Welcome to part time priest. Bits of life come together - priesthood, part time worker, mum, wife, person. Not really part time ontologically, obviously, but I do have other things to do, quite apart from being...and one of them is enjoying sharing ministry experiences and reflections with you.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

The art of battling giants


Sermon for Trinity 3.

1 Samuel 17:45
But David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 

Do you ever feel, like me, that the church is somewhat the underdog today? What with falling numbers, rising bills and the slow onslaught of secularism, we can feel perhaps that the giants are just too many.

If that’s the case, the story of David and Goliath has much to teach us. We know the story from Sunday School and as a stand alone tale it tells us of victory for the little man – victory for the one who trusted in God, despite appearances suggesting his imminent defeat.

Most of us will not be called upon to battle a giant, at least not a literal one. So how can we take this is as God’s encouraging word for us today in our situation? We can take the template of the story and see what it can teach us, bit by bit, about 'the art of battling giants'. *

*The phrase is taken from Malcolm Gladwell’s 2013 book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, a great read, which takes the theme of the original story to illustrate multiple ways in which underdogs and the disadvantaged in society have battled against the odds and won, not despite their difficulties but almost because of them.

Gladwell had been a writer many years before he published David and Goliath but it was this book he says brought him back to the faith of his childhood: 


I realised what I had missed. It wasn't an "I woke up one morning" kind of thing. It was a slow realisation something incredibly powerful and beautiful in the faith that I grew up with that I was missing. Here I was writing about people of extraordinary circumstances and it slowly dawned on me that I can have that too.

Reading between the lines, what happened during the writing of the book was that so many of the amazing stories of courage against adversity were from Christians whose faith had stood up to the most terrible prejudice or suffering, that Gladwell was faced with something very real that he felt he wanted to regain, i.e. his Christian faith.

So it’s an important book from an influential sociologist, and if we know the power of the story of David and Goliath can bring forth such a personal confession of faith, we know there’s something (or someone) powerful behind the story.

There are three movements to the story, which I’d like to take as headings as we think about our own situation as part of a church in the 21st Century that sometimes feels like the underdog.

1. Know your giants
The writer of the story does not hide the real nature of the giant; he presents the case realistically. Goliath is enormous, he is powerful; he is well armed and dangerous. At the end of the section about Goliath, we read ‘When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid’.

What does this say to us? Be realistic. Know the culture you live in. Know the culture your children and grand children live in. Hang around with people and look, observe. What things are not being talked about? Where is God present and where does he appear to be absent? What things exercise people? What things are people worried about? Read the papers; be informed about the state of the church in the community here, and in the wider situation of the 21st West. It’ll break your heart sometimes; it’ll mean focussing on real tragedy such as the South Carolina shootings this week. It’ll mean not underestimating evil. Know your giants: neither live in the past with rose tinted spectacles, nor despair of the present. Because…

2. Giants aren’t always what they seem
So Goliath is a terrifying giant. Or so it seems. Here Gladwell is interesting because he suggests that the very strength and might of the giant Goliath may have in fact been his downfall. He relies on heavy armour; David is nimble and has speed on his side. Goliath was a seasoned fighter and thought that David would come to him in the usual one-to-one combat; he wasn’t expecting a stone to come winging its way through the air and strike him on the head. Gladwell writes of the advantage of the seemingly innocuous stone in a sling:

Eitan Hirsch, a ballistics expert with the Israeli Defence Force, recently did a series of calculations showing that a typical-sized stone hurled by an expert slinger at a distance of 35m would have hit Goliath's head with a velocity of 34m per second – more than enough to penetrate his skull and render him dead or unconscious.

What does this say to us? It perhaps suggests that the very things that tell us we’re struggling as a church might be the means for us to fix our hopes firmly on the surprise that God brings, in the form of unlikely victors.

Yes, secularism is a pervasive force. Yes we have a media that is suspicious of religion, certainly of Christianity. Yes, to all intents and purposes the people we live with and work with are getting along fine without God and many people one meets think they’re the masters of their own destiny.

