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8th April MARKS OF RESURRECTION

Acts 4: 32-35; John 20: 19-31

As a young, searching Christian, there were two things that I wanted above else. One was evidence. I want God to be proven to me. I needed to see just something of what the disciples saw that gave them the deep conviction that Jesus was alive, and with them in power. I devoured books like Frank Morrison?s "Who Moved the Stone?, with its forensic analysis of the gospel record to prove what I now accept is unprovable by this method.

The other was experience. The giving of the Holy Spirit, in the upper room after the resurrection, and some weeks later at Pentecost, seemed to be a clincher for the early church. It changed their lives in a way that I also desired with all my heart.

One of the things I have discovered on the rocky, windy journey from there to here, is that to place too great an emphasis on evidence and experience is a recipe for loss of faith, and I have seen many fall by the wayside for lack of the sought-after signs and wonders. Staying afloat on a sea of mystery and disappointment requires a fair amount of flexibility and resilience, not to mention buoyancy. However, like you, I am still here, so something of the spirit has obviously been working for our benefit, blind as we might be to it sometimes.

I have long since given up the futile quest for certainty, and ecstatic visions and auditions. I don?t argue with anyone anymore about whether Jesus was resurrected body and all. I DON?T KNOW.

So let me share with you what I think I do know. At least, provisionally, because I am still working on it!

Here is something that I observed a few weeks ago.

IT?S A FRIDAY AT BILL?S PLACE

I am sitting at a table half way up the eastern side of the church, facing the back door.

Directly in front of me is a group of five young adults. They came in at 10am, and it is now 12-45. I eventually discover that they are musicians on the way to Melbourne, and have dropped in to relax before tonight?s local gig. One of them visits the pews to pray. They share a meal, muffins and tea; play scrabble, browse the church library; but mainly, just sit and engage in relaxed conversation.

Looking further left, I see a man from our congregation. He regularly comes in to pray, drink tea, and chat.

Further to the left, thee women I do not recognise have finished their lunch, and are now just talking. People linger here.

At the back, on the pew near the noticeboard with past minister?s names, a man is leafing through a magazine. Now the tea he ordered has arrived.

Enya sings quietly. The three volunteers in their Bill?s Place aprons pop busily in and out. They are getting tired. They are doing extra well.

Someone wants me to hear that they feel disconcerted when we open for business on the Lord?s Day. I get that. And I want them to get my awe at the man who came in that Sunday, looked around and said. "I have not been in a church for 40 years..?

We can take sides, or we can be there, in the sometimes exciting, sometimes uncomfortable mix.

I was going to start my sermon preparation for Palm Sunday. Instead, I have done the IGA run for more ham, then just sat here, flicking through my favourite websites like twitter, while observing people being in church. Just being.

The young people are leaving. Blessed, I hope. Rested, surely.

Palm Sunday will be less peaceful, but a necessary prelude to the Easter drama. Bill?s Place had died- and is rising again.

And we are lifted up. Hopefully, too, the clients of the charities that benefit from this joyful, sacrificial service.

This is church. This is life reaching out for fullness.

Last week I suggested that the Gospel narratives of Easter show that nobody was either expecting the resurrection of Jesus or ready for it when it came. Following on from that, consider that when Jesus did appear to his followers, they did not recognise him. John tells us that when Mary Magdalene returned to the empty tomb after calling Peter and another disciple, she thought he was the gardener. She only recognised him when he spoke to her by name. In Luke?s account of the disciples joining a stranger on the road to Emmaeus, the recognition dawned that this person was the risen Jesus only when he broke the bread with them. Again in John, Thomas was unbelieving until Jesus showed him the bodily wounds of his crucifixion.

So how do we recognise the risen Christ when we see him? What are the marks of resurrection?

1. Wounds and Scars. Sometimes we know resurrection because of the damage that preceded it. Without wounding there is no healing, just as without death there is no resurrection. In her book Women who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Estes refers to people who are part of the "scar clan?. They recognise each other because of their wounds, which are healed or in the process of healing. They have a strong sense of community because they understand something of what each other have been through. They are able to be to each other what Henri Nouwen calls ?wounded healers.?

