast of St. Philip invariably falls, is the crowning glory of our gospel. Not only is Jesus born into our world but he transforms it as he is raised to become the Pantokrator, the ruler of the entire cosmos and universe. The Orthodox Church is brilliant at keeping the Resurrection at the centre of their faith; that same Pantokrator is depicted on the central dome of every one of their churches. That piece from Ephesians ends: ‘…the universe, everything in heaven and on earth, might be brought into unity in Christ, the Pantokrator. What an amazing vision! Come and See!! To that we reply:
Readings Ephesians 1. 3-10.
John 14. 1-14.