Reflection on Galatians 3: 23-29 – from Sunday’s Service of healing and wholeness

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We seem to have had a succession of special Sundays at Church recently. Last week was Trinity Sunday, when we thought about the completeness of God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, and the union of love in our lives with him.  We have taken with us into that relationship, from the week before, the many tongues of Pentecost through which the Holy Spirit communicates, witnessing to and revealing Jesus in places and people we did not expect; calling out, as the Isaiah writer describes, “Here I am, Here I am.” (Isaiah 65:1) We also have celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi this week, where the union of body, mind and spirit in the Eucharist could hardly be more compelling or more intimate.  And from there, having been so fed, and loved, as our true selves, we have responded to the call as best we can to feed, love, nurture and affirm others as God has made us all to reflect and embody glimpses of his glory.

So, coming to today’s reading from Galatians, I have been trying to let some of those things settle in my mind.  Paul is writing to a Church whose ideas of how people who did not come from the Jewish faith or tradition could be part of the newly-formed Christian Church were being processed and tested.  Then, as now, challenges about what hoops people need to jump through to be accepted were beginning to come to the fore, as the Gospel went out to the Gentiles, continuing Jesus’ healing miracles and conversations from his ministry on earth.  Paul addresses this in this passage, with the language of love; and, it struck me, with language that seems to evoke a kind of mothering from God.  So, a in a challenge to a patriarchal society, where there were men who thanked God they were not born a woman, a slave, or a gentile, the ideas and practice of division are directly contradicted.  In talking about the ongoing revelation of God’s promises, through Abraham, Moses, and now Jesus, the language draws on images of children being guided by a loving, nurturing presence towards spiritual maturity.  There is quite a lot about children – our identity as God’s children, each one of whom has the full rights of inheritance – which surely speaks to us of equality in all senses, including social justice, human rights and issues relating to social class, disability, gender and race.  It is quite a radical statement.  In fact, Martin Luther King alluded to it in his “I have a dream” civil rights speech in 1963.

We can perhaps see this step-by-step revelation, that Paul places in the context of God working throughout history, as a form of guidance and instruction.  It is not too far off from the idea we see in Proverbs (Proverbs 1:20-21), of Wisdom crying out to her children, raising her voice in public places of debate, interaction and commerce –  and where markers have been put in as boundaries, such as the walls and gates of the city.  Wisdom is traditionally personified as female, and Scriptural references such as this borrow from, and add to that.  When I was studying, I had to read a book, written nearly 500 years after St Paul wrote to the Galatians, by a Roman statesman and scholar who was thrown into prison on a false charge.  His name was Boethius, and he wrote that while in prison and in despair, “there appeared standing over my head a woman’s form, whose countenance was full of majesty, whose eyes shone as with fire and whose power of insight surpassed that of all men…”  (1) This is Lady Philosophy, and the book is called, The Consolation of Philosophy.  Philosophy of course, being, the love of wisdom.  This feminine aspect of the divine is an ever-present undercurrent, sometimes hidden, sometimes rising to the surface when we listen out for her, or appearing when we are in our own kinds of prisons or without hope.  She is not afraid to cry out.  She is an advocate for those on the margins, and challenges those who flock together in their comfort zones.  She is on the look-out.  She is not afraid of the new.  Wisdom is not a monologue.  She lives in community.  Wisdom calls us to life.  If it is the forces of death that divide us – then Paul asserts in these verses, it is our life in the body of Christ which unites us.  It is both a personal, and a corporate healing.  And from that, as we learn to respond and speak our own name in Christ, we can be both healed, and healers.

I mentioned at the beginning that we have celebrated Corpus Christi this week, a day of thanksgiving for the sacrament of Holy Communion in the Church.  Staying with the Book of Proverbs, I came across a section subtitled Wisdom’s Feast, which is in Chapter 9:

“Wisdom has … set her table… She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.  Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” (Proverbs 9:1-6)

Some churches celebrating Corpus Christi scatter rose petals before the procession.  A link with the feminine, and a symbol of love that finds its fulfilment at the altar.  Because, whatever else Wisdom is, she is undivided love.  May we walk with her in the way of insight, and grow in love and maturity.

God the Holy Trinity, is undivided; and so, St Paul says, are we, in our lives together; because God, the Unity, is Goodness in all things.  In strangeness, and in familiarity, it is God who speaks, who calls out, “I am here, I am here.” (Isaiah 65:1)

I will end with a quote, which is just the last few verses of Maya Angelou’s well-known poem, Human Family (2):

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

(1) Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, tr V W Cooper, J M Dent and Company London, 1902, p.2 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/boethius/consolation.html, accessed 23/6/19

(2) https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/human-family/, accessed 23/6/19

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