Saturday, February 15, 2014

Swept into the Community of Love

Medieval stained glass windows in Exeter Cathedral

Have you ever been down the wrong end of town in a large city and come across an old church building with windows that look grubby, dark and boring, only to be dazzled by their colour when you see them from the inside? 

Stumbling upon the Christian Faith is a bit like that. From the outside it looks unpromising indeed, - and especially considering the failings of church communities and those who lead them.

But one day we decide to explore. 

We don’t put it into these words at this stage, but we are “prompted” or “nudged” by the Holy Spirit to have a look inside. Maybe it's after growing up and drifting away from church. Or maybe it's a brand new experience. But something happens! Just like being dazzled by the world of colour and beauty that opens up to us as the sun’s light streams through that window.

Of course, some people take longer than others to begin making sense out of the picture, the patterns and the different coloured glass. But we don’t have to understand every bit of the window to see how as a whole it makes sense, or to experience the new vision of glory that it has brought to our soul.

When we look closely we notice the dark bits of glass as well as the strips of heavy black lead that hold it all together. We step back again and they disappear into the vision as a whole.

Isn’t that like the suffering and pain we experience, the injustices we endure, and the unfairness of life that makes us weep? We dare not try to explain why good people suffer in ways that torture their souls and ours. But we do try to step back and see the whole picture, and sometimes, even when we are hurting badly, we can't help being dazzled by glory and we cry out to God in the words of a man who had seen everything he held dear crumble around him: “Great is thy faithfulness . . . the Lord is my portion” (Lamentations 3:22-24).

It’s not just the question of suffering that bamboozles us!

Think about the Trinity, the idea that God is Three and God is One. Even some Christians get embarrassed about this idea. (I can assure readers that over the years I have had curates who desperately asked not to preach on Trinity Sunday!!!) 

Christian teachers have always pointed out that by thinking logically about the world, and by following what seems to be our inbuilt “instinct for transcendence,” it is possible to arrive at belief in the existence of “God”, and to make tentative observations about some of his attributes. But to go further than that we are dependent on revelation.

Where did the idea of the Trinity come from? Was it (as Dan Brown suggests in The Da Vinci Code) unheard of until the 4th century when Emperor Constantine “enforced” the idea of Christ’s divinity on the Church? Hardly. St Gregory of Nyssa, also 4th century, points out that there was no more adequate a theologian than the Lord himself, who without compulsion or mistake designated the Godhead “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (See Matthew 28:19). The word “Trinity” simply sums up the revelation about God that is clearly found in the teaching and actions of Jesus as experienced by his followers. St Athanasius, also 4th century, makes it clear that Christians had always had used the terms “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” when speaking about God as Three Persons in One, a community of love.

Therein lies the real issue. What for YOU is at the heart of the universe? A vacuum? An impersonal force? A solitary Being (i.e. a lawgiver, an intelligent designer, or a cosmic megalomaniac)? JESUS revealed to us that the heart of the universe is a COMMUNITY OF LOVE.

Furthermore, he claimed that in him - in a special way - this life-giving love spilled out of eternity and into time. Through his incarnation, his life, his dying and rising, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled (“in him”) to be incorporated into the eternal flow of love which is God’s inner life. Jesus empowers you and me to share that life forever.

From the Orthodox tradition, Fr Thomas Hopko put it this way: 

“Even Christian prayer is the revelation of the Trinity . . . Inspired by the Holy Spirit, we can call God ‘our Father’ only because of the Son who has taught us and enabled us to do so. Thus, the true prayer of Christians is not the calling out of our souls in earthly isolation to a far-away God. It is the prayer in us of the divine Son of God made to his Father, accomplished by the Holy Spirit who himself is also divine.”

For the rest of our lives and for the whole of eternity we will ponder the wonder of this Mystery with whom our lives are entwined. For now it is enough to stand back a little from the window and allow ourselves to be dazzled by the beauty of God's self-revelation, caught up with the company of heaven in wonder, love and praise.


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