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St Johns Southgate

11 Feb 2016

Another year of Australian Open tennis has come and gone and Southbank seems a little bit quieter for it.

St Johns, along with the many bars, restaurants and shops, enjoyed welcoming the polo-shirt-wearing, international-accented masses. But now the tournament branded cars have disappeared, the fans have hung up their hats and put the sunscreen back in the bathroom cupboard and Southbank has returned to its normal level of busyness.

The Australian Open has become a key ingredient of the Melbourne summer and whether you’re a centre court junkie, a cheap-seats cheapskate or a TV-only ogler, you can’t help but get a little bit excited by the buzz in town. The buzz was this year tinged with sentimentality and sadness as Melbourne bid farewell to Aussie sporting icon, Lleyton Hewitt.

From all accounts, Hewitt’s final match at the sold-out Rod Laver Arena was quite the event. The following day, dozens of people called talk-back radio to share their many and varied feelings about the retirement of the player described by some as an arrogant brat, and by others as the toughest of fighters and a great Australian.

What made that night at Melbourne Park so special? It wasn’t the five set thriller you might have hoped for, but perhaps it was the coming together of so many memories and different perspectives on the tennis great that made it meaningful.

Whether or not you were a fan, Lleyton has undeniably made an imprint on our individual and collective tennis memories since bursting onto the professional scene back when we were worried about the millennium bug.

In that arena January 21, the individual and communal converged. The focus of every person gathered was on the man wearing the backwards cap and the Aussie flag inspired shirt. But it was the communal awareness, the collective consciousness of the finality of the occasion that made the atmosphere something unique.

It may sound crazy to say that Christian worship is like a grand slam tennis match, but it does have something in common with being there to witness Hewitt’s final “C’mon!”

Every Sunday morning, individuals all over the world gather together to share in something. These people bring their own history, their own baggage, their own joys and sorrows, but together – as they focus their attention on another whose story affects their own – they’re linked in powerful and indescribable ways.

Just like the tennis fan sitting in 17B didn’t know what the person sitting in 33F was feeling, we don’t know every church-goer’s story. But we do know that they are there because Jesus has left a mark on their lives, and the truth that they’ve found in his story keeps bringing them back to share in it with others.

The Christian church offers a place for the individual to be valued and personal experience to be rejoiced in within a communal context – a setting with a common focus – that heightens the experience and helps the individual to look around the arena that we call church and say: “This is pretty great!”

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