We believe in Catholicity of the Church (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

In this article we shall think about the Catholicity of the Church, a term that requires careful analysis, for it is often misunderstood; and “catholic” is understood differently by several Christian denominations.

The basic meaning of ‘catholic’ is simply universal or world-wide, or wholeness. It is not a biblical expression and was introduced in the very early Christian centuries as the Church grew and developed. As explained in earlier articles the Nicene Creed was formed to clarify the Church’s true and essential beliefs about God and his Christ at a time of serious debate and disagreement. Hence the use of ‘catholic’ in the Creed was to stress the received New Testament Faith the true Faith – the whole Faith as established from the beginning, and universally held across all local churches by practically all Christian leaders and people. So when in various places disputes and disagreements over some elements of that Faith occurred, Church leaders appealed to the Catholic Faith” to settle controversies. They looked to the beliefs and teachings that from the first days were held in common; the Faith entrusted to the Apostles and enshrined in Holy Scripture (Jude verse 3).  Our Anglican formularies refer to the catholic creeds because these were clearly defined statements of Faith held from the very first days, drawn up by Christian leaders from all worldwide local churches (i.e. truly Ecumenical Councils); thus representing all the People of God. I will now quote part of an official statement of how we who are Anglicans understand our Church.

“The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation”. Hence we Anglicans affirm our real, true and full belonging to the world-wide Church of Christ, and that we are catholic. We acknowledge of course that there are other Churches also truly and fully part of this large international Christian Family but do not specify them.

As Anglicans we have always claimed and will continue to assert our genuine legitimate authenticity; our full rightful place in the universal Church of God. We affirm strongly the absolute validity of our Ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons, our Gospel Sacraments with the God-given graces of sanctification, our fullness of saving truth, and the right to teach with authority the Faith revealed in Holy Scripture. Our basis is Ephesians 4:3 “There is one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all”. And as I wrote in a previous article, “the Church is apostolic”, and we as Anglicans are also most certainly apostolic.

We should also note that the large (Eastern) “Orthodox Churches” equally claim to be authentic Churches of Christ; indeed fully true, without any variation from the original teachings of Christ, and the way he meant his Church to develop and grow. Hence these strongly traditional Churches consistently use the meaningful title Orthodox.

Furthermore, other Christian Churches also rightly claim to be truly part of the One Church of God, having strong New Testament faith, full baptismal and sacramental life, ministry and teaching, witness and service.

The very large Roman Catholic Church however actually claims uniquely to be The Catholic Church, asserting that it alone has complete sacramental fullness, truth and teaching authority with its ministry and appointed head. Some consider it has given the term catholic an emphasis beyond that of its initial meaning and usage. From the Reformation period onwards the Roman Catholic Church has shown an exclusivist attitude towards the reforming Churches (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican etc), regarding them as partial or deficient Churches. However, since the huge changes made by the Roman Catholic Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, the essential baptismal and Christian foundation of all these Churches has been fully acknowledged.

Praise God, in these better ecumenical times, despite still some differing understandings of some aspects of our Faith, most Churches do work together in a host of good ways, often worshipping together also. In Faringdon there is real closeness now between all Churches, with common projects like the Mustard Seed, the Family Centre, Summer Holiday Clubs, Clergy Fraternals, etc; regular times too of joint worship, prayer and study.

Our earnest hope and prayer must be that this will grow and flourish until we are all truly and wholly visibly one as Jesus longed and prayed, according to his will, and in his good time, and for all his people everywhere (John 17:19-23). Steady progress is being made, especially between Anglicans and Methodists; or with United Churches (as in Faringdon), and some other Churches. We pray that it will continue embracing all the Churches of Christ.

Although in popular parlance many folk do refer to the Roman Catholic Church as “The Catholic Church” (and certainly Roman Catholics almost invariably do so), many Anglicans will always use the full title. Formal Anglican documents, and all official discussions with the Roman Catholic Church always do. This is not to make for argument or point scoring but to say again that we as Anglicans are also catholic! If we are not, there is no point in reciting that part of the Creed with its strong affirmation on ‘catholicity’.

The Anglican Communion and its Churches have of course many differing emphases, usually called ‘churchmanship’; evangelical, Anglo-catholic, modernist, radical, liberal, etc. All these make for a rich diversity almost unique amongst the Churches of the Christian world. And this surely is a sign of strength, for our real unity in essential truths with wide harmonious diversity, is also part of what ‘catholic’ ought to mean. Unity in essential truths of faith does not mean or require absolute uniformity of worship, theological emphases, local practice or organization.

“In all essentials unity, in unessentials freedom and diversity, and in all things love” was a slogan frequently used in the Church’s early and later centuries. It should be our slogan and aim too as we seek to follow our One Lord and help build his Catholic Church. And above all we must remember that ‘catholic, world-wide or universal’ also means embracing all nations; all races, colours, social groups, ages, abilities, gender and sexuality. No one is excluded from the universal Gospel of Christ and the universal Christian Family. (Galatians 3:27-28).

Praise and glory be to our common Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

George Abell

We believe in One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

So far we have seen how this earliest catholic (i.e. universal) statement of the Christian Faith has concentrated on the nature and being of God. God the Father our Creator: God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer: God the Holy Spirit who makes the things of God real for us and brings about our Sanctification. We now look at the closing section of the Creed which briefly defines and marks out the nature or makeup of the living Church of God; the very family of Jesus; the community of Christian people. No statement of the Christian Faith whether Creeds or personal acts of faith can be complete without a clear declaration of belief in the Church’s essential nature, following of course first our belief in the One supreme God.

I stress this because it is tempting to denigrate or even dismiss the Church because it does get things wrong sometimes, or makes demands that are too costly. The Christian faith is something that must be very personal, but it is also about belonging to a corporate Body, the very Body of Christ, indeed the Bride of Christ. It’s impossible to be a Christian and not belong to the Church. Its mistakes and errors are often of our individual making in large part!

In the New Testament and in her early years the Church is often described with significant names like this: the New Israel, the Body of Christ, the Bride or Spouse of Christ, the People of God, the Vine, the Fellowship and Communion, the Way. Also supremely from the earliest years what I will call the four pillars of the Church, that she is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, with her one sure foundation and head the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 22:17; 1 Peter 2:9; John 15:5; Acts 2:42 & 9:2).

Two well know hymns express something of all this:

“The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord; she is his new creation, by water and the word; from heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride, with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died”. (Samuel J. Stone: Hymns Old & New 636).

