Church of England Diocese of St.Albans St. Peter Bushey Heath

Vicar's letter for April

When this letter is published we will be several days into Passiontide and on the cusp of Holy Week. The main events from which our faith and hope are derived will be about to be remembered in the liturgy and in our own private prayers and devotions. Throughout the whole of this season Christians are made conscious of the primacy of grace in their lives: that which we receive now and prepare to receive at Easter is the gift of God to us.

St. Paul makes much of a contrast between grace and law especially when he is comparing his former life under the Jewish Law with his new life in Christ. The faith which he now espouses is not something that is dependent upon his own efforts, but on the grace of Christ working in him. For the Apostle this is the work of the Holy Spirit who transforms the old man into the new. Those of us who do not have a Jewish background can quite see his point when he contrasts Law and grace, but may accidentally exclude ourselves from the main purpose of the argument which is about the transformation of the believer into a new creation, to be someone who is living on the level of the spirit. Gentiles have their own equivalents to the Law and are in need of grace too!

Part of our spiritual exercises in the coming days might be to examine our lives so that we begin to understand better the ways in which we think, how we act in the world and how we relate to other people. We all have such ways, probably well established, and they need not be a problem, but it is possible for particular ways of thinking and acting to limit our response to God and to our neighbour. I shall refer to these ‘ways’ not Law, but as ‘form’. The form of our thinking, acting and relating can be just as enslaving as Law was for St. Paul and his contemporaries.

St. John tells us that, ‘grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.’ (John 1: 17). Taking Jesus as our model or template for our lives are we thinking as Jesus would think? Do we have the mind of Christ which St. Paul wrote of? Is the truth of primary concern or do we prefer to put our trust in long-held assumptions which might be convenient or comforting, but which contradict it? Perhaps we find it easier to think on our feet – to make it up as we go along rather than reflect and make a sound judgement? Do we react to people as Jesus did, in a spirit of understanding and generosity whilst at the same time not pretending that difficulties and problems do not exist and being honest about those? In other words where in our lives do we prefer ‘form’ to ‘grace’, our own way of thinking and doing rather than that offered by our Lord. From which parts of our lives is Jesus effectively excluded because we know best?

St. Paul writes to the Corinthians about the foolishness of the cross.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1: 18-20)

For the Apostle the grace of the cross triumphs. And that triumph is both universal and exclusive. There is no other method that works. The Law is of passing value and the same can be true of some of the ‘forms’ we set up to deal with the world, but which are in opposition to God’s work of grace.

The important thing to bear in mind if we are to make progress in the spiritual life is how essential it is that we find the humility to kneel at the foot of the cross which is the means of our salvation and then to find the humility to receive the grace which is offered to us which is the means of our growth in the life of faith. The Easter message is that we are invited into the new covenant which God makes with his people – a covenant sealed by the blood of the Lamb and written on our hearts. Beside it the Law and our precious ‘forms’ wither to nothing.

The newsletter for April may be downloaded from the link below.

April_2021_Newsletter, PDF