But look deeper. There is still curiosity about spiritual experience. There is a hunger for mystery. There is loneliness; there is marital breakdown. There is illness and people we love die. We are mortal and none of us knows what’s around the corner. This is true of everyone you meet, even the very young. Teenage mental illness and depression is rising; fear of terrorism is high. There will always be a need for a people who know what/Whom they believe and who can hold out hope. In the Philip Larkin poem, Church Going, after painting a gloomy picture of an empty church, the poet admits wisely, that despite people abandoning traditional religion, ‘someone will for ever be surprising a hunger in himself to be more serious’.

And so we don’t lose heart. We pray for our neighbours. To pray for your neighbour, you need to get to know your neighbour. To know your neighbour is to love to your neighbour. If you pray for them, you will get to love them. If you love them, you will be expressing God’s love for them, and that way you can be a beacon to Christ. That’s what we’re here for. And finally…

3. ‘Giants’ are a matter of perspective
After describing Goliath, the writer of 1 Samuel turns to David. David’s perspective was entirely different to that of his contemporaries, and to that of King Saul. He could see that the real problem was not the giant, but the people’s perception of the giant. He says to Saul, ‘Let no one’s heart fail because of him’ (verse 32). God eventually chose David over Saul because ‘God looks at the heart’. David saw that this particular battle was a battle about faith. The people had lost faith in God to deliver them.

Have we lost faith in God to renew the church? To grow the church? To provide for the church?

What are your giants? We all face personal giants but as a church we don’t make things better by mourning our fall from a previously assumed superior place in the cultural imagination. Yes, things are ‘very different’ now, but people have always said that of their time. We can either be completely unaware of this fall from grace, which I think by now is unlikely; or over play it, and I do hear a lot of what might pass for overplaying the tragedy of this fall. I hear church people wringing their hands about secularisation, mourning the loss of this and that, instead of getting on and re-imagining what living the Christ-centred life actually looks like in the 21st Century. It’s all a matter of perspective.

We may as well come to terms with the fact that Christendom is dead or at least nearly dead, and let God take us by surprise with his own solutions, which rely on faith and remembering his power is made perfect in weakness. This is how David defeated Goliath. His perspective was God’s perspective, and his victory God’s. 

‘Why are you so afraid?’ asks Jesus. ‘Do you still have no faith?’ (Mark 4:40).

Amen.



Sunday, 14 June 2015

Missing Sunday


Patterns of church going are changing. I find myself unrealistically yearning for something that seemed self evident during most of my churchgoing through the 70s 80s and 90s; that is, you went every week. It was a simple concept; the weekdays and Saturdays were for work, and play and shopping, and sport, and seeing friends, and Sundays we went to church. You expected to see the same people in church when you arrived, as were there the Sunday before, and would no doubt be there the Sunday after. It would never have occurred to us to go off anywhere else on a Sunday morning, especially not to visit grandparents, since they would be in church themselves. The whole warp and weft of life had a rhythm of sevens; these 'sevens' were embedded in the creation story and the subsequent life of Israel in Old Testament times - 6 days for work, one for rest in which you gathered to honour God, collectively.

It wasn't until I grew up, had my own family and went to live in a village that things began to get more complicated. The beauty and innate spirituality of a pretty village church tends to be negatively correlated with its functional use for young children, and so it was that we could only really cope with the village church experience once a month. But in those days (it was still the 90s) we would have considered once a month worshipping a very meagre diet, so the rest of the time we drove across town to a much larger church, whose non-aesthetically pleasing situation (beside a ring road and surrounded by a car park) was nevertheless positively correlated with splendid child care facilities. 

For some years we attended two churches. However, the time came when we felt we had to make a decision as to where our loyalties lay, church-wise. It was complicated, belonging to two fellowships. There was so much you had to keep driving to, while all the time our children were attending the village school and it seemed as though our local witness was compromised by being absent from the village while local Christians were gathering for worship. On one of our urban Sundays, with one child dropped off in the comfortable creche and the other two in the round the clock Sunday School, we entered the large church building and took our seats, pew sheet in hand. The theme was 'Belonging'. That word seemed to jump off the page and we felt that God was saying the time had come for us to fully 'belong' in the village. And so with very little notice, but with the blessing of that vicar, we threw our lot in with the pretty village church, the one with no child-care facilities/Sunday School/music written after about 1960. 