“And I hold in veneration, for the love of him alone, holy Church as his creation, and her teachings as his own”. (John Henry Newman: Hymns Old & New 174).

As a living organization with a clear mandate from Christ himself to teach his saving faith to all people, the Apostles and others enshrined that teaching in the writings of the New Testament. The Bishops at Nicea in A.D. 325, again as the Church’s commissioned leaders with the Holy Spirit’s continuing mandate, drew up this Creed to confirm the essentials of our holy biblical Faith when many disputed it. This is part of what it means to be an Apostolic Church.

The root meaning of the Greek noun Ekklesia which in English we translate Church is simply called out and gathered together. At the start of the Church’s mission, as the apostles preached about Jesus, new believers who responded to God’s calling were joined to a living community or Ekklesia. St. Luke writes of new converts joining the Church: “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:27,28,42 & 46).

It has continued so over 2,000 years to this very day. In Faringdon and Little Coxwell new members are still added to the living Church.

We now look at each of those four pillars of the Church, and for reasons that will become clear I shall take them in the reverse order. First, the Church is Apostolic because supremely it is built on the faith of the apostles and is forever nurtured in that faith and no other. In all our articles we have looked at the New Testament teaching about Jesus; his whole life, ministry and saving work. The apostolic faith was the distillation of all that those first disciples had experienced; a revelation of God’s great purposes of saving Love in and through Christ. Briefly “The faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude verse 3).

The Church is also Apostolic because it is sent out to bring the whole world and humanity to Christ. The Greek word apostolos simply means one who is sent. It has been said that the Church is the one organization which exists more for those who are not members than for those who are! The Church’s apostolic task may be summed up briefly like this, to save souls, to fashion saints, and to serve humanity. That’s not given in order of priority for each is equally important. This fundamental task involves organized Mission Societies (home and overseas), evangelism in many differing ways both large scale and by the gifted individual. Key operations also like translating and producing Bibles, Christian schools, hospitals etc. and Aid Charities. But perhaps most of all by the quiet steady witness of countless people like you and me. One of the greatest joys we will experience in heaven will surely be to meet those whom we have helped to come to Christ (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).

The Church is also Apostolic because it is linked through all the Christian centuries to the early Apostles and leaders, first by its Faith and secondly by its threefold ordained ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In particular the office and role of the Bishop has by Ordination what is called Apostolic or Episcopal Succession. It’s a gift of grace given for service: for leadership, teaching and upholding the true Scriptural faith; guarding the Church’s unity and enabling its mission; caring for the ordained co-workers with the Bishop; and not least for all the people of God in their ministries too. It’s an onerous task and can only succeed with God’s constant renewing grace and the daily prayers of the faithful. Indeed all ordained men and women need loving prayer and patient support with warm friendship just as we support and pray for each other as Christ’s family.

The Church is also Apostolic because it shares the same life, worship and prayer of those very first Christians: Adoration of our one Lord and God: Praise to our only Saviour Jesus Christ: Glory to the life-giving Holy Spirit. The focal-point of that life and worship, from the very beginning, has always been the Sacrament of the Eucharist: the Holy Communion, the Mass, Divine Liturgy, or whatever name we use. The early Church Fathers often spoke of this great Sacrament as that which actually makes the Church, and so makes herself also to be a sacrament of saving love for many (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

In the next two Articles we shall look at the Catholicity, Holiness and Oneness of the Church.

Praise be to God. Amen.

George Abell

“We believe in the Holy Spirit . . .” (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

We now come to the closing sections of the Creed expressing our faith in how God has revealed himself, his very nature and purposes, through his Holy Spirit; and continues to work through him. Next we look at the nature of the Church itself; and finally the fulfilment of all in the life of heaven.

In several earlier articles we saw how the Holy Spirit led and guided the Apostles and first Christians of the New Testament Church, making clear the full implications of Christ’s life and teaching. When explaining the origin of the Nicene Creed I wrote “The Bishops in Council believed that the Holy Spirit would guide them, just as Jesus had promised, to lead his Church, and so us also, to a better understanding of saving truth in Christ (John 16:13). They followed the pattern of those first Apostles who had wrestled with major issues concerning the very existence, meaning and purpose of Christianity (Acts 15:28). They believed God would speak through them and confirm their conclusions”.

Writing about Jesus’ Ascension to heaven I wrote “The day had now come for Jesus to say good bye to his loyal friends firmly promising his continued presence in a new and different dimension. They would have the very presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit, a charisma and dynamism that would continue century after century until the end of time…”. Hence our strong belief is that the Holy Spirit gives and confirms to believers, a new baptismal life in Christ, one which he also makes truly real, by the very presence of Jesus as we receive the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. That he still guides his Church into the fullness of truth in Christ, empowering us for Christian living and witness with the Fruit of the Spirit and the Gifts of the Spirit. He is, I believe, the inspiration and source of all that is genuinely good, beautiful and true, in all peoples of all faiths. The Creedal statement “the Lord the giver of life” sums all this up. (John 14:25-26; Galatians 5:22-23; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11).

The Holy Spirit has of course been at work from the very beginning of Creation, and through all the Old Testament centuries, steadily patiently preparing the way for Christ’s Incarnation in God’s chosen appropriate time. (Genesis 1:1-2; etc.)  It meant unfolding to several prophets, priests  and kings (and many others), a growing understanding of the very nature and being and loving purposes of the One Eternal God. “Who has spoken through the prophets” is how the Creed sums up this first phase of the work of Revelation; a glorious Creative-Redemptive task of divine Love, fully and finally completed in Christ Jesus. (Hebrews 1:1-2; Romans 15:4).

And each one of us, in the personal journey of faith and common life together in Christ, must never forget that the Holy Spirit’s life-giving guidance and empowering is forever ongoing and unfailing. That in the confusions and divisions of today’s world and church he does not leave us; and that a greater fullness of truth, unity, harmony, love and peace, is close at hand.

Our daily prayer to Him should be to keep us faithful to the task, truly grateful for our dear Saviour’s sake. Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God! In all his good creative work and gifts the Holy Spirit never ceases to bring comfort and consolation, forgiveness and healing, enlightenment and renewal, warmth and light and fire of love. He is the One who in all situations and needs ‘stands by us’, the Paraclete, a Greek word for this. It’s a name for the Holy Spirit used by the Church over many centuries.

