And still…Jesus saves

                                             ©Suzanne Grimmett

Jesus, Saviour of the world…

In the greatness of your mercy,
loose us from our chains,
forgive the sins of all your people.
Make yourself known as our Saviour and mighty deliverer;
save and help us that we may praise you.
Come now and dwell with us, Lord Christ Jesus:
hear our prayer and be with us always.

I wonder if you recognise these words? It is from the Canticle, “Jesus Saviour of the World” which we say every Friday morning in the Anglican daily office. The canticles are the songs of the church which have been shaped down two millennia as people have pondered and sought to live out the Christ story in their lives, drawing on scripture and their lived experience in the fellowship of believers. They are songs which have sustained the Church and individuals in good times and bad, repeated by followers of Jesus’ way to remind themselves of the way… which is faith, hope and love.

 I have to admit, that up until very recently, this has been my least favourite canticle. I thought it repetitive, and it reminded me just a little too much of the style of Christianity which expresses extremely individualistic ideas of personal salvation with my own personal Jesus.

But I don’t think that anymore. As with so much of our tradition, we need to spend more time with it rather than less, allowing familiar words to become unfamiliar again so we can experience their depth and power.

This canticle reminds us that Christ’s saving power is not a nice idea or sound theological principle, but an experience to be sought and lived. It is a theme that is picked up strongly in the story of Job which concludes today. Job has heard many things taught about God, addressing God saying, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” All the learning about God in the world is not the same as having an experience of God. Job “sees” for the first time, realising how little he really knew and understood in all his learnings. Peace came not through knowledge, but through divine revelation.

These two ideas of “seeing” and “salvation” are also found intertwined in our Gospel reading today. The Canticle, Jesus, Saviour of the World, takes us to the heart of our life and mission, and our need of God’s salvific and liberating presence. The man Bartimaeus expresses this in his cry, “‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He may be blind but he has more sight than the crowds around him. While others may be assured in their self-sufficiency, Bartimaeus knows he needs healing if he is to be set free, and in his urgency he will not be hushed.

I wonder how we understand the statement, “Jesus saves”? Many of us will assume this refers to the belief in our inherent sinfulness, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and our acceptance of Jesus as Lord so we can go to heaven when we die. Such a thin narrative has, I think, robbed us of the power of a healing encounter with the God who is still in the business of transformation. To put it simply, I think we have forgotten that Jesus saves. We all too easily become the crowds trying to silence such an overt expression of need when we could be allowing the same cry to bubble up from within ourselves, urgently calling from the pain of our own hearts; “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me.”

But how does Jesus save, or what are we being saved from? Once when I was volunteering as a prison Chaplain I introduced this prayer, also known as the Jesus prayer, to the inmates. It is said repeatedly with your breath as a meditation, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”  It is the oldest prayer of the Church and the consummate prayer of trust in God; acknowledging that we are like beggars in need of God’s grace. I explained that the full prayer is sometimes used, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” At that I got a reaction. A woman down the back called out, “I’m not a sinner!” to which she received raucous laughter and a yelled response from one of her block buddies across the room, “You’re in an f#&#-ing prison, love!”

Marcus Borg has said, “Some people do not feel much guilt….guilt is not the central issue in their lives. Yet they may have strong feelings of bondage, or strong feelings of alienation or estrangement”. For such people, Jesus as the one who takes away whatever is sinful or unclean in their lives makes no sense. There are other things, however, from which to be saved: oppression, meaninglessness, suffering of all kinds, trauma from the past, a reduced or non-existent sense of self, patterns of self-harm. This prisoner I believe was reacting from having already such a low sense of self that she did not need anyone coming in and telling her she was a sinner- she needed the liberation of first understanding that she was a beloved child of God. The self needs to be restored before it can stop reacting to the trauma of the past and take responsibility for a life of goodness and integrity. But no matter what our experiences or deepest needs, Jesus saves. It may be that the salvation Jesus offers us is a homecoming of love and acceptance, the courage to step away from all that oppresses and controls us or the gift of sight to understand our own destructive or self-limiting patterns so that we may live into the person we were created to be. “In the greatness of your mercy” sings the ancient canticle, “loose us from our chains”.

As Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus, he is encouraged by others to, “Take heart; get up, he is calling for you.” “Take heart, do not be afraid” is an injunction which appears repeatedly in Scripture. How often do we lose heart? There are so many reasons why our hearts may be quavering and our faith timid. Personal suffering and loss, betrayals and discouragements, relationship breakdowns, unemployment or a sense of failure…or perhaps it is anxieties over global concerns like human conflicts, climate change or the pandemic. To all of this, our faith must have a response, or it is no faith at all. It is not faith that God will magically set all to rights, but that in following the way of Jesus we seek the one whose experienced presence is transformative. When we cry, “Lord have mercy” we are giving ourselves to that healing presence in faith. We want to be able to see with new eyes. The Canticle says, ‘Come now and dwell with us, Lord Christ Jesus: hear our prayer and be with us always’, acknowledging that we cannot do this life alone and we pray for the revelation of that presence which is already with us.

But like Bartimaeus, we may need to both long for change and be prepared to let go of our old way of being, opening to the new life the Spirit brings. When called, Bartimaeus leaps up, throwing aside his old cloak and running unencumbered and exposed to Jesus. Jesus asks him, as he daily asks all of us, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man knows he wants to see clearly and leave behind his beggarly lifestyle. We too can leave behind self-centred lives of fear and scarcity, finding liberation from stuck ways of thinking and deadening patterns. We too can find the truth that Jesus saves and open ourselves to liberating horizons of compassion and hope.

Whatever has been your past, or however little life you see in your future, Jesus says to you, “Take heart”. The call of God is new every morning, and you are new every morning. God is still in the business of healing and restoring…still inviting you to see the new vision there for you and there for us. The Canticle, Saviour of the World concludes with the words;

And when you come in your glory:
make us to be one with you and to share the life of your kingdom.

This is a prayer without end. It is a prayer that excludes no one and no part of creation but forever prays that we may all be gathered into unity with God and reconciled one to another. Our own lives and sacred vocations are a part of a much greater and older story of the liberating mission of Jesus who saves and sets free so that by the Spirit we may join in the healing and liberation of the world. Jesus still calls and invites you to see and embrace the unfolding of possibility for the future before you. Take heart. Life is always beginning again. 

+Amen

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