The resurrection renews the world. It opens it and keeps it open and it makes it new so that it is a new world. The resurrection has transformed the world in which we live. Of course it is not until we are baptised that we begin to learn this, and through years of discipleship begin to grasp the dimensions of this transformation. The pagans – that is, anyone untouched by the gospel – live in a closed world, in which every man must fear that a gain for his neighbour is a loss for himself. They are locked in and set one against another in unending conflict. This was the world of our ancestors, until the gospel arrived. The gospel told them that God has broken through into this world, has made himself at home in it, and comes and goes in and out of our sight, beyond our control and beyond our ability to summons him or deny him. He is Lord of time and space. Every barrier and confinement we meet opens before him to let him enter. Though solid to us all, creation is porous to him. The master comes goes as he please. The elements of the world divide to his right and left and bow before him as he passes. No time or place confines or contains him. All places and times are the places that he creates and opens to us, so that we may meet and encounter one another and live together there. All places are his hospitality to us. As this realisation sunk into our pagan forebears they learned a much more benign and tolerant attitude to one another, the mighty to the weak, and they ceased to fear one another, learned to trust those with whom they had no ties of blood, and so learned to live together in much greater units. They gave up living in tribes that were committed to aggrandisement through war, and became a nation, a community of people under one law.
The gospel our ancestors received, released them and delivered them from ties of blood and the cycles of retaliation, and ceased to be so afraid of one another. They were on their way toward a civil society.
The Christian gospel makes very great claims for the dignity of human beings. Impossibly great, some have said. The gospel commands us to regard every single human being as a person, so claiming for them a great range of godlike attributes. They are free. They are sovereign, independent and autonomous. They are rational. We may speak to them and they may speak to us. Each is available and accountable to every other. None is too mighty to be held accountable. You may address them and attempt to persuade them and expect that they will respond rationally. They speak for themselves so no one speak for them or take their voice away. They are not interchangeable, and one cannot substitute for another. They cannot be collectivised or conglomerated. Each of them is unique, an irreplaceable one-off. This is a very high view of man. On this basis, man – every single human being – is like God, a true counterpart and companion of God. That is the new thing that the Christian gospel into human culture. It made public what was implicit in Israel’s Law. Other than that, no human political culture had conceived such a revolution as this.
The culture created, or at least, transformed by the gospel, is evidence of the divine nature. It is evidence of God. It is of course not proof of God; the evidence that it represents may be overlooked, the pattern not recognised. Yet the pattern is there that reveals a history and causality. Western society is the product of the Church and the Church is the product of the resurrection.
There is a divine character to West society which comes from its aspiration to freedom. Freedom is a characteristic of God and is the gift of God to man. Where that gift is given, there the Church appears. The Church is the community of those who meet in freedom, in which every person is willing to associate themselves with all these others and to be counted as one of them, and is available to called upon by them and put themselves at the disposal of these others. In the Christian conception freedom is unthinkable without love. And love is unthinkable without freedom. You may love, but whoever you love is not bound to return that love, or to return in the way you give it. Your love cannot bind them, and certainly cannot confine them. It can only wait for them. The Lord waits at the door. He does not come and pull us out. He waits, for days, years, lifetimes and periods of time beyond definition. The Lord waits, for us. We make him wait, and yet he waits only because he wants to. This waiting is the passion of God. Christians are enabled to share in the divine patience.
God lives where men live because men live where God has set us. He is the space in which we live. Creation exists before him, where he has placed it. Creation exists in the space given to into within heaven. Heaven gives creation a place. We live where God places us. We live here in this material creation. We live in one another’s proximity, able to see and hear and touch one another through the materiality of our bodies. We are not ethereal. And if we were, how would any disembodied being be able to meet any other disembodied being? You perceive me because you see my body. Even when you write to me, you send your message to any of the various addresses from which I, through my body, will eventually hear or read it. Our body is our ultimate address. Wherever my body is, there you will find me. This will continue to be true until the day I die, after which it will no longer be possible to say anything about me with certainty.
The created and material world does not hold God in or hold God out. God may be distant or he may be close – we cannot say. We can say only what scripture says: ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ The Lord may be right here where we are. The space we live in is our place; it confines us and it enables us to find one another. The space we live in does not confine God, either to keep him away or to fix him here where we are so that we may draw him into the field of our perception. He may come and go without our ever being aware of it. We live in the place he has made available to us. Perhaps he is present here first, and we are only present here because of his hospitality.
We may be at once mortal-and-immortal. We do not jettison our biology with its limits, but by the grace of God its Creator, our biology may become the idiom of our ongoing, unlimited life in communion with God and with all creatures.
The aspiration to freedom gives a divine character to Western society. We are not myrmidons or automata. Freedom is a characteristic of God and is a gift of God to man. It is the gift exercised and enjoyed with God. If we attempt to separate ourselves from God our exercise of our freedom backfires, and we lose it and we lapse into unfreedom. By pursuing liberty but not love or truth, we become libertines and slaves to our appetites. Where the gift of freedom is given, there the Church appears. The Church is the community which meets freely, in which every person is willing to associate themselves with all these others and to be counted as one of them, and is available to called upon by them and put themselves at the disposal of these others. When you are baptised you are given by God to a particular community, for its strengthening and renewal. And you are given as a responsibility that they must discharge, for they must enable you to grow up in this freedom in Christ. In the Christian conception, freedom is unthinkable without love, and love is unthinkable without freedom. Each gives definition to the other. If love or freedom were separated and pursued in isolation from the other, each would be a little god, and pursuit of them would destroy us. Love and freedom are shaped and defined and disciplined by what is true. They have to acknowledge the real given world of relationships, and take their place in this world, and develop the good judgement and responsibility by which they can do so. We love certain actual people, and our freedom enables us to make ourselves available for them, and so to serve them which we do by serving their best interests, not pandering to whatever they demand of us. Our society damages itself through pursuit of freedom and of love without definition, so that freedom and love are distorted into its idols.
You may love, but whoever you love is not bound to return that love, or to return in the way you give it. Your love cannot bind them, and certainly cannot confine them. It can only wait for them. So for Christians waiting a form of action, and being patient is particular form of strength. We receive the divine patience and so we are able to share in it and pass it on. Time wears away at us, removing whatever has to be lost and hardening what remains and so purifying us. Lord waits at the door. He does not come and pull us out. He waits, for days, years, lifetimes, periods of time beyond our definition. The Lord waits, for us. He waits because he wants to, and yet we make him wait. This is the love – and therefore the passion – of God.
Jesus Christ is calling, gathering, ushering all humanity along towards the Father. He overcomes all rival masters to bring the whole human body together. So we are brought together in one place, and so made present to one another. The Church is the companionship of God making itself felt here visibly, audibly and tangibly. This is a huge claim. It does not make us comfortable to make it, but we cannot not make it. If this community does not make it, our society is left exposed to many other destructive claims. The holiness and distinctiveness of the Church from the world is the great gift that God gives the world. We are being built together into a holy fellowship with a holy people. We are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people. This company is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. That is why we say to one another May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.