Romans 4, 5 & 6
Paul once again is fit with a diatribe about the Law and sin. In another of his tangled arguments (7:14-25) he is demonstrating his own struggle between the good he knows to do, with the unintended ‘sin’ his body seems to be intent on as well. Well, I guess we’ve been down this road before. For too long. The battle between body and soul, the spiritual self and the unspiritual self. The eternal battle of light and dark. Good and evil.
Before this entanglement though Paul reaches back to the origins of faith, to Abraham and the promise made to him by God. He has just pointed out the value of the Law itself: it kept us faithful, and had the ability to render us sacred. But, before the Law was given, even before Abraham was circumcised, he had faith. Paul’s appeal here seems to be to both to the Jewish converts and the non-Jewish converts in Rome. There was most likely a considerable population of Jews that had fled Palestine and were now living in Rome.
So this appeal to Abraham is something they and we can understand. Paul makes it clear: faith came first. Abraham’s faith initiates the fulfillment of the promise to everyone, no matter if you subscribed to the Law, which is good and has good intentions, or not. Another sign of the Mosaic Law was, and still is, circumcision, but again, Paul points out that even this custom, which is a sign of belonging to the law, participation in the covenant, did not precede Abraham’s faith. Abraham is the father of all who have faith. Faith which is first. Faith which is given. Faith which is gift. Faith which is grace. Paul has gathered everyone into the net. No one is lost. We are all counted, if we have faith. Faith now in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Faith in Christ.
The link to Abraham and the origins of our faith is unbroken.
Through Jesus we enter a state of grace. The grace that is greater than sin. Grace that reigns now and is God’s life within us.
As we make our approach to Holy Week, we circle back to our spiritual heritage. Our ancestors go before us. Their faith brought us to the day of our faith. During the next week we are mindful of Passover, Passion and Death. Just as we journey with him, we will also celebrate Passover with him, we will pray in the garden with him, and we will be challenged and mocked with him. Paul reminds us what we might already know: that suffering brings perseverance which brings hope, the hope that cannot deceive, as God has poured his Holy Spirit into our hearts.
As we enter the heart of Holy Week, we enter the heart of the God who has poured into our hearts the life of a most sacred heart. We enter the tomb with Jesus and we rise with him into the garden of new Life. Jesus’s resurrection is ours as well. It is the ever recurring cycle of life and death, dying and rising. In Christ we are free, even in our most unspiritual selves, and are freely given the grace of the Spirit of Christ which we have only to summons like Lazarus from the tomb, to partake of a sacred legacy that reaches back thousands of years ago and yet is ever present with us and available to us today.