The Creed also stresses the Unity of the Father with Jesus the Son, and with the Holy Spirit. The word “Trinity” is not used. That name is not found in the New Testament. In all of its books however, its truth in essence is clearly evident. It was not until the 3rd or 4th Centuries that the One Supreme God, who is also three distinct Persons, is actually called The Holy and Undivided Trinity. The Creed affirms that we worship and give glory to the One and Only God who has actually made himself known to us at our human level, as the Father our Creator, the Son our Redeemer, and the Spirit who brings divine life and holiness to us. In using these expressions the first Christians were employing ordinary language and everyday human concepts (for they had no other) to convey the mystery of eternal truths, gleaned by real living experience, and understood within the mind and the heart by faith.

Worship and prayer is always of course to the Father, through Our Lord Jesus Christ his Son, and in the very life of the Holy Spirit. This is its liturgical or theological order. But it doesn’t matter whether we actually pray to God the Father direct, to Jesus direct, or to the Spirit direct, for they are always together and always One. It’s largely a matter of upbringing, local church custom or personal choice. And I want to emphasize that the Holy Spirit is not an ‘It’ but a He’, or a ‘She’ if you prefer. The Holy Spirit is personal and real just as the Father and Jesus are personal and real to us. All that we have come to learn about the sheer mind-blowing mystery and wonder, greatness and majesty of the Eternal God does not make our personal communion with him any less real or important. The essential nature and power of God is Divine Eternal Love. It means breathtaking living relationship, warm, personal and wonderful, with and within the very life of the Trinity, and with each one of us. (1 John 4:16).

In his earthly ministry Jesus patiently explained to the disciples that he would pray to the Father to send the Spirit (John 14:16 & 26). He kept that promise fully. And the Creed affirms it by the statement “who proceeds from the Father and the Son”.  The words “and the Son” did not occur in the original Nicene Creed. They were added many years later by the Western Latin part of the Church. The Eastern Greek part of the Church continued to follow the original wording, as do the Orthodox Churches to this day. This line of the Creed asserts how the Persons of the Trinity always work together in love, unity and harmony. It also means that the prayer and promise of Jesus is fulfilled now and everyday and forever, in the ongoing saving and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Praise be to God.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us.
Melt us, mould us, fill us, use us.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us. Amen. (D. Iverson)

George Abell

JESUS . . . “Will come again in glory . . .” (2) (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

In this article we shall look again at the theme of Christ’s Return, thinking especially about the Glory, the Judgment, and briefly the final unending Kingdom. It is important to link glory and judgment together to see the latter in full meaning.

All through this series I have stressed the sheer magnitude and wonder of Divine Love, in Creation, in Redemption, and in the path of Christian living and holiness; all the collective amazingly generous work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I haven’t once mentioned the word repentance because I believe the sheer impact of the message of this Divine Love-in-action must prompt change in us and growth in holiness. The repentance, which must be individual free response, will I believe follow almost instinctively. It can’t do any other, or we have simply failed to grasp the message. I think of those priests and others who at the Crucifixion event went away beating their breasts (Luke 23:48)!

The creed is concerned with essential doctrines based on the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” as the New Testament puts it (Jude:v3): not with personal response. Discipleship and Christian living, with trustful prayer, etc, is of course the next vital stage of the Christian Journey. The New Testament beliefs about Jesus, based on the experiences of his first followers, means victory in and through Christ; his, and his eternal Gospel’s triumph, over all sin, evil and death; and the fulfilment of all God’s good purposes for us all. This is the glory.

To give glory to God in prayer and liturgy is to acknowledge all that God is and all that he has done for us with the highest and best gratitude, love and worship that we are capable of. And to live out the glory in Christian loving discipleship. The Hebrew word for glory ‘kavod’ means the radiance of the divine being and nature; God’s kingship, grandeur, beauty and wonder; his very presence and actions; but most of all his saving rescue work for his people.

The Greek word ‘doxa’ lifts these Old Testament divine characteristics to a higher plane. In the New Testament it speaks of the glory of the Eternal Trinity, with supreme emphasis on the work of Christ, the far wider salvation victory he has won for us. So James 2:1 writes “Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory”. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1; Old Testament). “ The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth and we have beheld his glory”. (John 1:14; New Testament). The final return of Jesus in glory will mean that all this will be seen and experienced with sheer delight, ecstatic happiness and joy, beyond words yet true in the heart of our glorious faith, and so in our hearts too.

The Judgment, essentially means I believe, the putting right by God of everything once wrong. It must involve recognition of human frailty and failure with full honest accountability; and with justice and full human restoration. However, at our level of understanding and our limited human concepts, we cannot fully comprehend the mind and decisions, and the merciful grace of God. In a previous article I wrote this about Christ’s life, teaching, and sacrifice for us: “It was both a rescue operation and a programme of teaching and re-education.

Above all it was to demonstrate, in the clearest possible way, that our Creator God is a God of unconditional, unlimited, generous forgiving Love, not that of a vengeful punishing Father. God’s true, full and best justice would be shown indeed, but in a way that turns upside down the way we see judgment and justice. God would take upon himself the consequences of what sin, evil and wrong can bring about. He would bear our sins and the due punishment himself! The incarnation was a risk of the highest order! It meant that God, out of his sheer infinite love for his world, and for each and every single one of us without exception, would take the risk that his Love might well be misunderstood, derided, rejected, or even worse, just disregarded by apathy or indifference.

All this was the exceedingly costly and high price of sin. And he was prepared to pay it, and did so to the uttermost. This was the price that blinded hearts and minds demanded! It was no purpose or pleasure of the Father to see his only beloved Son humiliated, tortured and crucified as a criminal; he the utterly innocent one, whose only desire and aim ever, was to bring healing and forgiveness, generous care wherever needed, and the highest good for all people”.

To say all this means we dare not treat lightly the sins and terrible wrong doings that we humans are sadly capable of. On the contrary, the more we grasp the fullness of the divine endlessly outpoured Love, the more we see the gravity and appalling consequences of sin, wrong doing and evil. And, that we must change. That we take seriously here and now our choices, responsibilities and actions; how in this present world we live and relate to each other; how we use our personal gifts, and the good world shared with us. For all this is truly to live out the first phase of the great final unending Kingdom; the very kingdom of God ushered in by Christ, and for which we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. We also know that when we do see Jesus at the end of our life’s journey we shall be finally and fully changed into the very likeness of Christ. Note the key passages 1 John 3:1-2, and 1 Corinthians 15:51-54.