Even though it was hard going at first, we felt we were in the right place at the right time, and we felt loved. The children were still in that phase when we felt they should come with us whether they liked it or not, because we knew it was good for them, like the dentist, or a hot meal. As we stumbled out of the house on a Sunday morning, with three sometimes recalcitrant, grumpy or crying kids, carrying snacks, drinks, small metal cars and pieces of lego (and later, sheets of music and the odd guitar, because yes, we got roped in) I would sometimes ask myself wistfully why Sundays mornings, my 'day of rest', consistently seemed to be the most stressful time of the whole entire week.

All went well till around the middle of the primary school phase when we inevitably began to get swept into endless juggling of sporting commitments, birthday parties, picking up children from loud bowling alleys and general Sunday craziness. Our attendance began to be more sporadic, and sometimes one of us would arrive on time and leave before the end, or go somewhere else first and arrive late. It was stressful. Eventually it settled down and we became more able to sustain our regular gathering with the people of God. Because it matters to gather. 'Church' actually means gathering. No gathering, no church. If we don't gather, if at some point we arrive at a church-less future, it will be because not enough people could sustain the weekly gathering whilst all those who for whatever reason couldn't gather very often, or at all, were mostly doing other things on Sundays.

Of course nowadays, people gather in cafes, midweek, at Messy Church in the village hall and all manner of other Fresh Expressions/ways of being church. But I suppose it was inevitable that while I was a big fan of all this type of thing during my time as an active lay church-goer, as soon as I became a minster, I began to wonder, where will it all end, this dispersed way of being church, this never coinciding with the same people on the same Sunday, this 'haphazardness'...?

And sometimes I think we'll end up with at least a church buildings-less future, because the pace at which lives are lived, and the pressure not to let up (earning, working long hours, being busy, managing busy children) is getting worse. Cultural pressures are enormous: people are more mobile, busier and their lives more dispersed than ever. Working from home, one day feels like any other. In the summer especially, the number of things you could effectively fill up your Sunday with is eye wateringly overwhelming - driving, shopping, working, fetes, fayres, festivals, triathlons, cycle races, charity events, mini marathons, 10ks, 5ks, steam rallies, vintage car rallies, cricket, allotments, boot fairs. If a whole generation, then another, of people end up not really gathering for worship together, there will be no sustaining core, no finance and, eventually, no building.

So I feel old. I'm missing my rose tinted-spectacles-Sunday. But I guess everyone who's ever felt committed to church going has felt this about their perspective, and look: we're still here. Just. Life changes: deal with it. I do like the idea of being connected on social media but it's not the same. I know many people work on Sundays (hey, I work on Sundays); I know everyone's busy and 'family time' means sometimes not going to church because you're so pooped by the weekend that it's just one more thing. But I worry about the future. I imagine pretty (and more important, local) village churches closing. And I miss The Body, the fulness of all we could be, together. 

And Philip Larkin doesn't help.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5aKknj-q3o


Friday, 29 May 2015

Nourishing the heart

Possibly the best visual aid ever: what things freeze your heart, and what things unfreeze it?
On a recent retreat, I had the chance to reflect on the nature of the heart as the bible conceives of it. There are over 900 references to the heart in Scripture; it is portrayed as the emotional, spiritual and personal control centre of a person, their very inner being; and the nourishing of the heart, or guarding of it, is of primary importance.

A good place to start is Proverbs 4:23: 'Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life'. The injunction to guard your heart, implies that there are things which invade it, or to imagine it differently, things which freeze it.

Our retreat speakers* came up with possibly the best visual aid I'd ever seen - a frozen cloth heart suspended from the ceiling in an enormous block of ice, which melted throughout the 5 days, so it wasn't difficult to imagine the spiritual heart freezing and thawing, and to let that visual image ask what things tend to cause freezing and thawing to happen in our lives.

