vIn the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
A temptation which is always there, which lurks in our hearts and in our midst always, when we think of the Church to which we belong, is to remember that the people of God are God’s own elects and to draw from this a conclusion which may destroy both our own souls and the very meaning of our existence. Yet we are the elect of God, but what is it God calls us to, what is this election about?
When we read the Gospels we see that God calls us to be on earth what Christ has been, to be the one who is prepared to serve everyone who is in need, to be the lowest, to accept humiliation and to accept the meanest, the lowest position in the world. The Lord makes it so clear to us when at the Last Supper He washes the feet of his Disciples and says He has given them an example to follow. This is our election, our first election: a Christian is one to whom God has committed the charge of other people, not to rule over them, but to serve them, and to serve them too as a slave, to serve them as a servant remembering that he has as many masters as there are round him people who are in need, in any need, in need of fellowship, in need of truth, in need of integrity, in any need physical or spiritual. And also an election to follow in the footstep of Christ, to be sent into the world as He was sent by His Father, as He said Himself like a sheep amongst the wolves to give our body and our soul that others may live. This is an election very different from the one we boast about, very different from the one that we cherish and that leaves us so vainly and so foolishly proud as though we were better people than others. We are slaves and servants, people sent to others because they need service and attention. And also together, all of us, we are an assembly of people who all need salvation, who all need God’s mercy and who all need the mercy which each of us can extend to the others.
St. Ephraim of Syria says that the church on earth is not an assembly of saints, it is a crowd of repentant sinners. A crowd we are, unformed, in the making, and we are all sinners. The only difference that there may be between us and others is that we should know that, and we are in desperate need of the love of God and the compassion of men. We are not a glorious body, we are a poor crowd in rags, spiritually if not outwardly. We are here, in the church, because we need salvation, we are here because we recognise that we are lost and that our only hope and salvation is in God and in one another: in God as He did search for, sought out and saved and brought home the lost sheep.
And also how much we need one another, how difficult we are to live with, how essential it is for us to be one another’s support. We are a crowd on the move from an earth in which we have lost most of our spiritual riches, on the move towards the Kingdom of God, but we are so much like the Hebrews of the Old Testament who had lost the security of slaves in Egypt, had crossed a border line, the Red Sea, but were still so far from the Promised Land. Most of us are still erring, wandering in the desert. And we need one another as travellers in the desert need one another not to die, not to loose our way, not to loose heart, to continue our journey and on this journey some grow old and some grow weak and some grow sick and we need one another’s mercy, one another’s compassion, one another’s support all the time. And there is no space to us to be proud of anything, not even in the fact that we have made a choice and chosen for the Kingdom of God because there is so little of it within us yet. There is a longing, there is a hope, there is a love, there is a desperate desire, and yet how unlike we are to the Saints of God who have already reached their destination, already are the citizens of the Kingdom in all the beauty, all the harmony it means. How careful, we must be, beaten down, to stand against every impulse to be proud, even of our Church, to be self-satisfied, even of the body which we represent and to which we are grafted so superficially at times.
The Church, we all, are a crowd in motion, a crowd in spiritual rags, a crowd of sinners. We have only one thing in common, – not holiness, but the awareness of our desperate needs. And this is why we must be capable of being open to others, merciful to others, understanding others, compassionate, given to others. If we were truly aware of the desperate need in which we are we would be able to be open and loving to others and if we are not, it is a sign that we have not yet understood who and where we are. We are still in a strange country even if we have begin the move homeward, like the prodigal Son we still are not there. Only we know that we are expected, that the Father waits for us, that He longs for us, but we are not yet integrated to the peace, the integrity of the home.
And so let us be as merciful as we can to one another, as humbly, as reverently as we can. Many of us are even too weak to move, many of us are like the lost sheep who can only expend all his strength, all his energy, and hope that the great Good Master will come and find him and carry him in His arms. Let us be careful, let us be attentive to those who are weak and cannot move. Let us be merciful and learn to be humble, and then we will be Christ’s Church; not if we imagine that we are great, that we are the elect, that we are God’s people, the chosen ones. Yes, chosen as everyone else, elected for a mission and for a function, not for an honour. Let us learn to love one another humbly, to serve one another faithfully, and then we may arrow into that measure of glory indeed which is the Church. Amen.v