As we all know by now, this week marked the one-year anniversary of the declaration of a pandemic. It was one year ago that our church buildings were closed, and we shifted to other media almost overnight.
I remember calling Kevin and Iain, on the Friday afternoon to see if we could join Michael in the Cathedral chapel to pray and to video-record and stream a message before all of us stopped circulating for a while. At the time, the advice was to “shut things down for a couple of weeks and see where we are then”.
Well, 52 weeks later . . . where are we? If you’re viewing this video, you’re still here. Thanks be to God for that. We’ve lost many people over those 52 weeks. We’ve lost lots of important, smaller, things too. We rightly feel the grief and we openly lament.
But . . . lament is always paired, eventually, with praise and thanksgiving. Praise of God, primarily, who raises us up from the depths and gives us life—both now and in the end.
One of the Sunday readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent is from the letter to the Ephesians. Chapter 2. I’m going to refer to the author of that letter as Paul,
even though we’re never sure who really wrote it—it sounds a lot, to me, like the Apostle Paul in other letters. Not everyone is OK with Paul. What he says in some letters bothers people. Sometimes the letters are almost impossible to understand. But here we have an example of Paul at his best. Paul talking about grace. You don’t find anyone in the bible who understands the power of grace better than Paul.
Here is what he wrote in these verses, basically, near the beginning of that letter. Ephesians 2: 1-10 (adapted from MSG paraphrase)
It wasn’t so long ago that we were mired in that old stagnant life. We let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell us how to live.
We filled our lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same sea. Even though some had much better boats than others for travelling this sea, we were all in the same dangerous sea. It’s a wonder God didn’t get angry and do away with the whole lot of us, again.
Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, God embraced us. God took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. God did all this with no help from us! Then God picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah. Now God has us where right where God wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus.
“Saving” is all God’s idea, and all God’s work. All we do is trust God enough to let go, and let God do this for us. It’s God’s gift from start to finish. We don’t play the major role.
If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. In birth, and then in baptism, God creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, Jesus, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
Thanks be to God.
As we slowly emerge from this pandemic, knowing that it won’t all end completely – or quickly, and that there may be other huge events that will push us around like this, we have the opportunity to enter into that “work” of God much more intentionally and effectively, with more focus, perhaps bearing more fruit. It doesn’t need to feel heavy. It’s good work! The work of Christians in community. The work of the church. The work of assisting in God’s work, using God’s methods.
What is the work? God taking sin-sick lives, sin-dead lives, and making them alive in Christ. What are the methods? God showering the situation with grace and kindness. Out of an immense mercy. With incredible love. This is the power of God, greater than any power there is, or ever will be. It’s tough to believe this, sometimes. But it’s real. It’s true.
Next week, I’m going to come back to this and think with you about some of what we mean by the word “grace”. What is grace and how does it save us? What is its power? Until then, may the God of mercy transform you by grace.