As a minister it was playing on my mind that there's nothing worse than a Christian leader with a frozen (or freezing) heart, and it often seems that it's various things to do with the institution of the church which contribute to that freezing, or at least cooling. Over-work, endless bureaucracy, a career that's plateaued, lack of personal renewal, imbibing the widely documented societal loss of confidence in institutions - it can all get you down. People watch public ministers, and people are not fooled. After a while they're going to see through yet another bright, happy, coping face. And a shrivelled heart is not reflective of the beating, passionate, life-filled heart of God for the world.

Another depressing cooler of the heart is the narrative of scarcity we tell ourselves in the Church: not enough money, not enough people. Even the discussions at national level about reform and renewal in the Church of England (see below)

https://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2015/01/archbishops-propose-programme-of-reform-and-renewal.aspx

are a response to perceived loss of direction, a kind of panic about perceived spiritual austerity. But as Rowan Williams has written, 'the church is always renewed from the edges, not from the centre. There is a limit to what the institutional church an do: institutions have their own dynamic and their own problems, and renewal tends not to come form central planning' (Silence and Honey Cakes, p. 109).

One of the ways Christianity diverges from contemporary culture is perhaps in the realm of the heart. 'Follow your heart' is a common theme, on reality shows and stories of human endeavour. As far as this means 'do what is uniquely you', it seems like a good mantra. But Scripture also suggests that the heart is sometimes deceived: 'the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure', is how Jeremiah 17:9 puts it. How do we know when this is happening, when the heart might, if not be exactly in the deep freeze, have developed some ice along the way, especially when we're immersed so fully in the things that freeze the heart that we can't really see outside the box (or ice cube).

Last bit of ice still clinging to the thawing heart.

One way we suspect our hardness of heart is in the leakage from behind our masks. We all know the learnt, 'civilised' ways to mask our true feelings, especially when to let them out would be to show ourselves as petty minded, envious or spitting with anger. But an unguarded moment can reveal the murky depths. One way Richard Rohr puts it is that 'invariably when something upsets you, and you have a strong emotional reaction out of proportion to the moment, your shadow self has just been exposed. So watch for any overreactions or overdenials' (Falling Upward, p. 133). So we need honesty in matters of the heart. And we need to nourish the heart.

The most compelling Christians are those who keep their hearts tender, who are childlike, not childish, who have the capacity to fully attend to others because they don't need to use others to sort out all their own unresolved issues. We are all wounded in some ways, through things that happened in the past, sometimes beyond conscious memory. We harbour unforgiveness, superiority and inferiority complexes, resentment, envy. We can try and hide it, but the bad root always produces bad fruit. And sanctification (growing in holiness) is nothing if not dealing with the inner heart. In fact, religious observance without the nourishment, guarding, unfreezing and warming of the heart, is likely to produce at best, ineffectual witness, or at worst, deeply unattractive witness to Christ.

Imagine if, instead of getting a whole load of new reports on how to grow the Church of England, we Christians instead took pains to guard/unfreeze/nourish our hearts. What kinds of healing would go on? What kind of joyful, free and wholesome people would be released into the world to be naturally supernatural and to point the way to the warming up of a multitude of frozen hearts....? That sounds like a good way to grow the church, and much cheaper. 

*Thanks to Phil Stone, Warden, Scargill House and David Rowe, Warden, Lee Abbey.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Swimming against the blue tide


I don't think I've ever woken up to a Britain that felt so changed as I did the morning after the results had come in for the 2015 General Election. I went to bed with thoughts of equal red/blue and a generous dollop of orange (and hopefully some refreshing swathes of green) and woke up to a country of two halves - blue and yellow. It was an even bigger shock because the opinion polls had the Tories and Labour running neck and neck, so I had been imagining how parties would have to come together in alliances - even speculating that this was going to be the way of UK politics from now on, and a good middle way it seemed, to me at least.

