The freedoms of time and the wonder of people

The past week will have felt very different, depending on whether children are back at school, or still on holiday, whether we have seen new people or old friends after a long time, how our health has been, what happened in our lives.

A local community is made up of people whose experiences of the week are very different. Some are shared experiences, unexpected snow, but even then there are different reactions – relief it melted quickly, or disappointment it was not “proper” snow. Others are private and individual experiences – we may not share our disappointments and our neighbours also may keep a grief or sadness private, for whatever reason.

And also in our church families, as we – many of us – are able to get to church again, so we will come with different hopes and fears and feelings.

Psalm 137 uses a couple of phrases that try and capture the intricacy and individuality of each human: 

‘you knit me together in my mother’s womb’ –  
a lovely image of God at work in the sanctuary of the womb, forming me, each of us; 

‘I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made’ –  
I am not quite sure what ‘fearfully’ means, but I take it to include the mystery, the fact that we do not fully understand even ourselves, that we are not in full control, that there is so much we do not know, and ‘wonderfully’ is the same but with a positive spin, the opportunities, the freedoms, the choices, the individuality I have, the intricacy of the human mind, and the depth and complexity of our human feelings.

What does it mean for us to be the church, God’s people? To be people who celebrate together, support each other, welcome others, united in a belief that we are all, me and you, fearfully and wonderfully made, each of us was knit together in the womb. What does it mean to be a healthy community – I would say the same, celebrating, supporting, welcoming.

We mar God’s image in ourselves when we do not see the wonder with which we were made; we mar God’s image in others when we do not respect the image of God in them; we mar God’s presence in the world when we do not live out the values of the “Kingdom”. We are yeast and light and salt in the world when we do live out those values, but they are not just generic ideals; they are earthed in our interactions with other people.

God has given us freedoms, though for some those freedoms are now curtailed by poor health, or by poverty, or fear or restrictions. Our journey is not just for me to get to the end but for us to get there; not ‘how do I ..?’ but ‘how can we ..?’ The tension is how to have a communal view in which individuals flourish in their differences, how individuals can flourish while strengthening community for all. This is what Christians understand as seeking first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and it is a life’s journey.

‘I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’

Rev’d Peter Reiss