Called by Name

Reading
John 20.1–18

 

Mine is a personal story of an unexpected and terribly inconvenient Christian conversion, told by a very unlikely convert: a blue-state, secular intellectual; a lesbian; a left-wing journalist with a habit of skepticism.… as well as an intimate memoir of personal conversion, mine is a political story. At a moment when right-wing American Christianity is ascendant, when religion worldwide is rife with fundamentalism and exclusionary ideological crusades, I stumbled into a radically inclusive faith centred on sacraments and action.… 

I still can’t explain my first communion. It made no sense. I was in tears and physically unbalanced: I felt as if I had just stepped off a curb or been knocked over, painlessly, from behind. The disconnect between what I thought was happening—I was eating a piece of bread; what I heard someone else say was happening—the piece of bread was the ‘body’ of ‘Christ’, a patently untrue or at best metaphorical statement; and what I knew was happening—God, named ‘Christ’ or ‘Jesus’, was real, and in my mouth—utterly short-circuited my ability to do anything but cry. — Sara Miles, Take this Bread: A Radical Conversion

Mary’s announcement to the disciples of what she experienced in the garden has great significance for this Gospel and for preaching. She does not offer the disciples a third-person, impersonal, doctrinal statement about Jesus’ resurrection, much like our liturgical responses at Easter, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Rather, it is a first-person testimony, a witness to what she has experienced. She gives voice again to that which is so critical for this Gospel, one’s own experience and encounter with Jesus so as to recognise who Jesus is. Mary’s proclamation is not only a witness to her encounter with the resurrected Jesus but also an interpretation of it. She realises that for Jesus to be raised from the dead is also an assertion about her own resurrection, her own future. — Karoline Lewis, John (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries)

———————-

‘Christ is risen indeed!’ I sincerely believe it. Let me tell you why. 

I was living here in West End, thirty six years ago, working and studying, and also living as part of the House of Freedom, a Christian community that some of you will remember and some others may have heard of.

I had first made a decision to follow Jesus at the age of fourteen. And I had stayed the course. I had remained a person of faith, even though what I believed had taken some twists and turns along the way. 

You see, I had started my regular church life by going to my best friend at school’s church, which turned out to be a bit of a fundamentalist hothouse. I often felt inadequate there, like I wasn’t doing enough to please God. 

So it may not sound so strange that when I was living here in West End, thirty six years ago, fifteen years after I had first decided to become a Christian, I was losing my sense of being a person of faith. 

What is faith? Christian Wiman says 

Faith is nothing more—but how much this is—than a motion of the soul toward God.

‘Faith is nothing more…than a motion of the soul toward God.’ (Or, he wonders, is it a motion of God toward the soul? Who knows?)

Whatever; my soul was no longer being moved by God. My faith was tired and my focus was elsewhere, in my work. In the evangelical hothouse that had been my church, I’d had difficulties with my faith a few times. But this time, it was different. 

Before, I had been distressed when I was doubting my faith. This time, here in West End in 1983, I realised that I didn’t much care that my faith was slipping away. 

I told one or two friends, but really I thought: if faith was that easy to lose, what’s the point? I might as well lose it. 

Still, it was the Easter weekend. My House of Freedom friends were all away for the weekend; I stayed home to study. As the Saturday wore on, I began to feel a bit stir crazy. (Remember, this was 1983, nothing much was happening at Easter around Brisbane.) 

I thought I’d go to church on Easter Sunday. After all, I still felt an attachment to Jesus, whatever I doubts I harboured about God. I wondered if I might become one of those people who only go to church at Christmas and Easter. 

Some of you will remember St Peter’s Anglican Church, on Mitchell St, just off Hardgrave Rd? It closed in 1992. 

I didn’t need to be jollied up for Easter, I just wanted the quiet style of a formal Anglican service. And St Peter’s was an easy walk from my house. So I set off on my way. 

I’d known Ray Barraclough, the former priest there, but I’d heard the new priest wasn’t that good a preacher. I don’t mind, I thought, I’m not really going there for the sermon. It was more to show I thought Jesus was still important. 

Well, I don’t remember the priest’s name, but I can’t say I enjoyed the sermon. In fact, I almost got up and walked out—I’d sat near the exit so that I could leave anytime—but I made myself stay. 

Then, we shared Holy Communion, as we shall soon share. And—totally unexpectedly and quite overwhelmingly—something moved within me. 

(Don’t worry! No one else noticed, it was a spiritual experience fit for an introvert…) 

But it was a spiritual experience nonetheless. I recall a sense of feeling part of something (Someone?) larger than myself, a sense of peace and deep rightness about being a person of faith. My memories include a brightness all around, although I’m sure the light inside little St Peter’s didn’t change at all. 

The light was more likely inside me.

The thing is, I went to church that day as a person resigned to eventually losing his faith, and walked home as a convinced person of faith.

That’s another reason I’m glad the preacher was boring and the service a little tedious. I wasn’t carried away by hyped-up emotions. 

My recovery of faith—my discovery that my soul could once again be moved by God—happened on Easter Day. On 3 April 1983. And it happened during Holy Communion. Christ made himself present to me in the Sacrament of bread and wine. Just as he did to two disciples in Emmaus on the evening of the third day, the first Easter. 

My faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ was restored. I began to trust once more that Christ is risen indeed.

My faith in the stories we share at Easter was restored: the women finding the empty tomb, the risen and still-wounded body of Christ, the way people initially didn’t recognise him until he revealed himself to them. 

These stories are central. They are the way we pass the Faith down from generation to generation. How we interpret the stories… Well, there may be a bit of wriggle room there. A bit of give and take. But we can’t do without the stories.

I mean, how could we tell of Easter without the story? I’ve told you about myself by recounting my story. How else could I do it? It’s how we communicate. So, we heard once more today that Mary is weeping outside the tomb and suddenly realises someone is staring at her (do you know that feeling?). I do. 

She’s in a garden, so Mary assumes it’s the gardener and that he must have taken the body. It’s not until Jesus says Mary in that way he had, that she sees him. 

He’s changed. Transformed. Jesus is the risen One. 

Mary goes and tells the others. She doesn’t talk about the theology of the resurrection. She simply says, ‘I have seen the Lord!’ 

And strangely, she realises that she is in some way risen too. There may be a long way to go, but Christ is risen within her. 

With Mary, I can say that Jesus said my name in St Peter’s over on Mitchell St in 1983. I didn’t literally hear or see anything; yet I had been called by name, and my name is still being called today. 

Christ is risen. Christ is here. Hear him call your name. Open your heart to him today.

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