PostScript: Washed clean. New life!
Washed clean of our past, we are witnesses to the resurrection promise of new life (Acts 10.39).
Robert Beard wrote his PostScript (below) from his home in Thailand, just before the news broke about the fire in Notre Dame. If you are looking for a reflection on this week's events in Paris, take a look at 'Where was God when Notre Dame was in flames?' by the Jesuit, Fr James Martin. (ROOTS Ed.)
The resurrection is central to Christianity, and offers the hope – indeed, the promise – of new life. As believers in the incarnation, God’s promise made real in human life, Christians are empowered by the resurrection to bring the reality of that new life to people inside and outside the Church.
This week, the people of Thailand concluded their traditional new year festival of Songkran (from a Sanskrit word signifying ‘transformation’). On Saturday 13 April, Buddhist monks processed on foot from place to place, accepting offerings of food for distribution to people in need. After receiving the gifts, they exhorted the donors to think and speak and act compassionately in the new year. Then they sprinkled water on them as a sign that their past misdeeds are washed away and they are now clean to begin their lives anew. The parallel with the renewal of baptismal vows in many churches on Easter Eve is striking.
Songkran is also marked by many people assembling water pistols, buckets and hoses, dressing in party clothes, opening up drinks and spending three days thronging the main streets to drench repeatedly both each other and anyone else who comes within range. In western culture, for many people Easter is primarily a time for demolishing chocolate eggs, bunnies and chicks, buying new clothes, and watching blockbuster films on television – and drinking, of course.
Do Thai Buddhists think about being washed clean of their past misdeeds, as they give each other a thorough soaking? Do western Christians ponder the resurrection promise, as they eat chocolate symbols of new life? Who knows! Perhaps, at least, as people return to their daily lives after the holidays, the sense of a fresh start lingers.
Some Christians seem so obsessed with the mechanics of the resurrection – what actually happened inside the tomb – that they risk losing sight of the resurrection gospel, the good news of new life. Neither the apostles nor the Gospel writers claimed to know what actually happened; and we cannot possibly know, either. What we do know is that the resurrection is real and ‘not just a conjuring trick with bones’, as the oft-misquoted Bishop David Jenkins affirmed.
How do we know this? Because we still celebrate the resurrection nearly two thousand years later. Because Christians unstintingly give their time and energy in communities across the world, to make the resurrection promise of new life real in people’s lives. Because many of our forebears – and some of our contemporaries – have faced persecution, imprisonment, torture and martyrdom rather than deny the reality of the resurrection. Because, like the apostles, people are still witnessing in words and actions – incarnationally – to ‘all that Jesus did’ (Acts 10.39). In these ways, Christians make the resurrection promise of new life real and practical.
There are many differences between Buddhism and Christianity, but both traditions venerate founders characterised by their compassion, who drew from their traditions the message that past misdeeds need not prevent us being compassionate in the future.
A prayer suitable for use after the sermon, intercessions or Communion.
Risen Lord Jesus Christ,
your earthly life sets before us the pattern for our own:
a pattern of practical service and real self-sacrifice,
a pattern of teaching and healing minds and bodies,
a pattern of love incarnate and compassion for all.
May we seek and find our own role within your resurrection life,
as a church and as individuals,
and may we make your resurrection promise real
in the lives of all whom we encounter or influence.
In your most holy name we pray.
- Who needs to experience the resurrection promise of new life – in our community, in our country, in the world? What do they need us Christians to say and do?
- Imagine that Jesus had believed in his message, but not acted on it (if that were possible). What impact would he have had, and what impact would he have now, if any? What do the possible answers to this question imply for us as Christians who share his resurrection life?
- (for those who like a challenge – there are no known ‘right’ answers to this one!) What were Matthew, Mark and Luke trying to communicate by including resurrection stories in which Jesus is portrayed sometimes as eating, drinking and being touched, and sometimes as able to vanish, pass through locked doors and refusing to be touched? Paul counts his Damascus road encounter with Jesus among the resurrection appearances to the apostles; was this the same sort of appearance as (some of) the others, or a different sort?
Canvass stories, photographs or images representing as many as possible of the ways in which your church enhances the lives of its members and non-members, both locally and further afield. These might include your church’s own projects, music and arts (including worship, and decorative arts around your building), and involvement in local events, national or overseas voluntary work, charities or campaigns, giving time or sharing expertise, or collecting money or goods for particular purposes.
Give thanks for the opportunities and resources your church has for enhancing people’s lives, and understand that this is all part of making the resurrection real in people’s lives, here and now.
Think about new possibilities for future life-enhancing work.
The Gospel reading mentions ‘two men in dazzling clothes’.
- Ask: What sort of individuals did Luke want his readers to think these were?
- If the answer received is ‘angels’, and you have plenty of time, you might ask why Luke doesn’t simply call them angels, as he did in the story of the shepherds.
- Ask about, and if necessary explain, the role of angels as ‘messengers’ (the literal meaning of the Greek angeloi) in the Bible.
- If these two men were not angels, then who or what might they have been?
- Importantly, whom do the young people think might be ‘messengers’ from God today, and why?
Robert Beard is a freelance writer and former Vicar in the Church of England, now living in Thailand.
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