One of my favourite hymns in Rejoice and Sing is 318, ‘Not far beyond the sea, nor high above the heavens, but very nigh, your voice O God is heard.
The hymn has no less than 17 distinct Biblical quotations in its four verses, including the opening line from verse three: ‘Rooted and grounded in your love’, drawn from Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus.
I love the image of the Christian faith and indeed our lives, being rooted. Both rooted in God’s love, and also rooted in place and in time.
In a recent service I quoted from the Congregational theologian, C H Dodd who with reference to Holy Communion, wrote:
“The church — every gathering of the church, everywhere, under every form –remembers that on a certain night its Founder said and did certain definite things…
briefly reported… the memory of the church thus takes us back to the same point where we formerly dropped anchor on our journey up the stream of history — the moment of the foundation of the church, when its founder “suffered under Pontius Pilate.”
All lines run back to that precise point, which we might date tentatively to Friday, April 7, AD. 30. Not indeed that the exact calendar date is either certain or important; other dates are possible between AD. 29 and 33; but it is of some importance that the church remembers an event which is actual, concrete and in principle dateable like any other historical event.”
Dodd’s ‘actual, concrete and in principle dateable’ underlines that Christianity is rooted in reality, real places, real dates and real people.
According to many Biblical witnesses, corroborated by both Jewish and Roman historians and scholars, Jesus was a real person, and thus someone who was born on an actual date in a real place, and at a certain point. Further, that at some point he began a ministry in and around Galilee, which had a culmination in Jerusalem. That Jesus lived and died is irrefutable. Our faith is also grounded in our belief that not only did Jesus live and die, but also that Jesus died and lived.
The Gospels record that this was witnessed and countless Christians have experienced the reality of this belief.
If we go back further in time than the earthly life of Jesus, there is archaeological and written evidence that the nation of Israel has had a long association with the city of Jerusalem, where a real Temple was built, which was destroyed by the Babylonians after about 500 years in 587/586 BC. Further, that a second Temple was built over the first, which was also destroyed, this time by the Romans in AD70. All that remains is the Western Wall, an ongoing sacred site within Judaism. There is also historical evidence of the lives and roles of some Biblical characters.
Our faith is rooted and grounded in love, in real places and in actual times.
It is also a living faith, and just as this grounding in reality stretches back in time to Jesus and beyond, so it also stretches forward in time, from the life of Jesus to today, and into the future.
We, as a local Christian community, are part of that living tradition of faith, with our calling being rooted and grounded in the love of God, and additionally being rooted in our corner of God’s Kingdom, West Wickham, and in this time. I wonder, as we tentatively emerge from the pandemic, how we will live out our calling to love God, follow Jesus and serve neighbour in the coming times.
As part of our discernment, our Elders are leading a process looking at five key areas of our church life, (1) worship, (2) premises and grounds, (3) communication, (4) growing in faith, and (5) our church life and witness.
Meanwhile, and importantly, may you personally, and each one of us, know that as individuals and a Christian community, we are rooted in the love and heart of God.