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Brad: An Easter Story

March 31, 2012

Ian Lawton

Easter Day     Matthew 28:1-10     John 20:1-10 (11-19)


The first time I saw Brad, he appeared to me as just another drifter. A street person; probably a drinker and maybe mentally disturbed. He was like so many I knew in my parish in inner Sydney. He would not have been out of place in an image used by the local mission for advertising; huddled in a dark corner wrapped in a blanket. His beard drooped long connecting with his chest hair. It was almost a living testimony to the truth of gravity, drawing his shoulders forward, or was that life which had done that.


His eyes were dark and alert, if not altogether comfortable with their stored vision. This was a strong man; hardened by experience, toughened on the goldfields of Western Australia, a leader of a work crew. Brad was also a man of faith yet with a belief blunted by clergy sexual abuse. As I got to know Brad I found that the only time he raised his voice was when he would say to me 'They are an abomination you know! They represent God, and yet they prey on kids." It was only later that I would come to understand that he had been a kid himself who had had his trust betrayed.


Against all expectations Brad showed himself to be one of the most gentle people I have had the privilege of encountering. He was known on the streets as 'Bear', and he showed his character when he would walk young girls from the church back to their squats at night, given them a cuddle and then return to the church where he became a self-appointed, live-in verger. He would dosh down under a sleeping bag in the back corner. Brad brought people to the church, he gave the church a good name; and spread the word that the young vicar could be trusted.


Brad became a friend to me. I confided in him a little, and he returned the confidence in similar wary portions. To those close to me I would grow to describe Brad as an angel. He exuded something of the character of God; calm, embracing, without a trace of judgment. Yet in time Brad became troubled; he caught a flu which he couldn't shake, he became withdrawn and spent hours at a time with his head bowed in a church pew; either deep in prayer or trying hard to become merged with the wood. Finally, he told me that he needed to talk. He slowly and cautiously informed me that he was in fact an angel who was in the middle of a spiritual battle with Satan. He had drifted to Sydney to escape for a time and await divine calling. Without flinching, he warned me that one day I would find him a dead weight in the corner of the church, and that when I found him I might as well put him in a cupboard because for 40 days he would be in out of body combat with the devil. He would be spending the next weeks preparing for this battle.


As I listened to Brad it struck me that the reality or otherwise of this vision was irrelevant. And yet I would be lying if I didn't admit that there were moments that I did believe Brad. And when I walked into the church one bleak Thursday morning there was a smell and I didn't even need to look. Brad was dead in the corner of the church. What I did need to see was the needle sticking out of his forearm and another needle lying next to him loaded with enough heroin to destroy five human beings. There was a police investigation, a street community in crisis, unanswered questions, and again I would be lying if I didn't tell you that forty days later to the day I went to the church to see if Brad had come back. I still miss Brad and his friendship.


Bear and his story took on mythical dimensions on the streets of Surrey Hills. The lines between fact and fantasy were blurred. Whatever else was true, this man had gone now to the realms of the unknown and we would tell his story for him. It was our experience of this man that would unite so many of us. We would search hard for traces of his life story, we would discover that he had a family who loved him very much and were robbed of the chance to grieve their son for six months. We would seek to fill in each other's lives something of the gap left without Brad. We would seek together to restore Brad's dreams for the church and attempt to make these dreams a reality. While the religious community debated whether Brad was in Heaven or not, I found my resurrection community in 1999 on the streets of Surrey Hills with a group of people who will never find a place in the church. You see this story has no fairy tale ending. More than half of that community would now be dead. The others could die tomorrow or not; it would make little difference.


You and I; we are little different to Brad. Change the details and the Easter story remains the same. Jesus came back to Mary first, a woman and he came while it was still dark. Our darkness is our loss of dreams, our despair and our lack of direction. The myth of that Jesus resurrection held a first century community spellbound. They disbelieved, they argued, they philosophised, yet finally they wept. Together they had seen hope, together they would move forward and seek to make sense of their lives. Together they would build a church on their wonderful experience. The depth of the Easter story lies not in the literal truth of the event, although you may hold to that. The power of the story lies not in replacing the event with metaphor. You may choose to do that. The profundity of the story, and what has carried it through the centuries is the shared tears and joy of those first ordinary men and women of faith.


Resurrection for us is the offering of second chances, the patience, the grace, the seeking after visions and dreams, the search for meaning. Heroes like Jesus and friends like Brad don't die for no reason. They leave something behind which grows like a seed. It is called love.


An Easter prayer


'That which is Christlike within us shall be crucified. 

It will suffer and be broken. 

That which is Christlike within us rise up. 

It shall love and create.

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