We “have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 10th: Exodus 16:9-21; Psalm 95; and Ephesians 2:11-22. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
This is our third Lenten Friday, Fridays being those special days during Lent when we concentrate especially upon the cross of Jesus. These are special days within a special season that offer us the opportunity to spend some extra time growing our spirituality, our connection with Christ.
In the Ephesians selection today, we read, “… members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” When you read these words, what comes to mind? Do “apostles” equate with the twelve apostles? When the word “prophets” is encountered, does it lead you to think about the Old Testament and the likes of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel? If that’s the case, it’s completely understandable, but I think Ephesians is talking about other things.
Ephesians is what is categorized as a Deutero-Pauline Epistle, which means that it belongs to the Pauline tradition, but is a later writing than the historical Paul. This is a disciple of Paul writing in Paul’s name and assuming Paul’s authority, and trying to express authentically (but not always accurately) Paul for a time after Paul. Paul, and for that matter the later writers in Paul’s name, considered Paul to be an apostle. Paul insisted upon it even when challenged by his church opponents, and the Deutero-Pauline writers are counting on that apostolic authority when they write in Paul’s name.
Paul’s experience of Jesus was mystical not historical. Paul was not among those commonly referred to as “the twelve apostles.” The Twelve were those disciples who were with Jesus throughout His life’s ministry. Their pedigree is that they were witnesses to the historical Jesus “beginning from the baptism of John until the day when [Jesus] was taken up from us.” (Acts 1:22) By this scriptural definition, the Twelve is a closed group. The nomenclature of “apostles” though was not limited to the Twelve. Paul is the most well-known of these non-historical apostles. And when Ephesians makes reference to the foundation of the apostles, this does not mean only the Twelve. It couldn’t in a Pauline community. Apostles in this context is more than may be expected by readers today. Apostles is a charismatic, mystical, spiritual authority that is recognized by the community.
And the broader meaning of prophets is also a part of this passage. The earliest church was far more charismatic than hierarchical. The authority of the Spirit’s inspiration was accepted and respected. In the Corinthian church, the numerous expressions of the Spirit as the community gathered had to be relegated because it was becoming overwhelming. Prophecy was very much a part of the earliest church structure. Christian prophets are found in the New Testament and they play a prominent role in the Christian writings after the New Testament canon is closed.
When “Paul” writes about the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, he is making reference to charismatic leadership, to believers inspired by the Spirit to lead the church and who are accepted by the church community. The Spirit is the living presence of God within and among believers. The immediate presence of Jesus during His earthly ministry became the immediate presence of the Spirit. Believers felt and acted upon the closeness of God. The Spirit is known as the breath of God. God was so close that they could feel God’s breath. What a marvelous image. What a powerful faith.
On these Lenten Fridays, maybe we could try a bit harder to feel the closeness of Christ, to feel His breath upon us. Too often God can seem far away or too formalized. Lent is about realizing how close God is. May we find the time today to wonder at the mystery that we “have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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