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The free Jerusalem

After the aconites, the daffs! Yellow seems to be the early awakener. But the world has also awakened this morning to the fact that it is Mothering Sunday which apparently goes back a long way in the history of the Western church when families returned home to be together. It is also Mid Lent Sunday when there is a sort of refreshment from the rigours of Lent, so that the Introit began, in Latin, with Laetare - Rejoice! Today is well known also because the reading for the epistle is taken from Paul's notorious allegory of the slave woman and the free woman, the latter standing for the church freed of attachment to the Law. Paul is scandalised that the 'messengers' from Jerusalem had come to the Galatian churches to defend Jewish circumcision for new converts to the Christian faith. He will have none of it and rebuts the idea vigorously -

'It was to bring us into the realm of freedom that Christ set us free. Stand your ground, therefore, and do not ever again take up the yoke of slavery.'(J. Louis Martyn, 'Galatians')

Martyns comments that the Christian church is part of the new creation of God, not closed in on itself, as in the old order, and where ossifying traditions are obliterated.

It is enormously important to read and remember how the authors of the New Testament propagated and defended their belief that Jesus was the present Lord of the new creation by God. They and we have to believe that, with Jesus, we are on a new tack, having a new vision of the world and of ourselves and of our neighbours. And it is the accounts of this historic Jesus and his early disciples that are the groundwork of faith. Michel Quoist wrote, "... a man who has never 'seen' the Jesus of history cannot recognize him, cannot approach him or contemplate him." (Christ is Alive, Gill & MacMillan, 1971, pages 118-119) But while that is certain, it is also true that if Christians are too wedded to the written words of the New Testament, they are not free to know the person of the risen Lord who is closer to them than their bibles. The precious statements of the early disciples are there to point us to the reality of the person of the Lord who is with us and the world. At some point we are to be conscious that we have actually met him. In fact that was the raison d'etre of writing about Jesus in the first place!

It is one of those curious paradoxes that we have to hold two 'positions' together while opting for the real in daily living and in Christian practice. It is easier just to stick to 'bible reading' without launching out into the reality of what we have read. I suppose that this is the common temptation to feel more secure when we simply rely upon what is written rather than engaging with the reality. Adhering to the 'letter' is, in terms of Christianity, a biblicism which cannot bear fruit in real life. Biblicism is not new. It goes back a long way into the history of the church. Texts were bandied about on all sides in the historical controversies of the 5th and 6th centuries. But it is also a hazard at any point in life to quote texts as if they had a life of their own - scholars are very good at it! But there is nothing more enervating than focussing on texts. It's a sort of escape into the past because it is so difficult to engage with the present. It's an engagement, in a way, with Law which Paul so vigorously rejected. However, it is certain that none of us can ever say that we have fully succeeded in this freedom in Christ which he wished his new friends in Galatia to embrace. That would be another ploy to keep us from being alive with the one who is alive.

© Aelred Arnesen

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