I have told you over time some of the stories of my own experiences of resurrection. They arose out of a situation of shame, alienation and despair. It was not a place from which I could extricate myself without what I understand as divine help- sometimes through the love and support of others, and sometimes through strange and timely mainfestations of metaphysical intervention. An owl has been one of the creatures that turns up occasionally to give reassurance, or just a reminder that the natural and supernatural worlds can at times be one and the same thing. I have never seen Jesus as Thomas saw him, or heard his voice with the clarity that Mary did. Their experiences happened in a space where the separation between divine presence and the human apprehension of it were seemingly paper-thin. As a spiritual seeker I tend to want more of the divine fireworks than God seems inclined to allow. I am sure there are excellent reasons for that, one being that if we think that we have actually caught up with Jesus there would be no real motivation to remain fit and active on the journey of faith, hope and love. Scars and deprivation remind us to keep going.

2. Forgiveness. In today?s account of the upper room appearance, Jesus places forgiveness at the heart of the experience of the Holy Spirit. Jesus seems to be saying that when one person forgives another, by that act they set them free. Failure to do so has the opposite effect. What is not said, but what I think we all know from our life experience, is that forgiving another for something they have done to us not only sets them free, but sets ourselves free too. When we don?t hold a grudge any more, we have two hands free with which to embrace the world.

Some of the wounds of the scar clan that continue to cause pain are the wounds of broken and lost relationships, that remain that way because forgiveness has been neither offered nor accepted, or both. Jesus displays the enormity of the power of forgiveness as he prays for his torturers from his agony on the cross, "Father forgive them. They do not know what they are doing?. It is a mark of the risen Christ in the life of a follower or community, when they have the grace to forgive another.

There is someone in my life, albeit a peripheral player, who cannot forgive me for an omission that, to all intents and purposes, seems trivial, but obviously, for that person, carried significant offence. I am truly sorry for my mistake. I am trying to re-engage, but keep getting rebuffed. It is not the most painful experience of lack of forgiveness that I have ever had, not by a long way, but it brings home to me the sense of helplessness and needless loss of friendship where no forgiveness is given.

Jesus also put forgiveness at the heart of the prayer that we put at the heart of our worship. "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us?. The power of forgiveness is an energy that lies at the heart of the spiritual experience of the community of faith.

3. Spirited Community. The presence of the risen Christ is marked by the spirit-filled community that forms around his teaching and his commission to take his love to the world. The community described in Acts 2 and 4 is one that is characterised by unity, compassion and generosity. It is communities such as this that demonstrate how the church can be the living body of Christ.

As I sat in Bill?s Place a few Fridays ago and watched what was happening, I gained a sense of the church being what it is called to be. There IS a sense of community there, especially among the volunteers and the other regulars who take time to be together. This unity, and the compassion and generosity that grows in this fertile and nurturing environment is also starting to spill over to others who come and find that they have things in common. Little by little, they start to trust the sacred space and give more of themselves. This is one of the ways and one of the places where this church is able to demonstrate that it is indeed the body of Christ, both risen and crucified. Risen, it displays the hope of new life in Christ. Crucified, it lives in the knowledge and experience of redemptive suffering and unearned forgiveness.

It is normal and human to want evidence before we embrace something so demanding and life absorbing as being a follower of Jesus. I know that in my experience, time and energy has been wasted looking in the wrong places. It is also natural, when reading the scriptures, to desire a similar spiritual experience to those who walked with him. As of now, it is my conviction that we are closer to it than we think. I love the story about the little fish who went to the wise old octopus with a worried question. "Wise octopus, I have been told by others how wonderful water is? he said. "Can you tell me where I will find it?. "Yes I can? said the octopus. "You are swimming in it, You are living in it. You are breathing it in.?

So tell me please, dear wise octopus; where are the evidence, the experience, the signs of the risen Christ?


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