Oneness in God, Creation and Life

Oneness

The Epistle Reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (1 John 4: 7-21) begins with these telling words (in Greek): “Agapetoi agapomen”– which translates as “those who are loved, let us love”. Then John continues to stress that love is an attribute of God. We have a famous Swahili hymn, “Mungu ni Pendo” which is translated as “God is love”, precisely John’s declaration in verse 8. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Where there is love there is life” and even the WW I military commander, Ferdinand Foch declared that, “The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire”. What is the fire in the human soul? It is love – not rage, hatred, strife, fear or conflict.

The second very important observation in the Epistle is John’s statement that “No one has ever seen God”. Yet he also states that “everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” – even though we have never seen God. We are loved first, then we too can love. It is the love of God, which is God with which we can love one another.

So, John state that “God is love, (Mungu ni Pendo) and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them”. Consequently, or “because as God is, so we are in this world” (not in heaven).

The word “abide” is mentioned six times in the Epistle Reading and eight times in the Gospel Reading (John 15: 1-8). What does the word really mean? John wrote in Greek, and the Greek word he used is “meno” which means “to stay, to remain, not to depart, to be kept or held continually, to remain as one not to become another or different” – I like this last definition. In Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, the word he used would be the equivalent of the Hebrew “yashav”, which means “sit, remain, dwell”.

In any case, what we see in these readings is an emphasis on a relationship – relationship with God, relationship with Jesus and relationship with one another and all this being interconnected. When this happens God, Jesus, and humanity become oneness. This may not be quite familiar in Christian theology, but the concept of the Oneness of all Creation, the Oneness of the Universe, the Oneness of Life is not a novelty in many spiritual traditions. It should not be a novelty in Christianity either because that is what the Epistle and Gospel Readings for this Sunday are saying.

It is in this relationship that fruits are borne, and these are the fruits of love, peace, harmony, compassion and forgiveness. But, why are we haunted by the puzzle of 7 billion people wanting the same thing – love, peace, happiness, abundance, opportunity, safety and security – and be unable to get it?

That is for next discussion.

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There is salvation in no one else…What does it mean?

Protester kissing riot police

Acts 4: 5 -12 opens up the Scripture Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Verse 12 reads: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved”. Obviously this is a very Christian statement and would make no sense to a non-Christian.

Yet, even Christians may ask: What is salvation and what does it mean to be saved? It may sound like a very basic and simple question, but take a moment to reflect.

Different Christian groups will answer the question differently.

Beginning with Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in North Africa (248/49 – 258 A.D) to Vatican II, the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches held to the doctrine of “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus” which means outside the church there is no salvation. All Christian denominations do agree with the Catholic Catechism that “all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his body” (CCC 846). Still, this makes sense only for Christians.

Can the term have any meaning to non-Christians? Can we say what we are saying in a language that a non-Christian would understand? In fact, for some Christians, salvation means being cleansed by Jesus’ blood for eternal communion with him. The futurist aspect of eternity in heaven (wherever that place may be) carries the more weight. For others, salvation is a very present reality and eternity begins here. Being here and in communion with Christ is therefore very important.

This aspect of being here and in communion is basic to all humanity. There is communion with all humanity and the whole creation. We attain this by connecting with the soul – which is eternal – and bridging the gap between it and the personality, or the flesh as Christians would call it. The agenda of the soul is love, peace, compassion, harmony, forgiveness. Couldn’t we say that is Jesus’ agenda too?

Non-Christians don’t have the term salvation in their discourse but they know about seeking harmony with the soul. The soul connects all humans together and when we are connected in harmony, bound in love, peace, compassion and forgiveness, there is salvation.

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?

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Luke writes in the Gospel Reading for this Sunday (Luke 24: 36b- 48) that the disciples “were startled and terrified” when the Risen Jesus appeared to them. In fact, Jesus appeared to them as Cleopas and his companion were relating their meeting with Jesus on their way to Emmaus. Furthermore, Mary Magdalene and the other women had brought the news of the Risen Christ to them.

