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Easter VI Reflection (the Rector)
In the Gospel passage from John we find Jesus presenting his farewell discourse or address to the disciples on the night of his arrest. In this very lengthy farewell address Jesus assures them that even though he will be leaving them, his Spirit will be with them and inspire them for the mission he entrusts to them. This lengthy discourse contrasts with the very succinct words of Jesus recorded in the Scriptures at the Ascension, see Mark 16.19; Luke 24:50-52; and Acts 1:6-11. Jesus has prepared the disciples for his departure and now, at the Ascension, he commissions them to be his witnesses ‘to the ends of the Earth’. In our passage from Acts, we find our patron Paul, doing just this: proclaiming the Gospel to a gentile audience in the great centre of classical civilisation, Athens.
Paul tackles a key theological issue: how do we know and relate to God? Proclaiming a living God and the hope of resurrection, Paul presents the Christian message of Good News – God can be known and has shown himself to us in the the life, death and resurrection of Christ. If you wish to know God, then look to Jesus. See in him the nature of God who is merciful, forgiving, healing, life-giving.
It is a central teaching of Christianity that God may be known because God desires to be known and reveals himself to us. St Thomas Aquinas was the leading theologian-philosopher to begin classifying revelation in two main categories: ‘general revelation’, sometimes called ‘natural revelation’, and ‘special revelation’.
General revelation describes the ways in which God is disclosed to us through the everyday experiences and workings of life, such as the observation of the wonders of the natural order, the reasoning of philosophy and rationality, the promptings of conscience etc). The Athenians with their ‘unknown God’ demonstrate the limits of general revelation – there is only so much about God that we can deduce on our own. And that’s where special revelation comes in. Special revelation refers to spiritual or supernatural self-revelation of God that would not become known through general revelation. Over the centuries Christians have understood this to include the revelation of God that is communicated through the Scriptures, divine inspiration through the Holy Spirit’s ministry, such as prophecy, mystical experiences and the miraculous, and foremost, the greatest revelation of Godself being the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As this season of Easter’s 50 days draws to its close – we celebrate Ascension this Thursday and at the end of the month Pentecost – let us rejoice that our God is not one who is aloof and unknowable, but one that makes himself know to us, so that we might be touched by his Spirit of peace. This week our virtual church crawl takes us to Chichester, and I think it fitting to finish with the words of St Richard of Chichester – may we commit ourselves to knowing Jesus more clearly, loving him more dearly, and following him more nearly. Growing in this relationship with Christ will strengthen us to keep his commandments to love God and love others, as we see in him the fullness of life, freedom from the shackles of sin and death, and resurrection hope.
Mary Anne Neilsen at the St Paul’s Organ
Centering Prayer – An introduction with Alice-Anne Macnaught
Audio – Three Hours’ Devotions
Audio of the Three Hours Devotions delivered by The Reverend Elaine Farmer in St Thomas’s Fifth Avenue New York are available to accompany the printed text above. Go to saintthomaschurch.org and click on webcasts; and use the calendar to locate the service on 19 April 2019.