My favorite among Paul’s letters was sent to the church at Philippi. Paul gives thanks for them and their gift to him in prison, and asserts his well-being and bond with them in Christ. His emphases are ‘joy’ and ‘grace.’
Joy?—given his imprisonment and an undercurrent of opposition from fellow Christians? He rejoices in “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus”, and feels assured of God’s love, through faith in the risen Christ. Paul’s greeting and benediction commend grace: God’s love undeserved and unreserved, both received and extended. He is not basking in self-assured spiritual achievement; he is on a faith-journey that calls for perseverance:
…One thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward
to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward
call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13b-14
Like Paul and the Philippians, we are a post-Resurrection people. We claim to serve a risen Christ, yet admit how far short we fall from Christ-like living.
Lent is a pause in our faith-journey, to remember Jesus’ self-giving love and our own resentments and failures to love, to seek anew “the power of his resurrection” into new life.
Every Lent, I feel this challenge. How can I “press on” toward becoming a more faithful image of Jesus, a more authentic human being? Can I find ways in my church and community to extend respect and justice to the marginalized? For grace is also a collective offer, not just God’s private gift.
Do we recognize the opportunities for grace?
These days we witness acts of grace: a Jewish household hosts a Muslim refugee family; a church offers sanctuary to undocumented immigrants; demonstrators support Dakota Indians’ rights. Several years ago, a Palestinian boy of 13 was mortally wounded by Israeli soldiers. His family decided to donate Ahmed’s organs to Israeli children who needed them. “We want to send a message of peace to Israeli society”, the father said.
Two societies did not heed an act of grace. Often, we do not. Lent calls us to “press on,” “enabled by, and offering, Christ’s undeserved, unreserved love.
~ David Warren