I recently went to the Hope into Action annual conference. This charity’s strap line is ‘enabling churches to house the homeless.’ Set up by Ed Walker, one of Sue and Graeme Walker’s sons, it realises its goal by encouraging investors to buy and offer a house for five years at a 2% return on their investment. Each house is adopted by a local church who selects tenants who are currently without a home. Besides putting time and energy to make the house like a home, members of that Christian community commit to supporting those who live there. Though that sounds straightforward, the experience can be stretching for the church and the tenants. For some, the church’s involvement in their lives can be transformative. Amongst the moving stories of how lives had been changed by this project, a young woman spoke of how she had gone from being a drug addict to being clean. From a Christian background, she had been shunned by the church when she started to behave badly. She was told that without repentance, there was no way back. Her family found it hard to own up to struggles. Asked what she had learned through the whole experience, she replied that she now knew that God loved her ‘in the stuff’, not only when she got the ‘other side’ of it. She bore a telling witness to the truth that there is nothing we can do to make God love us less, and nothing we can do to make God love us more.
The fundamental truth that ‘God is love’ is at the heart of the Easter story. His followers fall asleep when he asks them to be with him as he wrestles with God in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas betrays him. Peter denies him and, as he hangs on the Cross, most of his friends have deserted him. Yet, when they meet the risen Jesus on Easter Day, there are no recriminations. They might feel regret, even shame but on Jesus’ side there are declarations of ‘peace.’ Amazement and joy seizes them. Overwhelmed by grace, their discipleship is renewed.
Our witness as a church here in Saffron Walden in the 21st century is based on those accounts by those first disciples of their encounters with the risen Christ in a room in Jerusalem, by the lake at Galilee and on the road to Emmaus. That is why we are an apostolic church: those resurrection appearances are foundational. Whereas we do not see the Risen Jesus physically before us, we can meet in the power of the Holy Spirit. The experience of those first friends of Jesus can be ours. Grace and joy, albeit beyond our comprehension, can be known and felt. Furthermore, the Easter experience of renewal is at the heart of our faith. The juxtaposition of Cross and Resurrection, the Paschal mystery, inspires Christians to initiate projects like ‘Hope into Action.’
In May, we are praying for renewal of the church and the world in readiness to embrace the Archbishop of Canterbury’s call for worldwide wave of prayer in the week leading up to Pentecost Sunday. For us, as we see the church’s building project progress and our buildings develop, we want to see our life together, and our mission and ministry, renewed. I close with the prayer from the bookmarks that were issued to invite you to our forthcoming prayer events.
whose light and glory shone in the face of Jesus Christ,
send your Holy Spirit to refresh us
that we may share your love with renewed energy.
In this our year of invitation,
strengthen our witness to your Love
that many more may come to know you
though Jesus Christ, your Son.
As our building project progresses,
may our vision to provide a warm welcome
and generous hospitality be realised,
and your Holy Name be praised,
through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen