Church MATTERS. So, we arrive at Easter once again. This will be my 64th. From my younger days I can remember it as something special to look forward to – time off from school for a start, but then the much anticipated chocolate Easter Eggs – how many and how big was the measure of a good Easter Day. In later years it became what type of Egg would I get a girlfriend (often with pretty bows – such a charmer), and then into adulthood and work when Eggs were no longer a high priority, just the bank holidays and extra time for football (playing and watching). Easter as an adult wasn’t all that bad, but as with many things the excitement of such occasions wasn’t as great as in childhood. As someone once said about adulthood, “Don’t grow up – it’s a trap!” – quite an apt saying in many respects.
As you might expect with my being a church minister, Easter these days takes on a different dimension. It’s not necessarily because of my position as a church leader – it’s more to do with the challenge that a person once placed upon me. That person was Billy Graham, the American Evangelist who passed on in late February. My wife Pam and I found ourselves in a sports hall in Woking, Surrey, watching a live-link satellite broadcast from Earls Court in London where Billy Graham was speaking. I can’t really remember anything that he said apart from the point where he stopped and invited anyone who wanted to turn back to God to get up from their seat and walk forward to the front. This invitation was for those who were in Earls Court, the sports hall in Woking, and anywhere else that the satellite broadcast was going to. It was a really challenging moment for me, but I felt compelled to leave my seat and walk to the front. There and then I was prayed for and felt total peace – a peace that I had never felt before.For Christians, Easter Sunday is the time when we remember and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus after his being put to death on the cross. His rising again is at one level significant for Christians and non-Christians alike, for many non-Christians would like to think that there is life beyond the grave – the presence of Jesus amongst his disciples on that first Easter Sunday is evidence that there is life beyond death. But actually it’s more than that. The promise from Jesus to his disciples and those who follow him is that they would experience a new kind of life within them in the here and now – a life that encounters many of the trials and tribulations that everyone else does, but with the inner strength and peace that the living Jesus brings. “I am with you always” was the promise that Jesus gave, and the peace he brings is what I experienced for the first time in that sports hall.
The Church, in all it’s different forms, is God’s chosen organisation to convey this truth to all who would seek it. A church is a place where people should be able to walk in and find love, understanding and acceptance – the image and values of God. Sometimes we get this right, and sometimes we don’t (for which, as church leader, I apologise).
When I look back on that Billy Graham moment, I realise that it was a decision that I had to make as to whether to walk forward or not. But in retrospect I also recognise that there was a beckoning from God in the circumstances that even got Pam and I to that sports hall in Woking. I think God had been on our case for quite a while. I’ve seen that in other lives too – a beckoning to explore what a relationship and a life lived with God might be like.
So this Easter Sunday will again be significant for me and many others who follow Jesus. Chocolate is always welcomed with joy, but it’s an added bonus to what’s already been received.
May God’s peace and blessing be upon you this Easter.
Rev Tony Stephens