So we must try to live as we know we should with Christ as our perfect example and sure aid, never losing sight of the infinite mercy of God, the availability of forgiveness at all times; and the glorious truth that in the end LOVE will triumph and that no one will be lost to the all embracing divine Love (John 6: 39). The story of the prodigal son shows us that the Father is forever looking out for us, receives us back graciously and tenderly, forgives and heals us; and re-clothes us with his own holiness (Luke 15:11-32). Apply this parable to the Judgment, for surely this is what it is all about.

To conclude: the new and final Kingdom will be inexpressibly perfect and wonderful; all beautiful and lovely, unfading and unending; and above all, close to and somehow within the very heavenly life of the Holy Trinity. It will indeed be fantastic, beyond our wildest dreams of happiness, joy and loving. We shall look at it again in the Creed’s closing words when we shall think about our own resurrection and “the life of the world to come”.

To the God of glory be all the glory! Alleluia. Amen.

George Abell

JESUS . . . “Will come again in glory . . .” (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

The Return or re-appearance of Jesus, with the subsequent Judgment and final new unending Kingdom is by far the most difficult section to grasp fully, i.e. with an understanding that accords with every aspect of our Faith, and makes sense of all that we have come to believe about the eternal God. In the next article we shall specially think about the Glory and the Judgment.

In this series we thought first about the One and only true God as Creator and Father. Next his unique and only Son Jesus Christ our Saviour and Redeemer, who lived amongst us giving all for us. Then the Holy Spirit of God who makes all this true and real in our lives just as he did for the very first Christians. That same divine Spirit also reveals the whole plan and purpose of God stretching across all time and eternity. So now we think about the great end goal; the glorious final purpose of God. To sum up: our first two articles dealt with the Christian doctrine of the Creation: “In the beginning God” (Genesis 1); now we look at the grand conclusion, or as we might briefly say, “in the end God”.

So let’s take a well-known verse from Scripture as our starting point. Writing to the Christians at Colossae St Paul makes this key statement of faith and hope: “Your life is hid with Christ in God [and] when Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:3-4). This is short hand of course, and like many passages in the New Testament speaking about the second coming or ‘coming again’ of Jesus (the first of course being his birth), it has been interpreted in differing ways. Moreover it has often been completely misunderstood, and then taught as true doctrine by many people and groups within the church, and outside the church.

The New Testament itself does show development in the meaning of Christ’s teaching and promises about the end times, and with differing emphases. Like much of our holy Faith, it rings real and true in our innermost heart and feelings, yet makes full rational, thought-out understanding very difficult. We are wrestling with crucial truths of faith with limited human language and knowledge; with beliefs that relate to both our natural order and world and the supernatural at the same time. The things of time and eternity intertwine and overlap, so it is far from easy to find adequate words to express these important beliefs; yet are nevertheless totally real and true. We have to hold in balance two different but related perceptions and consciousness of life here and life hereafter.

Hence the important question we now have to consider is this. How far (especially in our scientific and rightly critical era) must we take literally these Second Coming passages in the Gospels and other writings? For plainly they do speak of the physical return of Jesus which every human eye at that time would see. (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7; etc). Indeed, in the early years after Pentecost such a coming again was regarded by most Christians as imminent, even longed for, and might well actually happen in their own life time (Mark 9: 1; 2 Peter 3:8-10; etc). Note also that the Kingdom which Jesus would inaugurate at his return is sometimes expressed as a glorious transformation of this present world order, yet also and most emphatically, is also seen as totally other and beyond our created world. (Revelation 21:1-6; 7:9-17; John 14:1-6; etc).

Jesus did not return soon as first expected. And the church’s prayerful reflective thought in the New Testament era and the following centuries gradually lifted belief in his Return from purely physical and down-to-earth concepts, to something absolutely real, but spiritual; within time indeed, yet transcending time and this created order, linking it to the eternal world of heaven. The new Kingdom is also seen as inexpressibly wonderful and perfect; all beautiful and lovely, unfading and unending; and above all, close to and somehow within the very heavenly life of the Holy Trinity.

About all this, apart from symbolic picture language, we are given little further explanation. And though future in one sense, we are linked to it now by faith and anticipation, looking forward to its complete fulfilment. This is because we are forever “hid with Christ in God”. Our lives are indeed firmly placed in this good world with present urgent tasks of love, but our eyes are also focussed on a far far greater future.

To sum up, after the Ascension and Pentecost Jesus did return again and again in countless good and wonderful ways; and whenever he came all was put right. (We shall think about the final putting right and ultimate judgment in our next article). Supremely this coming again was experienced at its most real and deepest in the Christian Eucharist (1 Corinthians 10: 16-17), in the Fellowship and the Prayer (Acts 2:42; Matthew 18:20), and as God’s nurturing Word of Holy Scripture is opened up (Colossians 3:16-17). All this is the first phase of the great final unending Kingdom: the very Kingdom of God ushered in by Christ for which we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. To this very day Jesus still returns to us, again and again and again.

At some point in time there will be a final Return and a final putting right of all things, though actually when and how that will be, and just what it will be like, we have no detailed knowledge. It is pointless to speculate about it, because we do not know God’s timescale or his full detailed plan, nor the future path of our Universe, or the progress of the human race. We do know however, with firm confidence, that within the sovereignty and loving purposes of the Eternal God everything from the beginning to the end is securely and safely within his hands and power. Nothing but nothing, within the time and space of our great universe of infinite capacity, and everything beyond all this in the heavenly eternal world, is outside that great Saving Love revealed in Jesus. The Incarnation, and the Death and Resurrection of Jesus with the glorious Ascension, confirmed and sealed at Pentecost, are the sure proof and guarantee (Romans 8:31-39).

One day, in God’s good time and merciful purpose, when our human life here is ended, you and I will indeed be taken to our eternal home by Jesus (John 14:3;1 Thessalonians 4:14). We will truly share in the ecstatic mystery of the final glorious return of Christ our King, seeing our beloved Lord face to face in joy forever (1 John 3:2). We will share eternal joy too with countless Angels and Saints (Hebrews 12:22-24; etc); with our loved ones already there, and with Mary the blessed mother of our Incarnate Saviour who at incalculable cost gave himself for us so that all this might be so.

Praise be to him! Amen.

George Abell

JESUS . . . Ascended into heaven . . . seated at the Father’s right hand

Exploring the Nicene Creed

The Ascension or return to heaven of Jesus marks the completion of the greatest life ever lived on this earth. There will never be a life like that again: indeed never again will there be need for such a life! Jesus, the eternal Son of God had for some 33 years shared our human life in all its fullness. He had adopted servant-hood for all our sakes, for all people and for all time (See Philippians 2: 5-11). Truly one of us, as the Son of Man, he had made possible the world’s salvation: that we might be “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven” saved through Christ forever.

