Thursday, 29 October 2015

Week 30 Thursday (Year 1) - 29 October 2015

Readings : Romans 8:31-39; Psalm 109; Luke 13:31-35

Like the closing movement of a great Mahler symphony the last part of Romans 8 concludes not just that extraordinary chapter but the whole of the first part of the Letter to the Romans. The crescendo is dramatic, heart-warming, extraordinary, profoundly moving.

'With God on our side who can be against us?' is the first part of this closing movement. We have met those who are against us, sin and death and the law, but we have also met the response of God to these enemies of humanity: the sending of His Son to die for us and the gift of His Spirit to transform us. There is no contest in the end. The only one entitled to condemn us is the one who died for us, was raised from the dead, and now stands and pleads for us. (Stephen in Acts 7 also speaks of Jesus standing in the presence of God: it is the position of the advocate, the one pleading a case on another's behalf.)

'Nothing therefore can come between us and the love of Christ'. This is the second part of the final movement. An intimacy has been established between humanity and the love of God, a direct contact, an unmediated presence. St Thomas Aquinas says that this is why we do not expect any further revelation from God. What more is to be revealed? What more is to be achieved? He turns to Hebrews rather than Romans but to make this same point: there is nothing that can come between us and the mercy seat of God. Jesus has carried his own blood into the heavenly Holy of Holies - no greater sacrifice can be imagined, no closer connection, no greater intimacy, no deeper communion. On the strength of what Christ has done we can face into any trouble, from within or from without, any need or want, any threat or attack.

'For I am certain ...' Paul begins the final section, 'that nothing ...', and he gives a litany of the created powers and forces that might conceivably come between us and the love of God. But none of them can do that, not death or life, no angel or prince, nothing that is or is yet to come, no power, height, depth, or anything at all in creation can ever come between the human soul and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It seems that there might be one thing that could do it and Jesus speaks about it in today's gospel reading. 'I longed to gather you as a hen gathers her brood, but you refused'. 'You would not' is another translation, or 'you willed it not'. Is it really the case that the created, and so finite, human will is capable of preventing what God, in His infinite goodness, wants us to have? It seems that it is so, that we really are free with this kind of potentially self-destroying freedom. And it would be hell, that choice, to place ourselves outside the intimacy achieved by the blood of Christ.

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, uses a lovely word to illustrate her confidence that God fully respects human freedom. Our freedom is the supreme way in which He has made us to be like Him, capable of love, but also that which makes hell possible, a final refusal of that love. In her own version of Paul's crescendo she says: 'Human freedom can be neither broken nor neutralized by divine freedom, but it may well be, so to speak, outwitted. The descent of grace to the human soul is a free act of divine love. And there are no limits to how far it may extend.'

You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced: so the prophet Jeremiah. Outwit me Lord, and let me be outwitted, is a prayer one might make using Edith Stein's words. In the strength of this prayer we can return to Paul's certainty. If God is for us, who can be against us? Not even we ourselves. Nothing can come between us and the love of God in Christ, no, not even we ourselves. For the intimacy into which we have been brought is love, and love is only true where it is free, freely given and freely received. And, as Paul tells us elsewhere, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

So let us welcome Jesus in his desire to gather us in. Let us be joyful in the gift of the Son. Let us say, 'yes, Lord, I will it, to receive your gifts, to be outwitted, to be carried along into the glorious music of your eternal love'.

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