Rector's Reflections - 2 February

Rector’s Reflections  

Friday 2nd February 2024

Spending Lent with the Corinthians

Have you ever noticed that when St Paul wrote his letters of spiritual advice and encouragement, he usually wrote them not to individuals but to communities? In the pages of the New Testament, we find letters written by Paul to Christian communities in Rome, Corinth,  Galatia (a region of modern day Turkey), Ephesus, Colossae, Philippi  and Thessalonica. There are a few letters written to individuals (to Timothy and to Titus), but the majority of the Pauline letters which survive are those which were written to communities of Christians.  Why is this?

In part, it might reflect the fact that letters written to communities were more likely to survive than letters written to individuals. We know from our own experience that organisations and institutions often have systems in place to ensure the archiving of significant documents for future generations, whereas letters written to individuals tend to be lost or thrown out over the years.

But I think there is  a much more important reason why most of Paul’s surviving letters were letters written to communities. For Paul, the fundamental aspect of being a Christian is membership of a Christian community – a community where the Holy Spirit is at work. This Christian community can be thought of in terms of a particular congregation – we might describe this in terms of  belonging to “a” church.  But it can also be thought of in terms of belonging to the Christian community as a whole – fellow Christians around the world and down the centuries. This might be expressed in terms of belonging not to “a” church but rather in terms of belonging to “the” Church.  We belong to both.

And so when Paul gave advice about how Christians can grow in their spiritual lives, his usual starting point was to focus on the life of the church community. This probably comes as a bit of a shock to us today, because our culture tends to start with the individual, and then move out from the individual to the community.  For example, we tend to see Lent as a time for our spiritual renewal as individual Christians, and consideration of the spiritual life of our church communities is very much a second thought. But what if we have the order wrong? What if Lent should actually be a time when we think first and foremost not about our spiritual health as individuals but rather about the spiritual health of our church communities? What might a spiritually healthy church look like? We will look at this in the days ahead.

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