Radio microphones, and congregations at ease with a preacher who wanders down the church and talks to them, allow interactions not possible in former times. Of course, freedom brings its own risks.
“What did Mary Magdalene give Jesus when she realized it was him?”
“A slap,” answered a six year old, with a big smile
There was loud laughter in the church, and the encounter between Mary and Jesus took on a new light. “Do you not think she gave him a hug?”
“I think so,” he said.
Sometimes, the questions come the other way. Preaching on salvation on a Wednesday evening during Lent, a service when those present would have been among the most committed and most knowledgeable in the parish, talking of Matthew, the tax collector, and the changes that came in his life, brought a question from a four year old who had been listening intently, “Canon Ian, how can someone change?”
It was a serious question and could not be avoided. “Did your sister ever break anything of yours?”
“Did you forgive her for doing that?”
“Yes, but I was still cross.”
There was an irrefutable truth in what he said; real change is perhaps rarer than imagined.
Perhaps people don’t change. Perhaps, as the four year old observed, there are outer appearances and inner realities. Perhaps, at heart, we are always the people we were, carrying with us the hurts that we have endured along the way. Wisdom now would suggest the necessity of letting go of the hurts, that even when your sister has broken something of yours, the cross feeling has to be released.
Interestingly, John Bunyan, the great Puritan writer and author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” writes not of leaving hurts behind, but integrating them into one’s personality, making them marks of one’s strength. At the end of his life, Mr Valiant-for-Truth declares,
Though with great difficulty I have got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who will now be my rewarder
The marks and scars may be signs not of unresolved hurts, but signs of integrity and honesty. Perhaps they should not be readily released.