|Christ in the midst of a family -- 16C North German altar panel|
Exodus 12:1-14Psalm 149
The Gospel for this Sunday contains a phrase that has powerfully consoled Christians in difficult circumstances of many sorts –‘where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them’. Faced with social isolation, political oppression or simply a declining membership, it is both critically important and deeply reassuring to hold fast to the truth that neither popular success nor numerical majority is relevant to the promise of divine presence. Indeed, perhaps we have less reason to be confident of the presence of Christ when two or three thousand are gathered together, since mass movements have often proved the enemy of true religion.
At the same time, there is always a risk that ‘where two or three are gathered together’ becomes a self-justifying mantra, invoked by opinionated minorities in defense of their splits and schisms, or used to exempt complacent churches from their evangelical obligations. So it is salutary to remember that this wonderful assurance is not unconditional.
The extract from Paul’s Letter to the Romans prescribed for this Sunday, though relatively brief is remarkably dense, and addresses just this issue. Its central message is that Christ is truly present only to those who have ‘put on Christ’. What does this mean? It means sharing a cast of mind whose key elements are these. First, we need the conviction that ‘now is the time to wake from sleep’ i.e. that the things we often struggle for, such as wealth, power, or personal career, are in an important sense unreal. Second, we need to abandon ‘the works of darkness’ i.e. the devious and destructive ways in which we commonly pursue our goals, and be willing to have the brightest light shine on our lives. Third, we have to affirm that love best fulfills ‘the law’ i.e. that living truly in accordance with the laws of God means being motivated chiefly by a love for the world around us.
Christian conduct down the centuries has shown just how hard it is to follow these prescriptions. Yet the prospect that underlies them is extraordinary – that we mere mortals can live in communion with the one true God.