Wednesday, 5 December 2012

5th December 2012

Saint Paul lived in an era when anxiety about the end of the world was commonplace. Life under a violent exploitative colonial regime was nasty brutish and short. It was understandable that oppressed people should long to see an end to victimhood. Jesus' ministry and the events issuing from its astonishing conclusion, heightened expectation among his followers that the End of all things would be soon. This was reflected in his writings.

As decades passed, the church spread from Palestine across languages and cultures. Believers were martyred in persecutions. Some grew old or sick and died, but the End didn't arrive. Paul gave pastoral reassurance to people  wondering anxiously if dead loved ones would lose out if they missed the finale of the great cosmic drama.

His own certainty about the End and eager anticipation of it was undoubted. He didn't know when and didn't seek to know when, but he expected it to occur in a single instant, when the eternal 'imperishable' nature of reality, which is clothed by transient material reality, would be revealed. He stated: "We shall not all die, but we shall all be changed in a flash in the twinkling of an eye ..."

This refers back to his conversion experience, when the risen Lord was revealed to him as he was unexpectedly overwhelmed by blinding light. This instant that turned him from persecutor to evangelist by the grace of God acting in a decisive transformation. 'We shall all be changed' is a key theme of his preaching and the spiritual formation of new Christian disciples. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds." he exhorts.

Change is a constant feature of existence, whether we are called to respond to it, or to be its initiators and instruments. Paul, however, speaks in the passive voice, about change we aren't in control of, concerning the nature of our existence as children of the creator Father God. We don't just live, we are sustained, cherished in life by the infinite consciousness of the One Jesus declares with poetic flourish, values every sparrow, and each person so much more, He numbers the hairs on our heads.

Over and against the prospect of annihilation at life's end, the Gospel places, not our knowledge of God, but God's knowledge of us. My consciousness of self is fundamentally linked to God's consciousness of me. I come fully alive as I open myself and reach out in trust, discover and acknowledge the bond of love between us. "Not that we first loved Him, but that He first loved us."

We affirm in faith that we are on journey into the unknown, now in this world, and at at the end of life. In that unknown we are not alone, due to Him who loved us and gave himself for us in a way we can understand - in Jesus Christ.

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