Theologians and mystics speak of the utter ‘otherness’ of God. He cannot be known as we know other people. We have some knowledge of him but it is far, far from the reality. We can love God and, in that sense, we can know something of him. You cannot love one you do not know. The Book of Genesis says we are ‘made in his image’ and the psalms speak of us as ‘a little lower than the angels.’
What does all this amount to? Two things. One, God is infinitely beyond our reach. When we are talking about God and ourselves in the same breath, we are speaking about two completely different realities. Neither science or any other rational activity can grasp God. So we hold on to his utter otherness. But then, two, God wants to come to us, to share his life with us, his joy, his love. ‘He has made us for himself,’ says Augustine. He has made us with a capacity to receive his life. He cannot give us what he wants to give us until we open our beak like a newly hatched bird in the nest. They strain upwards to receive the food the mother wants to give them.
The food we receive carries a weighty message. Jesus gave us the Eucharist to enable us to share in his suffering and death. We have to do more than open our beaks. Receiving Holy Communion in the Eucharist commits us to the ‘way’ that Jesus lived. The early Christians called themselves people ‘of the Way’, that is, people who, as followers of Jesus, tried to live as he lived. This would mean, as we constantly see this week in the readings from John, opposition, virulent opposition. It would also lead, for many early Christians, to physical suffering and even death.
If we open our beak and strain towards God, this may happen to us. But we understand, do we not, that this is getting to grips with the real issues of our life in this world. The more we touch suffering in ourselves and in others, the more we sense that this is a reality that can lead us to God if we can be open to it. No one wants suffering but countless people will acknowledge that it enables them to ‘touch the hem of his garment’ and grow into the fullness of life.
This is real knowledge even if imperfect and it opens the way to love. We have entered Holy Week. Will we let it go by and be absorbed in our usual business? Or can we open our beak and be fed by the life and death of the Suffering Servant whose life on earth reached its terrible climax in the days we are now entering?
28 March 2021 Palm Sunday Is 50:4-7 Phil 2:6-11 Mark 14:1-15:47