PENTECOST (A) 2017
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I have not given any particular Scripture references because it is my intention to give you an overall picture of the sublime significance and importance of today’s celebration of our Christian faith.
I was much struck by Our Risen Lord’s words to Mary Magdalen (John 20:17):
Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to My brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’”
They reminded me of a singularly important phrase used repeatedly throughout the Old Testament History of Salvation beginning with Abram/Abraham:
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said: Between you and Me I will establish My covenant: you are to become the father of a host of nations. No longer shall you be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a host of nations. I will maintain My covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land in which you are now staying, the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:1–8)
But hadn’t God been God to Abram long before making this covenant with him? Had He not caused Abram to leave his country and his kindred and his father’s house (Gen. 12:1)?
Had He not saved Abram’s wife from Pharaoh, delivered the four kings into Abram’s hands between Dan and Hobah? Had He not already made great promises to Abram whose belief we are told was reckoned to him as righteousness?
However that may be, the Lord now says to Abram:
I will establish My covenant and will maintain My covenant with you and your de- scendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.
Surely that is tantamount to saying that all that He had done before for Abram was not really God’s idea of being God!
What is different this time? First of all, notice that God’s opening words are to identify Himself, I am God the Almighty, EL SHADDAI, whereas previously He spoken and appeared to Abram anonymously; and secondly, of course, notice that God here gives Abram a new name, Abraham; thirdly, there is a covenant established between them, an immutable determination of God’s purpose, which called for a corresponding and new … hence the new name … self-dedication of Abram/Abraham. In other words, we have here a new, personal, irrevocable, mutual relationship, and it is under such conditions that we can, so to speak, hear God saying: ‘Ah, that’s something like being a God’.
We next come across the expression, ‘I will be your God’ when, in fulfilment of God’s promises to Abraham, the Israelites were about to be taken out of Egypt and established as the People of God on Mount Sinai. There, the Lord appeared to Moses commissioning him to speak to the people saying (Exodus 6:6-7):
I am Yahweh (conf. v. 3) I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians … I will take you as My own people, and I will be your God.
Therefore, having led the captives out of Egypt, the Lord made a nation out of them and established them as the People of God by entering into a covenant with them saying:
If you live in accordance with My statutes and are careful to observe My commandments, I will make My dwelling among you, I will walk among you and will be your God and you shall be My people. (Leviticus 26:3,11-12)
But again, had He not been their God before: was He not their Creator and Sustainer, had He not predestined them according to His promise to Abraham 500 years before? Had He not accepted their worship which no doubt they made in good faith to the gods of their forefathers? All these things are true and accord with a rational, natural, idea of God, but obviously that was not God’s idea of being God of a people, so what is so special about this new situation?
Note again that there is a Covenant, this time with a people expressing God’s unswerving will for the Israelites about to be formed as the People of God. God would not accept to be in the situation of a temporary tenant of the people’s affections and will …. One whose authority and love could be rejected or terminated at will. Secondly, we have a further self-revelation by God: He wants to be known by His People: notice this striking and most instructive difference compared with His self-revelation to Abraham (cp. Exodus 6:2-3):
And God said to Moses …. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as El Shaddai, but by My name Yahweh, I did not make Myself known to them.
For the ancient Semites the name was the key to the secret personality and power of its possessor. Yahweh had not revealed His intimate name to the patriarchs, not even to Abraham the ‘father of all believers’; and now the great Moses, with whom God could talk ‘face to face’ is only allowed to know that name in order to reveal it to the prospective People of God. God, therefore, wishes to be known, but it is only in a community of believers that He makes Himself more intimately and truly known. Moreover, He desired not only to be known but also to be loved by His People, and to that end He gave them His statutes and ordinances, for that rude people needed the discipline of His commandments in order that they might learn how to love their God aright. And such was the Lord’s desire to be loved aright by His People that He willed to dwell among them, surrounded by those entirely dedicated to His ministry (Exodus 29: 43-4):
At the entrance of the Tent of Meeting I will meet the People of Israel and it will be made sacred by My glory; I also consecrate Aaron and his sons to be My priests, I will dwell in the midst of the Israelites and will be their God.
Self-revelation, covenant relationship, the community of the People of God knowing and loving God in their midst, all that is something more like God’s idea of being a God.
This covenant of Mount Sinai was renewed or further promulgated after the weary years of wandering in the desert as the people of Israel were about to cross the Jordan and take on the conquest of Canaan, but as you know Israel did not prove faithful to her promises: idolatry, ‘man’s inhumanity to man’, lust for the things and pleasures of this world, and religious insincerity, brought upon God’s People the terrible tragedies of the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles. When all was dark and seemed hopeless, we hear once again:
I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Juda … I will place My law within them, and write it upon their hearts I will be their God and they shall be My people. (Jeremiah 31:31, 33)
Thus spoke the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel (cf. 36:28; 37: 23, 27), but had not Yahweh been God of Israel for some 700 years now? Why then does He speak yet again about being their God; what, what, is His idea of being God?
That was most eloquently expressed, perhaps, by the prophet Jeremiah who (24: 4, 7) proclaimed:
Thus says Yahweh: ‘I will regard with favour the exiles of Juda … I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am Yahweh; and they shall be My people and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with all their heart.
God’s Self-revelation, covenanted relationship, community (People of God) and indwelling – not only of the community but somehow of individuals also; such is the ‘set-up’ necessary for God’s idea of what it is to be God for someone.
That, in very broad outline, is the substance of those texts containing that curious expression, AND I WILL BE YOUR (THEIR) GOD, which I was led to investigate by those words of the Risen Lord Jesus to Mary Magdalen, words that she was to repeat to the disheartened disciples (John 20:17):
I am going, ascending, to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.
I could understand, or at least appreciate somewhat, the encouragement that might be found by the disciples from the words ‘to My Father and your Father’, that was something new in Jewish religious thought and the sin of the Tower of Babel was atoned for --- men were again one, in Christ, as sons of the one Father. But what was special about the words, ‘My God and your God’?
Understood in the light of Israel’s Old Testament history and the Lord’s frequently reiterated declaration, ‘I will be their God’, Our Risen Lord’s message to His disciples is seen to be overflowing with consolation for them. For in saying, ‘I am ascending to My God and your God’, Jesus announced the fulfilment of the 1800 years-old aspiration of God, so to speak, and of the People of God. For the divine message is no longer that Yahweh will be their God, but that He IS THE GOD of those who belong to Christ:
I am ascending to My God and to your God.
Dear People of God, Jesus has made all things new … a new Revelation such as only the very Son of God could give; a new and eternal Covenant in the Blood of Christ; a new Community in the Body of Christ; a new indwelling of the Spirit of Christ, whereby living members of the Body and children of Mother Church are empowered to live before, and work for, the glory of God their Father in all confidence and humility, expecting not worldly success but hoping and praying for what only the wisdom, the beauty, and the goodness of God can possibly envisage and most surely bring about. A new and final era is now being entered upon, being set in motion for irreversible execution and fulfilment, by the Gift, today’s Gift of God’s HOLY SPIRIT bond and fruit of Divine Love between Father and Son in God’s most Holy Trinity.
A truly fitting and inspiring seal for all our Easter joys and hopes; Deo gratias, Alleluia!
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