Recently I have been leading a series of services looking at Ephesians. When I was in my late teens I loved this book greatly but tended to understand it rather legalistically. I also tended to avoid/ignore the stuff about predestination and the like as I didn't undertsand it. I'm not entirely sure why I undertook to preach on it - seemed like a good idea at the time - but I am very glad that I did because I have seen it as through new eyes. I still avoided the bits that Calvin undoubtedly loved, but found myself blown away by the wonder of what it was saying to me - to us - at this time.
One of the the key themes of the letter seems to be that of equality and unity expressed so eloquently in chapters 2 and 4. But until re-reading and studying this time, I don't think I'd grasped just how radical this really is, nor how it needs to relate to other themes of the letter.
The whole 'mystery' thing seems to be highly relevant in our day and age with so many apparently on spiritual quests and the emergence of such things as 'Vintage Christianity'. But what a mystery! God's technicolour wisdom expressed through the lives of frail and failing human beings (Ephesians 3:10). God's dwelling place as a 'work in progress' including the work of the prophets and the orignal apostles and now continued by us today. Perhaps I am struck by this - or see this - because of the experience of my own congregation who have left the security of a permanent base to 'tabernacle' in the wilderness as we seek God's direction for our future. God, it seems, chooses to live in a building site rather than waiting for a completed, beautiful Temple; and in the meantime this imperfect structure, scaffolding still in place, stones still being dressed and fitted in, somehow expresses God's Godness (no, I didn't miss an 'o' out of goodness). Wow!
If this is right - and it seems to me that it is what the letter says - then my reading of chapters 5 and 6 must change. Far from a legalistic reading that allows those 'inside' the church to set boudaries on who may be permitted, it becomes a way of understanding better something of the implication of the unity of Jew/non-Jew male/female slave/free. The attributes to be developed are something we all aspire to - not something that those inside have sorted and those outside must achieve in order to get in. Recognising this, glimsping something of the grace of God who is shown in our lives - complete with our constant legalism and failings - means looking again at our ideas about boundaries. Chapter 5 with its guidelines on human relationships seems to recognise the double standards we apply of 'in church' and 'in the real (sic) world' - if we believe that all are equal in Christ then it affects the whole of our lives, not just what happens in worship on a Sunday. The neat boundaries are further eroded as, like light, salt or yeast (hurrah for Matthew's gospel), we permeate and alter the society in which we live.
For us as a little church having had our security of a physical building removed, it is challenging and affirming to hear what Paul is saying. Recently a lot of folk have been talking and blogging about 'sacred space' and ideas of temple and tabernacle. This revisit to Ephesians has added to my thinking in all of this - and the language of mystery seems to offer hope to this non-sacramental heretic! The building God inhabits is a 'work in progress', with Christ as both cornerstone, setting the direction of build, and goal. With the unclear edges of any part-built project, the boundaries cannot be neatly defined and we are challenged to recognise ourselves as imperfect, yet somehow essential to the expression of God's wisdom. It is our lives - our relationships - that form the building, the space, in which God dwells, so somehow God's trinitarian relationship is echoed in our communities.
A last thought in this verbose ramble - one of the commentators I read said that the word 'manifold' used in Ephesians is the same as the word used for the 'multi-coloured' coat in the OT Joseph story. If this is so, and if the church is also understood as the body of Christ, then we, the people in our diversity form a technicoloured expression of God's wisdom - wow indeed. The picture of Pavarotti Jesus (something to do with his beard and big sleeves) was our attempt to visualise/ground the mystery of our inter-related lives as the body of Christ, the dwelling place of God.