This was reconciliation desperately needed with our Father God: restoration of freedom and liberty, and the essential goodness of creation and humanity, marred and damaged by sin and evil. It was achieved only by the unlimited, unconditional, freely given, utterly generous love of Christ our Saviour.

The cost had been very high, nothing less than the shed blood of Jesus in Sacrifice on the Cross. And what seemed the most terrible tragedy ever turned out to be the greatest possible victory over all evil, sin and death. We celebrate that at Eastertide and in a special way at Ascensiontide, and every single day.

Now, having successfully completed the Salvation task Jesus would leave the disciple band he had loved and nurtured. He had patiently trained these men and women for worldwide mission to carry forward to every place the Good News of God’s Redemptive Love. He had left the throne of heaven to achieve all this. The day had come for him to say good bye to those loyal friends firmly promising his continued presence in a new and different dimension. They would have the very presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit; a charisma and dynamism that would continue century after century until the end of time and final second coming of Jesus. We shall think more about this in the next article.

The Ascension also meant the enthronement of Jesus or as this Creed expresses it: “seated at the Father’s right hand”. It’s an assertion of his divine Kingship; of his authority and power over all creation and all people; of his great High Priesthood, and his perpetual intercession for the Church, his body, bride and love. (See Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:8-11; Romans 8: 34; Hebrews 1:3-8; 4:14-16 & 7:25; Revelation 22:17).

The actual manner of that departure is beyond our full comprehension and so difficult to describe. As in the 40 days after his resurrection from death Jesus’ comings and goings though real and tangible were quite mysterious. One minute he was with them, the next he had vanished and was absent. In telling the story of those dramatic days the Gospel writers had only human language to speak of events which were both natural and supernatural at the same time.

In an earlier article I tried to explain how in the Nicene Creed some of its truths are expressed in a down to earth way, i.e. in a concrete or literal manner; but that some truths cannot be expressed that way at all. The statements then have to be much more that of symbol, metaphor or analogy. The Resurrection did happen. The Ascension did happen.

They are truths of sound and coherent faith built on actual events and circumstances seen and witnessed however hard to explain. They conveyed deep vital meaning and transforming power which those first followers of the Lord and countless millions since have experienced, and still do so. Jesus, my Lord and my God; ascended, glorified, reigning; my Saviour, my King and my all.

Again they give worthwhile purpose for living and new hope in an oft confused torn world, and they give greater love for our creator God and for each other. They also carry a very special meaning, pointing to and assuring us of our resurrection in Christ, of our ascension to be with him one day. For these we have real certain foretaste now. The Gospel Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are real outward signs of this. Baptism confers the gift of new eternal life. Communion nurtures that gift, nourishing it throughout our lives until we see Christ in heaven, sharing also his final return in glory.

To sum up, the Ascension means the presence, not the absence of Jesus. The apostles firmly believed that he would still be with them by his Spirit. After the Ascension they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy”, not an emotion you feel if you have lost your best friend! (Luke 24:50-53). The Ascension meant gain not loss. Jesus would be closer to them than he ever was before. And he left Mount Olivet to be with us also, and in every human heart and place the world over, including Faringdon and Little Coxwell.

He was taken from human sight so that he might come to us wherever and however we are, as friend and brother, companion, guide and Saviour. He is as close as the quiet prayer we say in trustful faith, or the loving act we show to another person. Though we cannot see him we cannot lose him once we have opened our hearts to him (Revelation 3:20-21). Closed or barred doors still mean nothing to Jesus! He finds endless ways to break into those hearts that do not believe in him or would try to shut him out and reject him. In the end, I believe he will win every single soul without exception. (John 6:39). Such is his powerful Love and his infinite mercy.

A Litany of Praise to Jesus

For his holy Incarnation and victorious Cross: Blessed be Jesus our Lord and God.
For his triumphant Resurrection and glorious Ascension: Blessed be Jesus.
For the gift of his Spirit and the holy catholic Church: Blessed be Jesus.
For the gifts of grace in Word and Sacrament and Fellowship: Blessed be Jesus.
For the triumphs of his Gospel, the lives of his Saints, and yours and mine: Blessed be Jesus.
For joy or for sorrow, and in life and in death: Blessed be Jesus.
For the hope of eternal glory with him and with each other: Blessed be Jesus.
From now until the end of the ages: Blessed be Jesus our Lord and God.
Alleluia. Amen.

George Abell

Exploring the Nicene Creed

JESUS . . . “on the third day he rose again”

This is the foundation stone of the Christian Faith and Religion. It’s the truth of faith upon which all other Christian beliefs depend and hold together. It’s the fulcrum or heart centre of Christianity. If it was not true there would have been no Christian Church at all. And I would not be writing this article! Jesus was indeed raised to life again after that terribly cruel unjust death; had met his disciples as he had promised giving them determined conviction and assurance to continue the work he had begun. Without that glorious realisation those dispirited followers would have given up entirely, and it would have been the end of the story! But it was not so! See Acts 1:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 & 12-14; 1 Peter 1:3-4. Hence this Creed firmly asserts: “In accordance with the Scriptures” of the New Testament and also in fulfilment of the Old Testament. See Luke 24:13-27.

The Gospel story is a full honest account of those 1st Century earth shaking events. It tells the story exactly as it happened hiding none of the injured feelings, the wounded expectations or shattered hopes of those men and women who had given their all for Jesus. They had risked their reputations, their very lives and livelihoods too. And though Jesus had plainly told them he would be raised to life after his crucifixion and death, it had not really sunk in. They simply hated the whole idea. See: Matthew 16:21-23. And worse, most of the disciples deserted him at the end; Judas betrayed him; even their leader Peter denied him three times. They did not want to see the Master they had come to love so much, humiliated, tortured and crucified; the one with such wonderful teachings; such generous love and compassionate concern for all others. At the close of that day we now call Good Friday (and the bleak Saturday that followed), those saddened men and women must have felt all they had set their hopes on was total failure, appalling disaster, a dreadful end. They had still to learn that the Sacrifice Jesus was prepared to make was far from being a total let down and tragedy, but a Salvation Victory of the widest impact and importance. See 1 Peter 3:18.

