Easter faith, missionary life

Beloved in Christ, greetings!

Do you think of yourself as a missionary? 

A Christian? Probably. An Anglican? Certainly. But a missionary? Perhaps not. If you hesitate to think of yourself as a missionary my guess is that you are not alone. And yet, many of the gospel readings that we hear on the seven Sundays of Easter depict the risen Jesus sending his disciples.

We hear it on Easter Day when the risen Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, “Go…and say…” (John 20:17-18). We hear it on the Second Sunday of Easter when the risen Jesus meets the terrified disciples who had locked themselves in the upper room: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” (John 20:21). We hear it on the Third Sunday of Easter when the risen Jesus makes his disciples witnesses of his death and resurrection according to the Scriptures (Luke 24:48). What does a witness do if not testify? Keep an ear out for this theme over the next number of weeks.

John 20:19-23, mentioned above, depicts the disciples of Jesus immediately after his crucifixion hidden away in a room somewhere with the doors locked because they were terrified. How many people are in that room? 12? 15? 20? This is what is left of the Church. However, over the next three-hundred years the Christian faith would grow to account for between a quarter and half of the population of the entire Roman Empire. That exponential growth would continue.

What happened? How did a group of a dozen or so scared and forgettable men and women change the known world in less than three-hundred years? The Catholic writer George Weigel asks this very question in a recent article that was published in the Wall Street Journal.[1] To be sure we could explore this growth in sociological terms. For example, on account of the more noble way of life that early Christians modeled, in the midst of an otherwise brutal society, that many found appealing. But the question would still remain: How did that alternate way of life get going?

Mr. Weigel stands in a long line of witnesses offering another answer. He calls it the Easter Effect: “There is no accounting for the rise of Christianity without weighing the revolutionary effect on those nobodies of what they called “the Resurrection.” In other words, what transformed those first disciples from scared nobodies into bold and courageous people of faith was their experience of the personal presence of Jesus Christ who had died before their very eyes and been laid in a tomb but who they now encountered as a living, breathing, scar-bearing, fish-eating living man. He is the same, but he is different. He is alive, but he has not simply come back from death into the same condition he was in before. Rather he has entered into a qualitatively new life in and with and through God himself.

Moreover, the early Christians came to the understanding that the Resurrection of Jesus was not just about him alone but was about all of them—all of us—the whole wide world even. To borrow from the writing of one of those early Christians, the Apostle Paul, Jesus Christ is, “the first fruits of those who have died.”[2] As Christ now lives with a qualitatively new Resurrection life, “so all will be made alive in Christ.”[3] The first Christians were transformed by the abiding presence of the risen Jesus Christ into people of superabundant joy and courage who knew that the inexplicable reality that they had been made witness to had to be shared.

So, as one who has inherited that very same tradition—indeed, as one who believes because of it—perhaps it is worth thinking of yourself as a missionary. Fear not, you do not have to travel to a distant land to be one. Sharing the faith starts right where you are: with your children, with your neighbours, with your friends and co-workers. May the joy of the risen Christ rub off of you and stick to them!

My prayer for you this Eastertide is that as you continue to be nourished by the risen Christ and grow in your faith and love of him that you would likewise grow in boldness and courage as one who he sends out with a message: “Go, and say…” 

[1] Read the article in full at https://eppc.org/publications/the-easter-effect-and-how-it-changed-the-world/

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:20

[3] 1 Corinthians 15:22

Fr. Jonathan Turtle

Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s, Craighurst & St. Paul’s, Midhurst

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psalm 51.17)

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