Tuesday, 29 March 2016

A revelation shared

For St John (John 20:11-18) the discovery of the empty tomb sets the stage for Mary Magdalene to meet Jesus. She doesn't recognise Jesus because in her inconsolable grief, she doesn't expect to see him at all. Only when she hears him speak her name does she realise that it is in fact Jesus, not a gardener. 

There are times when the painful intensity of human emotions can prevent us from recognising God's presence. This may seem to make it impossible to focus on God in prayer. Mary's experience here may suggest that the effort to 'listen' in some way for the familiar voice of love is what breaks the enclosing cycle of sorrow. This voice from beyond can reach us through the words of scripture, memorised or heard, or the words of some other person reaching out in compassion towards us. 

Sharing in the resurrection experience begins with a breakthrough from beyond ourselves into that dark place where we turn in on ourselves in pain. For the disciples this starts with receiving the disruptive news of the empty tomb, which prompts them to come out of their misery of shame, and talk to each other, if only out of bewilderment and disbelief. Only then does Jesus come to them, unannounced, bearing words of forgiveness and peace. 

Already it is the evening of a new day when he appears, and appears to disciples - gathered in one place, scattered to another - appears once they have begun to share their experiences with each other. His whole ministry has taught them how to share and when they start to share again in earnest, he reveals himself to them.

Personal prayer and communion with God sustains our spiritual lives, but God gives us so much more to enable us to grow into 'the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ'. He gives us each other to share in prayer together. Sharing not just in the formal ritual acts of common worship, but in intimate and personal trust, when hearts are open to each other as well as to God.

No matter how powerful experiences of God may be through personal prayer, experiences that are shared are more powerful still because they can be witnessed to with confirmation from others. Having appeared first to Mary Magdalene, he appears to the eleven disciples and breaks bread with two, travelling on the road to Emmaus. St Paul reports that he also appears to five hundred at one time. Although the detail is scant, the experience conveyed is enough to convince others and lead to the expansion of the church far beyond Palestine. The experience of the individual is confirmed in the experience shared by a group.

The blessings of personal prayer find confirmation or challenge, when shared with others - 

"Where two or three are gather in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt 18:20)


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