Known by name

Frances writes on this coming Sunday’s readings :-

Everything in today’s readings is about choice, not our choice of God, but of his choosing of us. Modern liberalism likes to read John’s gospel (14:1-12) as a call to liquorice all sorts’ mentality on the part of God. There are many rooms in my Father’s house then becomes a recipe for a carte-blanch on our part meaning that we can believe anything we want and God will still love and accept us. This interpretation sits extremely uncomfortably with the rest of John’s gospel, which allows no such laissez-faire individualism. It speaks volumes however of the magnanimity of God and of his infinite love and respect for his creation, redeemed by the blood of his beloved Son. It is redolent of the relationship Jesus speaks of in this passage of his reaching out to the Father and of the Father’s utter solidarity with his Son with its oft repeated I am in the Father and the Father is in me and the earlier Philip…to have seen me is to have seen the Father. This speaks of the absolute unity; solidarity and solicitude which is the nature of divinity and is God’s intention for all of us. This passage, which will be echoed in John 17, with Jesus’ priestly prayer, is suffused with God’s love and will for us – his choice for each and every one of us, and of his capacity to bring his will to completion. His design is for us to be united with him, with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Our reading from 1 Peter (2:4-9) teases this out by way of a different metaphor taken from building construction. Once the Romans had discovered concrete and the building of the arch there was literally no end to their capacity to build; palaces, bath complexes, huge basilicas, and ultimately colossal Christian churches; a feat we would not see rivalled again until the building of medieval cathedrals once more taxed the minds of creators of world famed wonders.  The arch relies on the keystone, the stone at the top of the arch which holds the entire structure in being by the outward stress it imposes on the rest of the stones, and the writer of the Letters describes Christ as the keystone serving to bind together the rest of the building – the Christian community as ‘living stones making a spiritual house’. When we consider this metaphor, we begin to see just how significant it is, for stone represents age; solidity; structure and endurability whilst the notion that these stones are alive, or ‘living’ represents the individuals along with the keystone on which they entirely depend, thus emphasising the corporate nature of the Church, its solidarity and its mutual service and commitment.

Modern man fears the loss of his individuality in corporate belonging and resents any suggestion of our being entirely in the hands of anyone, especially God, seeing it as something negative, a surrender of personality. But our reading from Acts (6:1-7) views it quite differently where we see the seven deacons selected by the Spirit for service within the community and named individually. This clearly indicates that they were not swallowed up in some amorphous organization or lost their identities. No, it was precisely the opposite! In serving the community the seven precisely fulfil what they were always meant to be. By willingly giving themselves under the guidance of the Spirit for the service of others they achieve the fullness of life, becoming as 1 Peter would have it part of a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

This plethora of images used by Peter to encapsulate the vitality of Christian membership must have been something quite stunning to the ancient world, where gods and men were kept strictly apart and the only meetings once might have with the gods were in dreams or fearsome pilgrimages to shrines in which the devotee expected to be scared half to death. Here in 1 Peter and in our reading from St John we are given glimpses of an entirely different relationship between God and man, one in which the believer is placed into something amounting to a reciprocal relationship with God; one where his contribution is valued – as a spiritual stone in the arch or in John’s language, as one who shares in God’s own work, for the believer is privileged with a previously unheard of intimacy with the divine. I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works because I am going to the Father. Truly, the Christian conception of the vision of God and of the vision of humanity was and remains one of boundless potential as the individual reaches out in service and adoration of the God who has redeemed us in Christ.

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One thought on “Known by name

  1. When we think of the decline of the Roman world that the empire was to become after the Republic,the metaphor of the arch as a symbol of public order within the community, of a romanitas consistent with an incarnated {i.e.classically inculturated}form of monotheism, held out a hope of social continuity at a time of increasing political anxiety.Christianity was to carry civilisation within its message.

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