On Easter Day we will say, ‘Christ is risen’ and hear the bold response, ‘He is risen indeed’. We will be part of a Christian community that has shared such a response for over two thousand years. Our Faith Community rests on the validity of this claim, an historical fact and a present reality (I Corinthians 5:17). Christ is not only a teacher from long ago but he is the way we encounter God as a personal and loving God in the present. We used to sing when I was a child, ‘He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today, he walks with me, he talks with me, along life’s narrow way.….. you ask me how I know he lives, ‘he lives within my heart’.
In what way is this true for us today?
You can only really answer this for yourself, but here is part of my answer.
I have to begin with this and simply say that Jesus Christ is a reality in my own life. He is, ‘within my heart’. When I was a young person I simply asked Jesus to, ‘come into my life’. I had the image of Holman Hunt’s Light of the World Holman Hunt picture in St Paul’s standing outside the door of my heart (Revelation 3:20). I understood the significance of the door that could only be opened from inside. I can’t claim this was the simple beginning of my journey of faith – but it is significant to me even now. I wasn’t just a Christian because my parents were, ‘God has no grandchildren’, I wanted to be a Christian in my own right. Jesus honoured that invitation and has been present in my life as a source of insight, courage, affection, encouragement, reprimand and, unless it’s just my imagination, also as a kind friend with the ability to gently laugh and make fun of me in my more pompous or self destructive moments.
Where two or three are gathered.
The promise of Jesus that he is with us when we gather, ‘in his name’, is a substantial promise that I know for myself (Matthew 18:20). The love, wisdom, challenge and hope of people who gather are the substance of my knowing Christ in so many ways. ‘In the Name’ is of course not a magical formulation – it is a statement of relationship, one of trust and obedience, and where I have been with others who are doing their best to follow him, then his presence has been the heart of the meeting itself. As I have grown older in faith I have increasingly wanted to add, ‘and especially where we break bread and share wine’. The communion of the Methodist Church may be rather straightforward and simple, but the reality of what Charles Wesley calls, ‘the real presence’ puts our meeting in his name onto a substantially new level.
When God’s Word is studied.
I’m fond of challenging very literal and dogmatic claims of Scripture with the reminder that in John’s Gospel we are told that the Word of God isn’t a book, however holy, but a person – the ‘Logos’ that was in
the beginning with God and was God (John 1:1). But the Bible, recording as it does, humanity’s search for God, and God’s search for humanity points to and reveals the real person of Jesus (Psalm 119:105).
Without the Bible my experience, ‘within my heart’ would be unrecognizable, no more perhaps than a flight of fancy. With Scripture my encounter with Jesus, ‘within my heart’ and ‘where two or three are gathered’ is given authenticity and substance.
When I struggle to follow.
The angels tell the disciples, ‘he is not here, he is risen and gone before you into Galilee’ (Mark 6:7). The Jesus who breaks out of the tomb is not confined by the Church, or limited to profound personal experience. Jesus is risen – he is out there getting on with the things that Jesus gets on with. He is alongside the poor, the sad, the rejected and the angry. You meet him as you follow. Indeed my early response to ‘accept in my heart’ isn’t half as biblical as John Vincent’s ‘follow him with your feet’.
If you want to know Jesus – go where he goes, do what he does, get cross about things he gets cross about, and love the world he has come to heal.
I am looking forward to the drama of Easter – walking through it with our various services and activities. I look forward to Easter Day and for the first time saying to you as a congregation, ‘Christ is risen!’ I look forward to you replying with confidence and happiness, ‘He is risen indeed’. My prayer is that we will get to know him better, love him more, and follow him more eagerly as this ancient claim keeps on proving its truth through our experience together.