On that first Easter Sunday morning it was the women who had always faithfully cared for Jesus and the disciples (especially Mary Magdalene healed so tenderly by him), that made the first approaches to the tomb. They did not expect to find it empty! Their sheer love for Jesus was to do the only thing they could still do, to anoint his body in accord with gracious custom. The empty tomb was the greatest surprise of all possible surprises. Then next, joy of joys, for a few fleeting minutes later that morning, to actually meet and see Jesus fully alive with a now transformed body; and to hear him speak to them reassuringly. That lifted their hearts and souls to heights of pure joy, renewed faith, hope, and undying love for him. Then soon after many of the men folk also visited the empty tomb, received the great surprise, and awaited Christ’s visit to them. Mark 16; Luke 24; Matthew 28; John 20.

That wonderful experience of Christ’s Resurrection would carry them all into new deeper dimensions of faith, brand new life, wider purpose and goals, and the building of Christian Fellowship and Church that would go on and on century after century until the end of time. We must never lose sight of the fact that it was mostly the women folk, with Mary Christ’s mother, who held firm in that terrible time; and though scarcely believing that their Lord would be resurrected, nevertheless showed love and loyalty to the end. The Eastern Churches have long called Mary Magdalene the Queen of the Apostles, for she (perhaps in reward for her great love) was the first chosen witness of the resurrection of Jesus.

John 20:11-18. It has however taken the Church a long long time to give women a real apostleship or episcopal role in Christian Ministry; and even now not all Churches have taken this step. Steadily it is happening and some Churches now accept women in ordained ministry. We cannot confine the Holy Spirit to any past age, culture or theology. All too often he has his own plans that cancel or exceed ours! He is a God of Surprises. He does new things calling us to new ways in every age. That too is what resurrection is all about.

The resurrection was indeed a great surprise! It still is for anyone and everyone who will take that step of faith and trust, accepting the Word of God with its clear testimonies of those first Christians. What they proclaimed was no cooked up fiction. The tomb was empty! No one, no Jewish or Roman authorities, produced a body. The Gospel resurrection accounts (though having small differences of detail) tell a consistent uniform theme. Faith in the resurrection of Jesus proved very costly for many Christians in those early years and later centuries, and still does for many. Most of the first disciples gave their lives in martyrdom for their beliefs; for Jesus, the risen and reigning eternal Son of God. Christians still die for their faith in many parts of our world. Always we should value our freedom to believe, never taking it for granted; showing genuine thanks, by steadfast witness to that faith, by prayerful worship, support for one another, and loving service to all.

So let’s sum up the full impact and meaning of this great truth. First it confirmed and sealed forever the whole purpose of the huge Sacrifice that Christ made for us; his truly real and human life amongst us; his passion and death on that holy Cross; and a “love so amazing so divine” that  filled every moment, thought, and deed of his entire life. It proclaims the Victory of the Cross, not apparent failure or disaster. It confirms the Atonement: reconciliation to our Father Creator God, of a good yet broken damaged humanity and world. It asserts that this world and all creation is essentially good, for God made it so. That his plan from the beginning to the end, is to affirm that goodness and beauty, constantly restoring and renewing it. Genesis 1:10 ff, Acts 14:15-17; 1 Timothy 4:4; James 1:17.

The Resurrection is also the pattern or prototype and sure guarantee, of our individual resurrection to glory with God, now and in heaven. And for every single soul without exception, all made in the image of God, and meant to share eternal life with the Father, Son and Spirit. Note John 6:39: that no one at all is excluded from the Father’s purpose, who has given everyone to his Son to redeem, and that he will lose no one! It does indeed spell out our resurrection to life here and now a life daily lived in the presence of the Risen Christ; with his sure graceful guidance, healing and forgiveness, enrichment and joy beyond compare. The Gospel describes it as abundant life – nothing less (John 10:10). A life where all creation, everything around us, all beauty, all art and music, all that is done and made for the good of humanity, every act of human love and kindness reveals the life and presence and goodness of God. Please make a resurrection prayer yourself and I will add “Amen”.

George Abell

JESUS . . . “for our sake He was crucified” (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

There was no other good enough, to pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in
Mrs C F Alexander

These lines from the well known much loved children’s hymn “There is a green hill far away…” tell in the simplest straightforward way the historic truth of Christ’s death in a most cruel, utterly unjust way. It says why only Jesus could fully and truly save us; why it was actually necessary, and what it achieved.

Briefly we call these truths of faith The Atonement i.e. making possible at-oneness and reconciliation, with God. Our purpose now is to explore further the meaning of this event of nearly 2,000 years ago on the day Christians have long called Good Friday.

There are several ways of trying to understand this truth of faith which is both appalling and terrible on the one hand, and yet can be described as Good on the other. The worst thing that ever could happen in the terrible death of Jesus has brought about the best things that ever could, bringing about our full eternal salvation.

Atonement doctrines attempt to express with varying emphases, the way the first Christians and others in later years tried to make sense of Christ’s passion, suffering and final death. At the very heart of the Gospel story and preaching were these major events in the last year of the life of Jesus. They take up many pages in each of the four written Gospels. It was also expounded again and again with earnest conviction by Paul and Peter, by the unknown author of the letter to the Hebrews, and many others to the very last book, Revelation.

In these articles I have tried to show that it was necessary for God himself to take the amazing initiative of divine reconciling redemptive Love: to bring forgiveness and healing to our fallen world and all humanity; a world sadly wounded and damaged by human greed, lust and selfishness, terrible hatred, war and intolerance. It meant coming into the very heart of the creation itself. As I quoted earlier from Bishop Augustine in the 5th Century: “The Son of God became the Son of Man so that all the sons and daughters born of man and woman might become the sons and daughters of God”.

It was both a rescue operation and a programme of teaching and re-education. Above all to demonstrate in the clearest possible way, that our Creator God is a God of unconditional, unlimited, generous forgiving Love; not that of a vengeful punishing Father. God’s true and best justice would be shown indeed, but in a way that turns upside down the way we humans see judgment and justice. God would take upon himself the consequences of what sin, evil and wrong can bring about. He would bear our sins and the due punishment himself! The incarnation was a risk of the highest order! It meant that God out of his sheer infinite love for his world, and for each and every single one of us without exception, would take the risk that his Love might well be misunderstood, derided, rejected, or even worse just disregarded by apathy or indifference. All this was the exceedingly costly and high ‘price of sin’. And he was prepared to pay it, and did so to the uttermost.

