Image: St. John’s Anglican Church, Tuktoyaktuk
As I listen to Peter’s passionate words to the Jewish people in today’s first reading, an exchange which brought about many converts to the Christian faith, I am drawn back to Easter Vigils I have celebrated during which many adults have professed their faith in Christ and been Baptised and Confirmed.
What is it that draws a mature adult to seek to join the Church in this age of scepticism? How do we, as believers, encourage them in that journey?
Spiritual curiosity in children is a given and is often unbounded. Last week in Paulatuk, while I was preparing a group of youngsters for First Communion, the most vocal responses in the group were from a six-year-old. He was still two years away from the Sacrament but could not contain his enthusiasm and from telling everyone how much he loved Jesus. The spiritual lives of adults are much more complicated and varied. Every person coming to the Church as an adult will have had a unique journey that has brought them to this encounter with Christ.
So, when our paths cross, how do we help someone along in their faith journey? St. Peter had a persuasive approach although I am not sure how effective it would be today, generally speaking, to “cut people to the heart” with guilt. Rather, I like the approach taken by Jesus when he showed himself to Mary Magdalene at the tomb on the day of his Resurrection.
Mary approached the tomb seeking. She came looking for some closure to grief and heartache feeling alone and afraid. Jesus meets her there but he does not reveal himself, she thinks he is the gardener. Acknowledging that this is Mary’s journey, not his, Jesus asks her to share her story. “Why are you sad? Who are you looking for?” It is only after honouring Mary’s past experiences and her hopes for the future with attentiveness that Jesus’ identity is revealed to her. Jesus doesn’t tell Mary who he is, she discovers him when he calls her by name. Mary had come seeking a body but she finds instead the risen Christ, a discovery far greater then she could have initially conceived in her own imagination.
When we meet people who are seeking faith who is it that they see in front of them? At first they see us, the gardeners of this world. But as we begin to welcome them and are present to them and honour their personal story they come to see Christ in us. For this to be true we must have Christ alive in us and not just be offering lip service to our faith or saying what we think they want to hear.
Not that we are Christ, but through us they perhaps begin to understand that, what they have been seeking, is not far off and may be attainable and found in the community that is the Church. Like Jesus, who did not want Mary to cling to him, as he had not yet ascended to his Father, we also must walk with open arms. We are not seeking disciples for ourselves but are helping to introduce people to the life of the Church.
The final step, once someone has found a home in the Church is to encourage them to share what they have found with others. As Mary recognizes the risen Lord Jesus tells her to go and share the news with the other disciples. The gift that has been given is only truly received when it as been shared.