I suppose it shows how unpredictable politics can be. When party politics was just blue or red, things seemed a lot simpler. It seems ironic that an election campaign which saw more parties represented in front of live audience sessions than ever before, should have paved the way for a political landscape which is more one sided than ever - both south and north of the English/Scottish border. And more oppositional. One can only imagine how it will be for David Cameron, whose party wants to press ahead with more austerity measures, to face Scottish Nationalist MPs across the bench, since their main aim is to oppose austerity. One might almost feel a tiny shred of sympathy for him. Almost. 

Waking up to a blue and yellow "United" Kingdom, I felt I was sinking into a pit of gloom all day, and am still struggling. This is to do with many things - the fact so many people now need food banks, the gap between rich and poor, the nagging feeling the NHS isn't safe, etc. etc. 

More pressingly, however, I'm gloomy about the following nightmare scenario: David Cameron's 2017 referendum on Europe is fuelled by a UKIP surge (after Nigel's short holiday) and a majority are persuaded our best interests lie outside Europe. This further worsens our relationship with Scotland as they want to stay in Europe, leading to overwhelming pressure for another independence referendum. This time Scotland votes YES. The morning after, I wake up, not even to blue and yellow, but to a blue with an increasingly purple tinge. I am no longer an EU citizen, or even a citizen of the United Kingdom, but a little Englander instead. My passport will be doubly illegitimate. 

Prof. Linda Woodhead has carried out research that suggests Anglican clergy consistently find themselves positioned to the left of their congregations politically:
http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2014/31-january/features/features/time-to-get-serious

She argues that England as a whole is now generally slightly right of centre, with Anglicans even more to the right politically. However, 'official church teaching is positioned much further to the left of both the population, and even more so, Anglicans.' I'm not sure what teaching she refers to, but she may have a point. Someone has quipped that Anglicans are 'Telegraph readers led by Guardian readers'. Why is this?

The calling to 'seek and to save the lost', is hard wired into clergy, so that any political party which appears to favour the wealthy over the poorest in society is going to be regarded with suspicion. Ideologically I find it much harder to map the Conservative vision onto a Christian vision, than I do a socialist vision. The liturgy of Ordination for new priests enjoins them to 'resist evil, support the weak and defend the poor'. After a while, it changes the way you see society. Of course, there are many ways of being lost, and lostness can equally apply to those with wealth who are spiritually poor and whose hearts are closed to those in genuine need, those who are unemployed through illness or disability; or who are working and still unable to live at any standard even remotely approaching comfortable. And you do see need when you're a minister. It sniffs you out.

As fortune, or the Lectionary, would have it, that gloomy Friday morning, 8 May, was the feast of Mother Julian of Norwich, whose most famous quotable quote was 'All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well'. So I tried to take consolation from that. It's just that, as one of our typically slightly less than right wing church leaders tweeted: 'all manner of things may not be quite as well as some of us had hoped'.






Sunday, 26 April 2015

G(r)owing nowhere fast


There's a conversation going on at the moment within the Church of England, about growth (or in other words, how to halt decline), which is proceeding along depressingly predictable lines, as reported recently in the Church Times: 

http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2015/17-april/news/uk/church-growth-bishop-broadbent-rounds-on-the-critics-of-reform-and-renewal

This week it was the turn of the evangelical group, Fulcrum, to address the criticism of Reform and Renewal, the Archbishop's vision for the renaissance of the C of E. It was the contention of the Rt Revd. Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, that now that the Church of England is finally looking hard at some really important things, asking awkward questions like 'what actually leads to growth? (or, if you like, how do we get out of the mess we're in?) those more used to managing decline suddenly don't like what they see, and are resorting to accusations that the Church is adopting un- thought through secular management techniques, seeking safety in numbers, and ignoring the fact that sometimes priests do struggle on bravely in the toughest ministry circumstances, whilst numbers drop inexorably away, sometimes to zero.

