If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Cor. 5:17
The death and resurrection of Jesus changed the world. More specifically, it changed how humanity relates to God and to itself. In a bygone era, there was a complicated system of sacrifices, observances and rituals to be observed before a person could be considered righteous before God. A complex code of moral obligations surrounding personal piety and hospitality to strangers and kin regulated a Godly society.
Jesus, with his simple way and transformative death ended these overbearing rules, the demands of a cantankerous and capricious deity.
Or at least this is the implication of such thinking.
To dismiss the Old Testament as the unreasonable demands of an uncompassinate God makes Jesus so alien to the previous story that one wonders whether he really is Yahweh’s Son, or at least whether the whole history of Israel is some cruel point-proving exercise in human fallibility.
To affirm that the New Testament has done away with the painful experiences which fuelled much of the Old Testament implies that the Christian Church has no fellowship with the pain of the world. It is only a doctor, never a patient.
Plainly, the Christian Church is not immune to sickness, suffering, grief and death any more than individual Christians are. The Catholic church has been beset with a sex abuse scandal for the last decade, and even newer families can’t escape the failures of a few.
Look and see, we have not arrived.
We, the community of faith, are not morally pure.
We are not pious.
We are not holy when eyes are off us.
The Christian Church inherited a grand tradition: The Hebrew faith in a God who calls people to be his own, who listens to the pleas of human voices and has grace upon the sinner.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my plea for grace.
In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
for you answer me.
The ancient singer would not call upon God’s grace if God were not gracious.
Yet why would he call upon grace, if God were truly gracious?
That is to say, surely a gracious God wouldn’t need to be called upon? Surely he would have already acted to save, to soothe, to heal, without waiting to be called upon?
And isn’t this what he did in Jesus, stepping into human existence to solve all our problems?
Why does God want to be called upon? Why does it matter that our prayers must be spoken or sung aloud?
The faith of the Christian Church is not private. It is a story which demands to be told, yet it can only be told if it is true. The Psalmist in the quote above tells part of a story, and other psalms report of God’s favour and grace as it has been experienced.
Jesus was a man, he was God written in to human experience. Not human words or ideas, but human being. What could this mean apart from the radical expectation that real human lives can be touched and changed by this same God?
Grace is not an idea, a righteousness which I confess yet do not experience. It must be experienced before it is confessed. Yet the sacred tradition of the faith gives me the words for every step from despair to hope.
And sometimes back again.