I always find it rather ominous that we call this particular week in the liturgical calendar the last Sunday after Trinity. It suggests to me some kind of cultic prediction of the end of the world. Of course, that’s not what’s intended. It’s just the point in the year at which we stop counting weeks from Trinity Sunday and turn instead to counting weeks to advent (so next week will be the 4th Sunday before Advent). I’m going to suggest this morning though that there is a helpful reminder here in calling this the last Sunday after Trinity. Namely that the faith that we proclaim in the creed is not simply a statement of events past – that the Son of God came down from heaven for our salvation. Suffered death and was buried before his rising again to heaven and so on. No, our faith involves trust in a future promise namely that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom shall have no end.
The teaching of the faith tells us that we live in the middle of events – between Christ’s victory over death and his return and during this period, and this is perhaps the most important point, Christ is alive in us, his church. Ours is a living faith and in our sharing in the Eucharist we bring both the sacrifice of the cross and our future sharing in the eternal heavenly banquet into the present and we commit ourselves again to be living sacrifices.
The theologian Peter Waddell writes of the difficulty we have in appreciating what the church fathers meant by “remembrance” when describing the eucharist. For them, he says, it was not a memorial service, but the act in which Jesus Christ surged into the life of believers and seized them with his joy. Remembrance is not about fondly recalling Jesus, but about being gripped by the power of his death and resurrection. In the sacrament we are overtaken by, and indeed caught up in, his sacrifice. One of St Paul’s most striking comments I think is found in his letter to the Colossians where he refers to completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. It’s a curious expression and one which for a long time I thought contradicted the teaching of a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice as the Book of Common Prayer has it. The point though is not of some inadequacy in Christ’s sacrifice but rather of the incorporation, or the contribution, of our own sacrifices. At the Last Supper Jesus makes clear that the power and energy at the heart of his ministry was the gift of himself for others and he calls us to share in that joyful outpouring. To receive communion is to be brought into the power of Christ’s sacrifice. It is an invitation to have one’s own life filled with the joy of Christ and to be made like him.
Now today is also bible Sunday. It’s appropriate then that we also reflect a little on how the scripture supports us in our life of faith. Of course, we do this every week as we look specifically at the scripture readings of the day but taking a step back I would offer what I hope may be some useful observations.
Firstly, it’s helpful to recognise the word bible is derived from the Greek for books, that is books plural. We are blessed to be able to access the canon of scripture in a single volume but the bible is more of a library than a book. The distinction is important because it helps us to appreciate the diversity of scripture. It is not one genre but it’s very easy to treat it as if it is. Engaging with the scripture is demanding. I don’t mean that mining it for quotations to support our way of seeing the world is demanding. Rather, the work to understand the context within which scripture was written, what the original audience would have been and to see ourselves in relation to it, discerning the implications for how we live today and into the future, that’s demanding. Being open to the promptings of scripture, that’s demanding. It’s useful I think to recognise what we might refer to as our posture in relation to scripture, the position that we take when reading or listening to it. Here we need to have some honesty with ourselves. Are we unyielding readers? Do we approach the text with our minds made up? Are we open to being inspired as we read and hear it?
Our attitude to scripture and in particular its future orientation is crucial here. Given wider societal attitudes it’s very understandable that many look to scripture and see it solely as an historical product. Some engage with it on those terms of course, for most, it no longer looks to be relevant to their lives and they’d rather focus their attention elsewhere. What both of those perspectives miss is that the cycle of creation, of covenant and liberation is one within which we are gathered. God’s promises to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are fulfilled in Christ’s new creation. We live today, still in the middle of events but with the end of the story revealed and whilst we might mistake the genre – this story involves audience participation. It involves us.
Paul’s words that we heard this morning from his letter to the Colossians speak of our participation in the life of Christ, of putting on Christ as a garment – clothe yourselves he says, with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness and above all love.
All Glory be to him who is the source of all love. Amen.