The narrative of this increasingly polarised debate goes like this: liberals are hopelessly happy to preside over decline, stressing prayerfulness and holiness above numbers, and relying on presence as an evangelistic strategy, while evangelicals unquestioningly adopt secular management techniques, flog their programmes, pinch other people's churchgoers and rely on a certain sort of leadership mystique for numerical growth (thought they're always quick to add, as an afterthought, that growth is about quality, not just quantity).

Bishop Broadbent declared himself to be 'allergic to Rev.', the gritty, award winning BBC series about an inner city priest who struggles on despite having, to all intents and purposes a 'failing' church, with no money, smug authoritarian overseers, and a handful of oddballs for worshippers.

Being allergic to Rev. is also a predictable part of the narrative. Rev. has a decided 'liberal catholic' flavour, and evangelicals got short shrift in series 1, episode 2: Jesus is Awesome, with the satirising of 'smoothie bar' Christianity. Okay, maybe a bit unfair, but excruciatingly funny precisely because there was more than a grain of truth in it.

If you're primarily geared up to growth and how to achieve it, watching the Rev. Adam Smallbone lurch from one crisis to another in a church which is teetering on the edge of closure (which is in fact what sadly happens at the end of series 3), will of course leave you feeling queasy. But from a dramatic, and even a theological point of view, anyone who's 'allergic to Rev', for me, is dangerously close to saying they're allergic to the underdog, therefore allergic to the Beatitudes, even allergic to the possibility of resurrection...?


It's a cloudy picture, this debate about decline/growth/leadership etc... In the mix is another unseemly argument around the word discipleship, a word I admit is beloved of evangelicals, but also a rather hard to ignore idea in the New Testament. I admit I'm keen on the word and do not share other people's scruples about it. Anyone brought up on David Watson's 1981 seminal book of that name is likely to read a critique (see link below) of the concept as an attack on the very foundation of a serious lifelong commitment to following Jesus, which is how I interpret discipleship.

http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2015/30-january/comment/columnists/dissing-the-d-word

So there you are - I love Rev. and I don't want to 'diss' discipleship. And I'm desperately hoping that instead of arguing about growth, we Christ followers could just get together and 'seek first his kingdom and his righteousness', then 'all these things' (numbers; or at least, the people God is calling, which are not always the same thing) would maybe be added to us as well....

Is it too much to hope for? Or in our little camps, promoting our own brand and dissing the others, are we just going to be going (growing) nowhere fast...?




Saturday, 18 April 2015

On the Third Day


Easter Morning Sermon

John 20:1-8 'I have seen the Lord'.

The Resurrection of the Body (Maia Press, 1995) by author Maggie Hamand (whom I was privileged to meet recently) features a vicar with a crisis of faith. Revd. Richard Page shepherds a church in a London suburb; he has a loving wife and two small sons, but for him the resurrection of Jesus form the dead is more a spiritual thing than anything that could strictly said to be physical. He's a good man, with strong convictions, but he cannot reconcile the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith. Until, that is, he has a dramatic experience in church on Good Friday.

During the sombre Good Friday service, while the congregation are in quiet prayer and contemplation of the saviour on the cross, a man stumbles in, bleeding from a vicious knife wound, and collapses inside the church. The paramedics are called, the congregation is distraught and the vicar unable to complete the service. The man is taken away to hospital where he later dies. The subsequent disappearance of the body is made even more mysterious by his later reported appearances in the local park, fish restaurant and ‘upper room’ of a flat in the town. The vicar sets out to try and find out what is really going on, and in doing so, nearly falls foul of the police, his congregation and even his wife. Is he going mad, or is the man still alive somehow? What would it mean if it were true? In addition one of the congregation is also convinced she has seen the man alive and wants Richard to corroborate this, whilst others doubt.


It makes the vicar reassess his crisis of faith.
In the end we’re left wondering if he has re-found his faith in a living Jesus.

The truth remains for us that we believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Our Creeds declare, ‘on the third day he rose again’)

Why this confidence?

BECAUSE OF WITNESSES.

Who dunnits are a favourite genre with me.
In any reconstruction of events, the testimony of a witness is of paramount importance.