It was no purpose or pleasure of the Father to see his only beloved Son humiliated, tortured and crucified as a criminal; he the utterly innocent one, whose only desire and aim ever, was to bring healing and forgiveness, generous care wherever needed, and the highest good for all people. This was the price that blinded hearts and minds demanded! And what Christ did then, at a point in time and history, brings forever the same blessings of abundant life now; and with eternal salvation; and to all who will turn to him in trustful accepting faith. Please read some or all of the following: Mark 10:45 & 1 Timothy 2:3-6; John 10:14-16; 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 & Ephesians 2:13-16; 1 Peter 2:21-25; Hebrews 12:1-3. Truly “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself”. Praise be to him!

To take all this in is far from easy. But one thing is sure, that once we do grasp something of the meaning of this divine Love for each one of us, we cannot help but change. A work of transforming grace follows in our hearts and lives. Amazingly divine Love flows into our souls and being. A profound difference is made. This is atonement taking place.

So what is asked of us who do respond to this truly amazing divine Love? There was after all nothing that we or anyone else could ever have achieved alone, by any purely human effort or means, however good; and that he will supply the ongoing grace until in his very presence in heaven we shall no longer need it.

Try to think of Christ’s dying for us like this. The gift of salvation through his great Sacrifice on the Cross means that we have now a wonderful home in this world, and eventually a far more wonderful home in heaven. For these we have very secure mortgages which we don’t have to pay. We don’t even have to the pay the interest! Jesus has done all that fully and adequately by his incarnate life amongst us; by his holy life-giving Cross; by his Resurrection and Ascension to glory; and by his constant unfailing intercession for us in heaven. As I have said before, all this is made truly real and wonderfully tangible in the Eucharistic Sacrament of Holy Communion. See: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 & Hebrews 7:25.

With thankful hearts, and the desire to love and serve God and each other more and more, I will close quoting a verse from a much loved hymn of Fanny J. Crosby; and two other well known hymn lines. Make it yours too, as I pray will every son and daughter of our Father God.

Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine;
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God;
Born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.
Fanny Crosby

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Isaac Watts

JESUS . . . “and was made MAN” (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

In this article we look at the other side of the amazing truth that Jesus is both divine and human. Already, thinking about Christ’s divinity, we saw that unless Jesus was truly and wholly God, he could not bridge the gap between fallen humanity and world and God our heavenly Father. That only God in our humanity and flesh could undo the consequences of human greed, lust, hatred and other terrible wrongdoing. Only he could totally transform lives and usher in a new and better Kingdom of gracious Love; indeed an earthly Kingdom that he had always planned and longed to establish for the rest of time. A Kingdom that truly reflects the life of Heaven itself. Note the Lord’s own prayer: “Our Father…”. Just pray it now if you will, or at the end.

Now we must look at another vitally important truth, that unless Jesus was also fully and wholly human, he could not truly represent and speak for us; actually show the kind of life he longed for us to have, and take whatever steps were necessary to rectify the brokenness and hurt in our humanity and world. Even as we shall see, giving his very life for us in loving Sacrifice. That in every respect he was just like each one of us, with a real flesh and blood body, mind soul and spirit; and knowing all the pain, limitations and privations that we experience. And our hopes and longings too, yet without the sin and flaws that make up our humanity (See Hebrews 4:14-16). He is truly Friend and Brother in our flesh and nature; a sure Companion and Guide for life’s journey of faith; also in its discovery and learning, and its sicknesses, trials and challenges too. So he may indeed be called Redeemer & Saviour and lovingly accepted. With secure promises he will never fail us or let us down.

It means thinking about the Church’s belief in the Virgin Birth; that Mary the human mother of the incarnate Jesus, conceived her Son not by a human agency – her espoused husband-to-be Joseph – but by the power of the Holy Spirit of God. It’s an article of faith attested by the Gospel writers who had been close to Mary herself, had heard her life story and knew that what she claimed rang wholly true to her life of utter devotion to her Son, which had its real pain and sorrow too. She had nothing to gain by making up some kind of strange fiction; in fact only the doubts and scorn of neighbours. Even Joseph found it hard to accept until his trusting prayer was answered by God. (See Matthew 1:18-21).

Some Christians however over the years have doubted this belief, saying that if Mary and Joseph had had their son in the ordinary human way Jesus could still have been the world’s Redeemer. That God’s power is such that a Virgin Birth was not necessary! For them this is just beautiful story, myth or legend and not historic fact, though nevertheless containing an important message, that in the human Jesus of Nazareth, God was at work reconciling all to the Father. There have always been those who could not accept the full divinity of Christ, claiming that the human Jesus, a truly great teacher and prophet, was adopted into a special relationship with the Father, but was not divine from all eternity.

The very first Christians however, and certainly the physician-historian St Luke (whose accuracy in Gospel writing is second to none) really did believe the truth of the Virgin Birth. So from the earliest days it was enshrined in the official Creeds of the Church. It was seen as underlining the belief that Mary, though plainly surprised, yet in faith and trust freely gave her body to be home for the Eternal Son of God. She accepted that the Holy Spirit would make the conception possible.

Every ordinary human birth is always wonderful, even miraculous. Yet the birth of Jesus, the very “Son of the Highest”, must surely be the greatest miracle of all. (See Luke 1:30-32). It was a divine not a human wisdom and plan. So we can recite the Nicene Creed with confident faith, just as we can accept the reliability of God’s holy Word of Scripture. God does not mock or deceive us, nor lead us astray! And this belief affirms that God is God, and can display his power in whatever way is necessary to show that perfect Love which is his (for he can do no other); and so work out his good purposes. All his work is for the best good of the whole creation, and for all people whom he loves with infinite care and tenderness, and without exception! (Note 1 Timothy 2:3-6).

Having looked at this miracle of Christ’s actual birth, we have also to think about the other Gospel miracles of which the most outstanding will always be the Resurrection of Jesus. They deny full human understanding of course, for they are beliefs which ring true far more in human experience than in any purely human logic or reasoning. They make powerful meaningful difference to our innermost hearts and feelings, to the depths of the human soul and spirit, and how in consequence we live our lives. And they do require acts of pure faith, a great leap forward, a trust in what has been shown to be true countless times over in the experience of others.

All this the Gospel records show decisively and with certainty, as do the moving stories of the Acts, the Epistles, and Church history century after century. And though they are issues of faith, they are altogether rational, do not oppose good common sense, nor do they conflict with the scientific mind and approach to truth.

The question now is what do we make of the other though minor miracles? Our era is a scientific age and rightly critical. Everything is tested and scrutinised. And there may well be straight forward natural ways now of understanding some of the Gospel miracles described there as supernatural happenings. New Testament scholars do have differing views here.

