Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Year of the Lord's Favour

Texts: 1 John 4.19–5.4 & Luke 4.14–22

What a terrifying and momentous time this is.  Yesterday’s news of the last gasps of Trumpism, and the highest infection rates ever in the UK, can’t fail to leave many of us reeling.  It truly is the worst of times.

Or is it?

I imagine it would have felt pretty bad to be a Jew at the time of Jesus.  The mighty empire of Rome had its iron boot on the neck of Judea.  They conquered through violence, and maintained control through more violence.  It was a time when a King could order the murder of all children in the town of Bethlehem, and a time when a man who spoke only of peace could be nailed up outside the city walls by the policemen of the day.  It is no wonder that many who lived at that time thought that the end of the world must be upon them.

So how did Jesus respond to such a time?  Did he incite his followers to storm Government buildings?  No, Jesus stood up to read in the synagogue of his hometown of Nazareth (see Luke 4:16-30).  Here are the words he both quoted, and then made his own:

 “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour…”

Having read those words, according to Luke’s account, Jesus put down the scroll and said to the congregation ‘Today, these words have been fulfilled in your midst’.  Jesus deliberately, and purposefully, declared his mission to be one of bringing good news, binding up, proclaiming liberty and release.  He proclaimed that this was the year of the Lord’s favour.

But, as I said in a sermon a few weeks ago (and its worth saying it again!) my eye has been drawn to what Jesus didn’t say.  I find it fascinating that Jesus stopped quoting Isaiah at just that point.  He didn’t read the next line, which says ‘…and the day of vengeance of the Lord’.    

Jesus’ focus is always on doing the greatest good.  He teaches us to forgive, and to turn the other cheek.  When violence breaks out around him, he retreats from it.  When violence is meted out to him, he takes it, absorbs it, allows it to break over him – and then he transforms it through resurrection.  The God whom Jesus unfolds for us not the angry, vengeful God of former understanding.  This is the God of love, of healing, of binding up, and of setting free.  This is God the parent….God the loving Father, who teaches us the ways of love.  

Ultimately, it is this God of Love who is revealed to us first at the Epiphany.  Jesus’ entry into the human world transforms and radically re-shapes our picture of God.  Jesus, reveals to us the God who pour out his life, for us.  And who offers us his life in return – abundant life, filled with wisdom, healing, sharing, and liberty.  It’s Life which goes on for ever.  

There is no greater symbol of the outpouring of God’s life for the world than the symbol of the Eucharist.  It summarises, encapsulates and demonstrates the reality of what a life lived for others looks life.  A sacrificial life.  A life lived and given freely, in the service of others.  

Which is why, for me, it is vitally important that we keep on celebrating, and demonstrating, the Eucharist – even when so many of you cannot participate in the conclusion of taking that life spiritually into your own, through the physical tokens of bread and wine.  

For now, the symbolism is all that we have – and will have to suffice.  Because even in the act of choosing NOT to gather for worship, we are living out the call to love our neighbours.  By remaining at home, to keep the virus in check, we make a stand for Love.

But I will continue to celebrate the Eucharist, each time I stand at this Altar, and each time I read the words of institution, I am proclaiming the New Testament of Love, poured out for you.  Each time I re-enact the last supper of the Lord, I’m also declaring the this is the year of the Lord’s favour.  Because every year – even the worst of times – is a year of God’s favour.  God never stops pouring out his love, teaching us how to love, calling us to lives and acts of love.

So let continue to bathe in this powerful symbol, even through the screen of our mobile phones and computers.  Let us join our efforts to the ongoing mission of the God of love, to “bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour…”


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