Today's readings are:
1 Peter 3:18-22
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the gospel reading for today is a scene setter... the Baptism of Jesus and his subsequent sojourn in the wilderness, all recorded in Mark's zap-pow minimalist fashion... no stones to bread, no bow down to me, no jump off the Temple, just wild beasts and angels. Had we only ever had this one gospel, our view of the wilderness temptations would have been less narrow, we would not have assumed that in forty days only three ideas popped unbidden into Jesus' mind. We would be more open the diversity that being 'tempted in every way as we are but without sin' might mean.
The Psalm I've already commented on, and the Genesis passage takes us to the covenant with Noah after the flood (ding ding another 'forty days' or'very long time') but it is the 1 Peter that draws my attention:
For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you -not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. (1 Peter 3: 18 - 22 NRSV)
This passage ought to shock us. it seems that the writer tells us that after the death of Jesus, Christ went and proclaimed to the 'spirits in prison' by which we presumably mean 'hell', those who in the former times (viz, life) had not obeyed God. So what did Christ proclaim? "Ha, ha, see now you burn for all eternity?" No. I think not. Paul Fiddes in his writing on atonement theology speaks of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, and asks something along the lines of, is there any crevasse too deep into which the shepherd will not descend to rescue his lost sheep? The traditional doctrine (?) of the 'harrowing of hell' seems to follow a broadly similar logic... that the three days between the crucifixion and the resurrection symbolise Christ's descent into hell to rescue whoever was there. Now, any or all of these might be good or bad theology, none the less, we are told, it seems, that it is not good enough to say that those who have not professed faith in Christ at the time of their death will burn for eternity, or simply be annihilated, depending on what stance you prefer. Nor does it allow us to adopt a simplistic universalism that says there is no hell, no potential of separation from God, even fleetingly. A good friend of mine expresses a conviction that as we pass through the gate between life and death, as we come face to face with God, we will be so overwhelmed with the love of God that we will be incapable of wanting any other. I like that idea. Some people conclude there is no hell... I wouldn't go that far, since I need a 'dumping ground' for evil... the essence thereof, not those somehow imprisoned by its thrall.
So there you go, all very complicated for a Sunday morning brain dump, and not very 'spiritual' at all. Hidden in this passage is , however, a lovely little phrase..."God waited patiently..." and prompts me to prayer.
Not rushing us to instant decisions
Not demanding we say yes' or 'no'
Without careful, even prayerful, consideration
Never ever giving up on us
(Not that 'ever' or 'never' are categories that mean anything to you)
Scripture tell us it is your will that none be lost
Scripture tells us Christ proclaimed to those in chains...
A suggestion of a second chance
Even after our theologising says it might be too late
Lord, teach me this patience
Patience that does not seek immediate responses
Patience that does not confuse long-term with eternal
Patience that waits with you
For your will...
that none be lost...
that the captives be freed...
that the hungry are fed...
that the blind see and the lame dance...
that the Kingdom of Shalom come on earth as in heaven...
To be done.