We will consider 1) witnesses then and 2) witnesses now

1)Paul’s account in 1 Corinthians 15 reads rather different from the gospel account - he seems to miss out that it was the women who first saw Jesus on that Easter morning. 

In the gospel accounts, women feature heavily as witnesses: ‘the women in the gospel narratives are the first people to find the tomb of Jesus empty. Moreover 'they are the only witnesses to the empty tomb who had seen Jesus buried and therefore could vouch for the fact that the empty tomb really was the tomb in which Jesus’ body had been laid two days before’ (Richard Bauckham)*.

Let’s reconstruct the events from our eyewitness accounts.
In our gospel today, Mary is the first to witness the empty tomb.
She runs to Peter and John and says: ‘they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have put him’.
Resurrection is so far from her mind, she naturally takes something known (theft of a body) and assumes this is the case here (the intriguing ‘we’ do not know where they have put him is suggestive of others with here – we know from other accounts that there were at least three women in the garden that morning – but John focuses on Mary Magdalene).
The next witnesses to the empty tomb are Peter and John.
I love the personal details: John outruns Peter but doesn’t go in; Peter goes into the empty tomb after arriving there and sees the linen cloth for the body wrapped up in a different place from the head wrapping.
It seems Jesus just passed through it (compare this to the raising of Lazarus, where Lazarus came out still wrapped in the linens...)
We’re not told what Peter made of this, but we are told that John looked in and believed: ‘he saw and believed’.
Seeing is not always believing, but in John’s case it is, though all he has seen is the absence of a body...
So we are building up a picture of the witnesses to the resurrection:
·      The empty tomb.
·      The empty tomb now seen by three disciples: Mary, Peter and John
·      The grave cloths wrapped up neatly inside.

Now we go to a different segment of the resurrection story.
Bauckham* points out that in each of the gospel accounts, we have the same narrative pattern: the discovery of the empty tomb – the appearance of Jesus to his disciples and their commissioning – and in the middle and transition: in this case, it is the personal experience of Mary Magdalene.
Added to her witnessing the empty tomb, she now sees the angels and meets the risen Lord.
The evidence of her eyes is battling with her preconceived ideas of what is actually possible – dead persons do not generally come back to life, so she thinks Jesus is the gardener.
In some way he must have looked different – though also the same – she does recognise him with her ears, when he says her name: MARY.
There is something intimate in the recognition.

We have seen that our belief in the risen Jesus is based on eyewitness accounts of the resurrection: that

·      Mary was a witness to where Jesus was buried; to the empty tomb, to the angels and finally to Jesus himself.
·      Peter and John witnessed the empty tomb, the linen cloths and eventually, on the evening of the first day of the week, Jesus himself in the upper room.
·      Paul attests to the very basic fact of Jesus’ resurrection, to Peter, the 12, James and to himself.

This leads us to our 2nd point:

2)Where/who are the witnesses to the resurrection today?
You will have realised that Paul never actually met the physical person of Jesus – he was born too late.
However he testifies to the risen Jesus because he met him on the road to Damascus.
This is our clue: today, the witnesses to Jesus are us, those who have met him and know him to have changed our lives.
A witness is the word ‘marturia’ – martyr.
A martyr is simply one who testifies to Jesus.
I’d like us to think particularly about this idea of witness as we start a new year with the PCC.
In each generation, the Church has continued because of the witness of the followers of Jesus.
Where that witness stops, the Church stops.
How can we be witnesses, if we have never seen the Lord?
Mary said ‘I have seen the Lord’
Can we say the same?
What does a witness need to do?

·     Witnesses gather for worship.
·     Witnesses when love one another
·     Witnesses care about the community.
·     Witnesses point to Jesus 

We started with Revd. Richard Page, struggling to believe in the historical resurrection, wondering if it weren’t all a myth – a nice myth, but a myth nonetheless. You'll have to buy the book and read the final 2 pages to see what happened in the end...it changes everything...

*'The Women at the Tomb: The Credibility of their Story'. The Laing Lecture at London Bible College.