Easter Eve April 20th 2019
I have spoken to people this year who have experienced the stone being rolled away and found Jesus and are now following in His way.
I have spoken to people for whom it is as if the curtain in the temple has been torn in two. The separation in their lives between them and God has gone and they are following in the way of Jesus.
The Easter story is one of intense pain and suffering and of great, overwhelming joy and resurrection. Sometimes we look back at the events of that first Easter and we hear of the resurrection of Jesus and think that the resurrection was a one-off event for Jesus. In fact, it is something that everyone who comes to faith, for some, gradually, but others, suddenly with great joy and thanksgiving. Our lives are transformed by the new life of Christ. If the early church had made such claims which were not true, the movement that became the church, would never had made it for more than a few years before it died out. But when lives are transformed, deeply and so authentically, we are not talking about superficialities here. We are talking about people discovering their true identity and sense of purpose. The truth becomes self-evident.
So this Easter as we celebrate the new life of the risen Christ flowing into and through the church, we look together at the future of this Team Ministry. We rediscover the touch stone of our faith, which is love out poured. One of the things that church leaders do is to sit and ask God for directions. And that is what I have been doing over this last week of Holy Week. Six churches all at different stages, all wedded to different extents to the past. Six churches with people with good hearts, earnestly wanting to be effective witnesses to the LOVE that God embodied in Jesus Christ, and now longs to embody through you and me.
So what is our direction? Where is our SatNav directing us to? I believe there are 4 lanes on the road we are to travel together and I want to set them out before you.
The First is around worship.
A vision to enrich our WORSHIP. We have taken steps in this direction, to offer varied and profound worship that helps us collectively to express our devotion to God. That strives for excellence in worship both in terms of the material we use and in the levels of participation. We have benefitted in recent months here at St Augustine’s from Jayne’s music ministry which has included drawing people into a choir that leads and inspires our worship. We need to build on this across the Team, so that we are all sent out from our collective acts of worship inspired and uplifted to serve and love our neighbours as ourselves.
The Second is empowering faith.
This is a vision for a journey of faith that deepens our experience and devotion, where head and heart intersect. Our vision is to grow our churches. To cater for people who have never or only as youngsters been into church. Who don’t know the Bible, and have never heard the story of God’s redeeming love for the whole world and for each of us. Three things might help this, perhaps an Alpha-type of course that provides a pathway for people to begin to explore what faith means for the. A few of us went in early march to a great evening put on by the Bible Society. It introduced us to the Bible Course, a simple course that orientates ordinary Christians to the shape and structure of the Bible. And for those who’re familiar with these things a series of sessions that nurture a contemplative deeper appreciation of the mysteries of our faith; the nature of prayer, the meaning of incarnation, the riches of Communion. These three strands should nurture faith and empower us for service to our community and the world.
The third is Calling.
How many times has it been said that every person of Christian faith has a unique calling and set of gifts and talents that support the work of the whole church? The power of the church to be able to accomplish any sort of impact, or affect any degree of transformation in our communities and the world lies not in the hands of the clergy, but in the hands of the congregation. Leaders help to cast a vision, to encourage and enable others to be followers of Christ’s way. We have work to do in this area, to bring people to that place where each of us has the confidence to recognize the gifts and roles that God has equipped us for. Just look at the Passion Play yesterday when people young and old came together to act out the Passion of Jesus Christ! Artistic talents, gifts to help in all kinds of ways, spiritual and practical. Gifts to build up and heal when people struggle and are suffering. All gifts which complemented by the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control will result in the Good News of Jesus Christ to spread and transform lives.
The fourth is our buildings.
We have to work hard to make our buildings accessible, welcoming, flexible and fully equipped. Some, like the COHS are already are a long way down that road – it’s modern and very beautiful. St John’s Slitting Mill already feels intimate and welcoming. It’s just a pity that there is are no loos! (Don’t drink coffee before you visit!) COGS is waiting for people to use it. Recent events up at COGS are really encouraging. New energy has begun to attract people to the church which always was and always will be the heart of the Pear Tree Estate. Others, like St Augustine’s and St Michael’s need work to ensure that they can be used flexibly, are welcoming and well equipped.
This is the 4-way road into the future – worship, faith, calling and buildings. We remain dependent of God and on one another to make this journey together, so that more people experience what happens when the boulders blocking the way to life in all its fullness are rolled away. And more people discover personally what it’s like when the curtain of separation between God and people is torn apart.