So, why were they startled and terrified? Notice, also, that even after Jesus greeted them with “Shalom” – Peace – while they were joyful, they were nevertheless still in disbelief.

Today we look at Jesus’ resurrection in hindsight. We know the story, it has been repeated again and again for almost 20 centuries. It is a familiar story. For the disciples, however, it was a confounding experience. Even though Jesus had forewarned them of his death and resurrection, its reality was beyond comprehension.

They knew, and may even have seen ghosts. That is why Jesus wanted to dispel from them any thoughts that he might have been a ghost. A dead person had come back to life – that was a completely new experience for the disciples. This was an experience that would require a different mindset to comprehend. It required Jesus to open their minds, the same way he did with Cleopas and his friend.

Jesus showed his disciples his hands and his feet. He invited them to look (and see), to touch (and feel), to hear and to understand, not simply intellectually, but with their hearts and emotions. He ate with them. These are very tangible ways of encountering the Risen Christ. In western society there is often too much effort to make a separation between the sacred and the secular, the physical and the spiritual, the natural and the supernatural, church and state – which also  brings to mind Tertullian’s remark: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” (Or the academy and the church).

What we learn from today’s Gospel Reading and the post-resurrection appearances of the Risen Christ is that God is everywhere in God’s creation. We encounter the Risen Christ in worship and in the Sacraments – which convey God’s grace through physical and tangible elements – as well as in everyday service in the world.

As we go about our daily life, at home, at work in the office, factory, hospital and in service teaching or attending to the needs of others, in business, may the Risen Christ be revealed in our midst.

The Second Sunday of Easter: Year B

caring for the poor

One common theme in the scripture readings – and the Collect – for the Second Sunday of Easter is fellowship. In the Collect, we recall that “in the Paschal mystery”, God “established a new covenant of reconciliation”: Reconciliation between God and humanity and with one another. Indeed, the paschal mystery, meaning the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and its place in our relationship with God – reconciliation – is the foundational concept of Christian theology.

The adjective “paschal” derives from the Hebrew Pesach, meaning “passing over” as in Exodus 12: 13. In Greek, the word is pascha – and in fact, in my tribal language – Kichagga – the Easter Season is Paskaa, or Pasaka in Swahili.

In the Collect we then pray, “that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith”. This is powerful! In baptism – and we renew our baptismal vows especially during the Great Easter Vigil – we are born into fellowship, with Jesus and with our fellow faithful. We therefore pray that our lives give testimony to our faith.

Next, in the First Reading from the Book of Acts 4: 32-35, we are told: “those who believed were of one heart and soul…” And how did they profess their faith in their lives? “No one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common… There was not a needy person among them”; what they had was shared proportionate to need. This is an impossible proposition in our world today where those who have accumulate more and more and those without; even the little that they have is taken away.

Then we have Psalm 133, which starts off with these words: “How good and pleasant it is when brethren live together in unity”. Fellowship! Right away, I find myself humming the Hebrew composition from this psalm: “Hiney ma tov um’ana’im; Shevet achim gam yachad”. Where there is this fellowship, “there the Lord bestows blessing, even life forevermore”.

This then brings us to the Epistle Reading from 1 John 1: 1 –2: 2 where we pick up this conditional statement: “If we say that we have fellowship with. the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ…”we could not at the same time be walking in darkness because “God is light and in God there is no darkness at all”.

One of the questions we ask ourselves is this: How is this fellowship of believers manifested? There is a good example in the First Reading from Acts. “The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul”.Because they were of one heart and soul, their community pursued the common good. They shared their wealth and possessions with equity and according to need rather than greed.

What then can we say about us today? How do we testify to fellowship with Christ and with one another? Is our fellowship inclusive or focused solely on our inner circle? How about those who are “different”, who do not dress like us, or talk or think or behave like us?

Think of all humanity as one soul and, like the first community of Christ, practice being of one heart and soul – in other words, singleness in pursuing the agenda of the soul.