"Presence and Solidarity"
Minister Sharon McRann, United Church
for South Peace News
What does it mean when we say, “Christ is present with us”?
We use this language all the time in the life of the church but we don’t often talk about what that experience of presence actually is for us. It’s difficult for us to understand what happened the day that Jesus met with his followers behind closed doors. We know that they were afraid and unsure of the future.
And then Jesus appeared to them.
It’s hard for us to understand how the Jesus who appears to His disciples does not seem to be the Jesus they, who had lived with Him for three years, remember. Jesus has to convince the disciples that it is He. Later, in verse 44, Jesus speaks of a time when He was still with them. But isn’t He with them now? Or is He with them in a new and mysterious way?
In order for the story of God’s relationship with humanity to spread to the whole world, the disciples need a deep and abiding experience of His presence. They obtain this by eating with Jesus. We experience God’s presence in the most ordinary acts and in the most ordinary things.
Speaking of ordinary things, how many of you are familiar with the stories of Winnie the Pooh? Just think of how human Winnie the Pooh and his friends are: Winnie the Pooh is a bit of a blunderer.
Eeyore - don’t you just love Eeyore! - he’s your typical, “Woe is me character.”
Then there’s Tigger - the bouncy, energetic one.
And Piglet. Well, what can you say about Piglet? There’s a poster of Pooh and Piglet walking hand in hand into the sunset. The caption tells us that Piglet quietly inches up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispers.
“Nothing,” says Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
This poster captures the warmth, security, friendship and love that can be communicated to us and by us through the simple gift of presence, and of simply being present for one another.
This brings to mind a story I heard some time ago of one minister’s experience. He was fairly new to ministry when someone in his congregation died. He thought he should go and visit the family, but when he arrived at the house there were so many people there he didn’t really know what to do.
Being rather a quiet sort, he wasn’t very aggressive. He took a seat in the corner and just sat there all day. A few days later, after the funeral was all over and things had quieted down some. The son of the deceased came to him and told him how much his presence that day had meant to the family. The minister didn’t think he had even been noticed and was overjoyed that his presence had actually made a difference.
The early church wanted to be sure that the resurrection was understood as a real, physical happening. They wanted followers of Jesus to know that the Risen Christ had the power to give them peace - peace in the present tense of their lives - peace in the now of their lives. It’s as if Jesus is saying to His disciples, and to the church that will follow, “Hey, I just want you to be sure of me!”
But surely the story is more than just the assurance of Jesus’ presence. It has to also be about what that presence means both to those behind the locked doors, and to those hearing the story decades later and even today.
It’s about simple presence, but it’s also about solidarity. Our solidarity is what gives us the credibility and power to make changes. Jesus is present to those living in mortal fear. Jesus is present to those seen as living outside the circle of acceptability.
And Jesus is present to us and for us today. Because of the solidarity of Jesus we are made whole.
Author and scholar John Shelby Spong tells us that, “The task of faith has become not the task of believing the unbelievable, but the task of living, loving and being. The mission of faith is no longer to convert: It is to transform the world so that every life will have a better chance to live fully and thus to commune with the source of life (or with God); to love wastefully and thus to commune with the source of love (that is...God), and to find “the courage to be” and thus to commune with the Ground of Being (God!).”
Spong says, “The task of the church is not to make us religious, but to make us human, to make us whole, to free us to be able to escape our survival mentality and to give our lives away. That is what I believe Christianity must evolve into becoming. That is also what I see as the meaning of Jesus.”
Sounds healthy to me!