Saul, later called Paul, was a rising young Jewish leader. He strictly observed the Jewish law and worked to prosecute any Jew who did not.
He was especially zealous toward the followers of Jesus. He arrested them. He condemned some to death. He hoped to force them to deny their Lord. One day, as Saul traveled to the city of Damascus to arrest more followers of Jesus, his life was changed forever. Suddenly, while walking on the road at midday, a brilliant light surrounded him, a light brighter than the sun. This light drove him to the ground. Then a voice spoke to him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
In confusion Saul responded, “Who are you, Lord?”
“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
In that moment, Saul had a personal encounter with the risen Lord. He met Jesus Christ. Jesus spoke to him, called him by name. And Saul’s life was changed forever.
Have you ever wished you could have an experience like this? Have you ever wanted to experience the presence of Jesus in a physical way? Most of us do. I know as I read Saul’s story I wish that I could see the bright light and hear the words. And some people do have this kind of experience. But most of us don’t.
However, this does not mean that we don’t experience the presence of Jesus with us. We just need to be a little more observant, a little more receptive to the subtle ways of God. One way that we meet Jesus is through prayer. As we commit to prayer in a disciplined way, Jesus will be with us.
Prayer can take many forms – writing in a journal, intercessions for others, times of silence. As we turn our hearts to Jesus, he will be with us. Jesus also comes to us as we read the Holy Scriptures. He speaks to us through these words – words through which God has revealed himself to his people for centuries. Jesus also comes to us through the presence of his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit ministers in our midst through God’s people. As we gather together, the Holy Spirit reveals the life of Jesus through the life and love of his community.
When I am lonely or hurting and others care for me, Jesus is present.
Sometimes it’s not always easy to realize the presence of Jesus with us. Often the busyness and stress of life distracts us from seeing clearly. But if we can stop periodically and reflect on our life’s journey, we are better able to see Jesus’ presence with us. It helps to look at where we have been and how we have arrived at our current place. When I take time for this, I am often surprised by the places in which I have met Jesus.
Many years ago I worked in Spartanburg as an accountant. It was this time of the year, almost Lent, when I lost my job. I was devastated. But I was not alone. I had my church. Throughout that Lent I was constantly in church. I attended a Bible study and special weekday services as well as the normal Sunday services. By the end of that Lent, I found a new job. Much later, after reflection on the experience, I realize that during that time of unemployment, I had experienced the presence of Jesus. He had been with me through the people of my church.
But our experience of the risen Jesus isn’t just for our own benefit. Saul’s experience wasn’t. It had a purpose. Jesus said to him, “I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify.” Through his revelation to Saul on that road, Jesus formed Saul as a disciple – a follower. Then Jesus sent him out to do the work of God. He was to be Jesus’ witness.
Jesus also reveals himself to us for a purpose. First he reveals himself to form us as his disciples. Then he gives us work to do. He calls us to be his witnesses in the world. The call of God takes many forms. For each person the call is unique. But the important thing is to listen to the voice of God and then to follow where he leads and he will lead.
This is what the revelation of God is all about. He comes to us offering to share his life with us – speaking our name and revealing his love. And then he sends us out to be his people, sharing his life and love with all the world. When we claim this experience, our lives are changed forever.
The Rev. Sally Franklin is the Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, at 501 Pine St. She can be contacted at email@example.com.