Saturday, March 01, 2008

Jerusalem Pilgrimage, St Paul and the Mid-Sunday in Lent: A meditation based upon a Pauline allegory

Daily, because of one stimulus or another, I find myself pondering whether there is any Christian duty to visit Jerusalem (a duty that was certainly present in the Old Testament). That is, I am not so much led to ponder the need or otherwise for GAFCON in June, but rather the insistence of the African Primates that it must be held in Jerusalem, and that no other places will suffice.

In the middle of Lent, the question of the place of Jerusalem for Christian piety is powerfully raised by the Epistle [Galatians 4:21-31] in “The Order for Holy Communion” (as the Epistle is mandated in the medieval Latin and in The BCP, 1549/1662/1928/1962). From this passage the 4th Sunday in Lent has long been called, “Mothering Sunday.”

What emerges from St Paul’s teaching in terms of Jerusalem, the earthly city, is this:
Jerusalem of the apostles’ time (and also of ours?) is the symbol of the Covenant of Sinai, the Covenant the LORD made with Israel as represented by Moses. It is not and can never be the symbol of the New Covenant, sealed with the blood of Jesus, the Lord and Christ.

Galatians 4:21-31

In the passage, the apostle says he is using an allegory and so let us be clear what this is before we proceed. It is a story in which the characters and events are symbols about human life or religion; or it is to speak figuratively.

The story that the apostle uses is that of Abraham who had two sons, each one with a different mother. Hagar conceived Ishmael in the normal way of nature; Sarah conceived Isaac according to the promise of God and by his intervening power. This difference is crucial for St Paul.
Hagar is the symbol of the covenant made at Mt Sinai; she bears children for bondage and slavery in that they are under the Law but not able to keep it; and the center of this “bondage and slavery” is Jerusalem, the headquarters of Judaism.

Sarah is the symbol of the new covenant, the covenant of promise, sealed by the blood of Jesus; she bears children for freedom (from from Satan, sin and death and free to love and serve the Lord); the everlasting center of this freedom is the heavenly Jerusalem, where Christ is as the exalted Lord and Saviour; and the Jerusalem above is, therefore, the mother of all who believe the Gospel and enter the covenant of promise.

Justification by Faith Alone

What St Paul teaches in Galatians 4 is part of his teaching on Justification by Faith alone through Grace alone in Christ alone. For him, though the Covenant of Sinai was given by the LORD, it could not, in and of itself, bring sinners to everlasting salvation. It simply prepared the way for that which was to follow it. Only by the new Covenant, ratified by the sacrificial death of Jesus and declared by his exaltation to the Father’s right hand in glory, was there the glorious possibility of a right relation with the Father through the Son, with the gift of forgiveness and everlasting life.

From this perspective, the Christian, who belongs to the new covenant, has no need whatsoever to look towards the earthly Jerusalem when he prays, but upwards to the heavenly Jerusalem, where Christ is, and which heavenly City of glory, is the mother of all the faithful. “You cannot have God as your Father without having the heavenly Jerusalem as your mother.”

And from the perspective of Justification by Faith and Freedom in the Spirit (great theme of the Letter to Galatia) making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem may even cause one to slip, as did some Galatians of old, from the Way of Promise to the Way of Law!

Life in the new covenant of promise and grace does not require pilgrimage to the earthly Jerusalem; but it does require constant membership of the heavenly Jerusalem through living in Christ, walking with him and coming to the Father through him. Eve of Mothering Sunday, Lent 4, 2008

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