Sharing his death and resurrection – Third Sunday after the Epiphany 2012

The Churches in Poland who provided the material for this year’s Unity Week chose to reflect on the words “We will all be changed”, words from the end of the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians, St Paul’s discussion of resurrection hope. When one considers the present reality of divided churches, one realises that re-union can only come through enormous change, and possibly not indeed until the last trumpet sounds.

But Paul is talking about resurrection; and in an way that gives us a useful angle from which to consider the ecumenical endeavour. For resurrection is a gathering together of a body that fallen apart in death; the reunion of soul and body; and then the transformation of that reunited person. In a sense, the longing for unity is the corporate expression of the individual hope for resurrection. And what we hope for in God’s hereafter has implications for what we do in the here-and-now.

In Romans 6 Paul writes: “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). Or, in Philippians 3: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection.. becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10,11). The Christian pattern is one of death and resurrection: we enter into it sacramentally in baptism, and realise it morally and experientially as we follow Jesus in a discipleship that means ” putting to death our evil desires and being buried with him”; a life characterised by ready and profound repentance. When we persevere in resisting evil and refusing the selfish instincts, we discover little foretastes of resurrection, hints of transformation.

Something similar applies corporately to the church and the churches. Longing for the resurrection and transformation of re-union, we need to get on with sharing Christ’s death. There are instincts and attitudes that we simply need to put to death – I suppose each church or denomination needs to work out itself what repentance it needs to do. Thus the ecumenical quest involves identifying unChristlike aspects of our corporate life and rejecting them. Can you think of any aspects of our life as the Church of Ireland that could do with re-appraisal? I think we are less than honest sometimes about how much we need the insights and particular gifts of the other churches. We sometimes have a rather superior attitude, as if our take on Christianity was the most obviously correct one. And the temptation is always there, to tell the other churches what they need to change.

Some of this process is already in hand, of course. A little event like last week’s service in Santry, where different traditions come together as friends to listen to the Scriptures and pray together is like a little hint of resurrection. A little glimpse of what God’s future might hold, something to encourage us to put down the unChristlike baggage and walk a bit more freely together.

 

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