The gospel calls us to be persons, not individuals - Easter 2019

A reflection on Easter Sunday by the Revd Mark Waters, Team Vicar at St Dunstan’s Church at communion service of Open Table, our ecumenical worship community for LGBTQIA+ Christians and friends, on Sunday 21st April 2019.

Easter 2019.jpg

When I was two years old I had temper tantrums.
Whenever I couldn’t get my own way that’s what I did.
I lay on my back, and kicked my legs out and screamed my head off.
And so did you!
That’s how two year olds operate.
But I no longer need to operate like that.
I can let that part of myself go.

When I was between five and 10 years old I was very good.
I thought that that was what was required of me.
I behaved myself most of the time, and always did what was expected of me.
I no longer need to operate like that.
I can let that part of myself go.

And then when I was a teenager I was very angry.
And I thought that all adults – but especially my parents – were incredibly stupid.
And boring!
And I was impatient about anything that I did not find immediately interesting.
I no longer need to operate like that.
I can let that part of myself go.

And then in my twenties, I thought I knew everything.
I didn’t think I needed to learn much anymore.
And I was judgemental towards other people.
And I stuck closely to the people who were like me.
Because, of course, they had got everything right hadn’t they?
I no longer need to operate like that.
I can let that part of myself go.

Throughout my life there have been all sorts of parts of myself that I have let go.
Strategies that I don’t any longer need.
That’s how most of us live.
We let bits of ourselves go when it is right to let go.
Mostly those bits are the ones that are just about me.
They were probably taken on to protect me from more hurt.
Often they are an exaggerated affirmation of myself to overcompensate for a fragile ego.

Sometimes the only way it seems possible to survive in life, and to begin to flourish, is to do so at the expense of others. I am who I am and everyone else can go hang.
I need to assert who I am against all comers.
I desperately need to forge this sharp and clear identity because unless I do it this strongly my identity won’t survive.

That’s what life feels like sometimes.
I think that is particularly true for people who have had to fight for their identity.
For those who have been misunderstood.
For those who have been marginalised.
For those who have been vilified – simply for being who they are.

But the gospel offers another way.
Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, talks about the difference we need to recognise
between being individuals and being persons.

Being an individual is much more about asserting my rights.
Demanding what we believe is due to me.
It can be a collusive fantasy in which I try to decide who I am, and sometimes persuade you to tell me who I am ( in accordance with my preferences, of course).

The gospel calls us to be persons, not individuals.And this means that I can only fully understand myself in relation to you, and in relation to God. This is one of the deepest challenges of the life of faith. Rowan Williams talks about the importance of

letting our best-loved pictures of ourselves and our achievements die, trying to live without the protections we are used to. This feels like hell he says. But the real hell is never to be able to rest from the labours of self-defence.

He concludes:

It is only very slowly indeed that we come to see why bearing the cross is a deliverance, not a sentence.

The church is about turning us from individuals into persons. And, to repeat, what that means is I can only understand myself through my relationship with you. I can never forge my own true destiny alone. I can never be the person God calls me to be – alone. Our destiny is a shared one. Slowly, patiently, infuriatingly shaped by our encounters with one another here in this place in which it is God in the end who tells us who we are: As St Paul says:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am also known.

This will be true resurrection, true Easter.
Let us pray for the humility to allow it to happen to us.