Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Recognising the Christ in Others

I am sure that I am not the only minister, pastor or church leader that is grateful for the Easter Monday public holiday.

While Holy Week and Easter Sunday can be spiritually empowering and energising, it can also be physically exhausting with daily Holy Week and Easter Sunday sunrise services, as well as other Sunday services.

However, the combined Dudley and Wesley Circuits Sunrise Service at Ratu Sukuna Park on Easter Sunday was a wonderful event with about 250 to 300 parents, children, young people and even a few just out of the clubs, gathering as a community of faith to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

The soul stirring gospel music of the Police Praise and Worship team, the traditional hymns and a powerful sermon by Rev. Isireli Kacimaiwai, led us to the celebration of Holy Communion administered by ministers from the Indian Wesley Divisions based in Suva.

All this was followed by a communal breakfast for the congregation and those who call the streets home, or were just hungry after a long night on the town.

I was privileged to be able to reflect on this in the two services I led and preached at later on Easter Sunday. The given theme and text pointed to Mary Magdalene's (for my non-Christian brothers and sisters, she was one of Jesus' closest female followers) inability to recognise not only the significance of the empty tomb (along with Peter) but she also did not even recognise the risen Christ when he chose to appear to her before any other.

One of the things I spoke about on Easter Sunday, following reflection on the Holy Scriptures, is that there are times when we get so caught up in our own problems, in our world and comfort zones, we block out and remain oblivious to not only what is going on around us, but at the same time, those who we encounter, who manifest the Christ light in our lives.

In November, 2008, I wrote in this column that, "In our busy lives, with so many pressing personal issues to deal with, how often do we stop to look and see, to recognise and acknowledge the saints in our lives - parents, siblings, teachers, friends, colleagues, strangers - those whose advice, actions and support have helped us in our life's journey?"

The point I was making about a year and a half ago was that regardless of our how we express our faith in the divine, we can all express our thanks for those who have had faith in us and those who have been there for us, whether we understood it at the time or not. Let us learn to recognise the saints in our lives. Perhaps in doing so, we can also recognise the unconditional divine love that is manifested through them.

Perhaps it is because we fail to acknowledge that everyone has some measure of goodness and positivity in them. We stereotype people on the basis of gender, ethnicity, culture and social status. We assume that people are either all good or all bad. In doing so, we deny them the very understanding, respect, appreciation, love and dignity that we all desire for ourselves.

Not only that, when we limit our interaction with those we find ourselves encountering, we limit not only the opportunity to love our God through our love of neighbour, but also miss out on possible lessons and life-changing experiences.

In this day and age, self promotion or campaigning for the attention or support of the general public has become so important for many leaders (political, religious and in the community), that those who serve humbly and quietly are often ignored for those who serve with perhaps less love and more noise.

Perhaps we have become too used to elaborate and pompous gestures that are otherwise empty, that place more importance on the image than the intention and effect of the action or service performed.

We condition ourselves to only associate with those who fit our personal views of what is good. We neglect the unwashed saints we meet.

Or maybe we are just too caught up with our own problems, our struggles and pain to recognise the suffering of others. We act as if we have the weight of the world on our shoulders, and instead of being inspired by those who not only are willing to bear their own burdens but help us carry ours, we selfishly drain their positive energy without realising the gift that they are giving us.

To recognise the saints among us, we need to become more aware of the holiness of unconditional love and the sacredness of all life.

When we look into the eyes of the poor, the outcast, the ex-offender, even those we assume to ideologically different from us - and seeing the divine spark shining back at us we acknowledge the natural goodness and love within them, we are responding with the very same spark that God has placed within us.

As you go about your day today, keep an eye out for the saints you may encounter. And you never know, others may be keeping an eye out for you.

May the rest of your week be blessed with the love, light and peace of the Risen Christ.

Rev. J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva. This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not necessarily that of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with.

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