Modern medicine and psychology certainly see much of what is described as demonic possession and such like as mental illness or other human disorders. But for many of the miracles there can be no other explanation than that of something outside and beyond an everyday natural explanation. There we see the human Jesus at work displaying a strong trust in his Father, showing us that amazing things can be done if we have sufficient trust! And we should never just think of miracles as the work of the divine part of Christ’s nature. Indeed it’s a mistake to see any division in the life of Jesus, a split between his two natures of divinity and humanity. Jesus is One Person, not two!

God has certainly given us wonderful minds to think with, to reason and to question, even to have doubts; all a necessary part of the journey of faith. And we should let the Gospels speak their own distinctive compelling and wonderful message, knowing that we will never get to the bottom of many of the questions we are bound to ask. John Henry Newman made a thoughtful comment once: “Sanctified imagination is the highway to faith”.

JESUS . . . “for us and for our SALVATION” (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

We come now to this crucial part of the Creed, the amazing belief that God the Eternal Son of God the Eternal Father “for us and for our SALVATION came down from heaven”. It’s a statement of historic fact. That Jesus, through whom all existence and creation ever came into being, in marvellous love and wonder, actually took the very nature of our human flesh. That he walked this earth and lived amongst us around 2,000 years ago for some thirty three years. It was the fulfilment of a gracious divine plan, made from the beginning and foundation of the world to meet a fundamental and vital need of each and every one of us; in fact of the whole human race. (See 1 Peter 1:18-21). That without God, without his instructions for worthwhile and purposeful lives, without the aid and grace to live such a life; and that without his first aid when we get it wrong, as sadly we frequently do, we are lost! That’s putting it bluntly!

As I said in an earlier article we have to look with utter realism at the tragedy of human sin, evil and wrong doing; the terrible things that we humans actually bring about through selfishness, greed, lust, hatred and so on. It is a fallen world, distorted, damaged, badly hurt; but it can be rectified, can truly be the Kingdom of God, through the power of the everlasting Gospel and Good News of Jesus Christ. (Note :Mark 16:19-20 AV)

There has of course always been untold generous love lived and shown in countless human lives. There have always been, and still are many true saints across (and yes outside too) all the World Faiths. But there is another black or dark side to our humanity! The absolute freedom and free will that we all need and must have, if we are to love truly, to love each other, and to mature and grow in such love, can be so easily abused, misused, even almost destroyed. We need Salvation, and this Creed takes up the whole work of our Salvation through Christ.

We must now explore the meaning of that great word. First its meaning in the Old Testament, and then how it is developed and extended in the New. Briefly how the early and later Church came to understand and teach it, and the role such belief played in her Sacraments and Worship.

The basic root meaning of the Hebrew word Yashah, translated salvation in the O.T. is to give space, i.e. the exact opposite of being confined and shut in. It lends itself readily to the notion of being liberated and set free. Interestingly the same root word is found in the names Joshua, Hosea, and Isaiah, and of course the very name Jesus, specially chosen to denote his role as Saviour (Matthew 1: 21). Hence, for the Hebrew people of old salvation generally means deliverance from a specific national or personal danger or catastrophe, or from a real visible enemy (Psalms 17:1-3; 18:3; 22:21). Often it is used in the context of battle (as e.g. in the book of Judges) with a special plea for and emphasis on victory. Psalm 20 strongly suggests this. In the era after the Jewish Babylonian exile c. 500 BC the word is used more as a plea for the reconstruction of Jerusalem and Judea, and for bringing home the dispersed peoples after years of deportation and captivity. (Psalms 69:35 & 106:47).

When the crowds greeted Jesus entering Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David”, they were using another Hebrew term for salvation. (Matthew 21:9). Their plea was just as for centuries before, but now it was a cry for freedom from an oppressive Roman rule and power; for national and political victory. But the Salvation that Christ would offer would not be like that; in fact something much wider and deeper, bringing a new kind and degree of human freedom and liberation, with fresh wide space for a brand new life and Gospel living; with full forgiveness and inner healing too, and the assurance of unending glorious life with Christ in heaven.

The New Testament develops this new Salvation-in-Christ, meeting and covering all aspects of human need; our personal interior feelings and relationships, our longings and hopes; and the deepest questions about life and purpose. In a clear brief statement it claims that “he will save his people from their sins” (See Matthew 1:21). But, and I want to stress this strongly, it is not just salvation from…. (Whatever the terrible consequences might be) but salvation for….. I repeat again, it’s about a new kind of lasting victory and freedom. The triumph of a forgiven and transformed new life, lived by faith in Christ within the Church and community of Faith, empowered and enriched by his saving grace alone. It’s a liberated life sustained by God’s holy Word; by worship and prayer also; and specially by Sacrament and fellowship.

The New Testament moves beyond a rescue operation necessary as it is, to an abundant new life! This is the life our Father God had always planned and prepared for us; for every single one of us and forever. Nothing less! Yet it was very costly to bring about, and that we have to look at when we think about the Crucifixion and the Atonement made for us, themes of inexhaustible meaning and relevance.

Please read some or all of these passages: Colossians 1:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-10; 1 Peter 1:3-5 & 19-20; Hebrews 12:22-24; and Matthew 5:3-10 which is about new life Gospel living.

Over the centuries Churches and individual Christians have often stressed the negative things that we are saved from, to the detriment of taking hold of the great positive gifts and benefits. Fear alone rather than generous Love has often been the driving motivation; at times enforced by political power and expediency.

The danger is that no one is ever truly saved by undue stress on human failure, on condemnation, or fear of separation from God forever. (Certainly not nowadays!) It does not make for a balanced mature loving Christian fellowship, and it can easily damage a person’s mental health and equilibrium. The New Testament is overwhelmingly positive, and though the gravity of human sin and wrong doing should never be underestimated, it is the sheer immensity and wideness of the divine Love and Mercy that matters most, and should be our primary emphasis. All that I have tried to explain so far is dramatically set forth in the Church’s Liturgies, and especially in the Eucharist and Communion.

In this great Sacrament our salvation is made truly real for us, is strengthened and renewed, and is a foretaste of its glorious fullness in heaven.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty
For the love of God is broader than the scope of human mind,
And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
F.W.Faber

Loving Saviour, Lord and God, thank you for all that you have done for us and given for our eternal Salvation. Help us to show in our lives the fruits of that great redemption until we see your face in glory. Amen.

George Abell