Friday, 5 February 2010

"Be strengthened in your inner being ... and in community"

On Wednesday evening I stood at the back of the lovely chapel of the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, singing and praying with the students and friends of Bossey who had gathered for the closing ceremony of the graduate school. It was lovely to attend worship and simply be able to be part of the congregation, the sisters who are part of the ecumenical spirituality programme have developed a tradition of evening prayer into which this celebratory worship fitted beautifully.
The reading of Ephesians 3:14-19 came first in Chinese and I managed to pick a rather old Good News translation New Testament off the shelves next to where I was standing and follow the reading, then the reading came again then in English and I realised that "with all the saints" had been left out of the Good News version in my hands, something I must check up on when I have a moment!
Dagmar Heller who is one of the professors at Bossey preached a homily which reflected on the threefold entreaty in Paul's prayer in Ephesians. She stressed how Paul's prayer is not only individual but about community life, not just about achieving personal understanding but achieving comprehension with others:

The second concern Paul has is not just an additional wish, but it is a further step, which builds on the strength of the inner being: “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ…” – It is about comprehension and knowledge. If you have the inner strength in the power of the spirit and in the love of Christ in the community, then you can reach understanding, comprehension of what we are, where we are coming from, where we are going to … And there is an interesting remark: this comprehension is “with all the saints”. Maybe this sounds a bit strange, but this says nothing other than: you cannot reach comprehension just by remaining by yourself, in your study room – comprehension happens in community, together with your brothers and sisters in faith.
I'm sure I have never heard a sermon on this passage of Ephesians before and it's given me much to think about since listening to it - those are always the best kind of sermons. You can find the full text of Dagmar's sermon here.
I reflected how easy it is for me to get lost in my own search for being strengthened in my inner being and not to listen to those community voices around me and further afield which share a wider, deeper, higher and certainly much wiser way of understanding. So as well as giving me much to ponder on her sermon also challenged me to think about how to go about this in the "ora et labora" of daily life. Perhaps though I need to more clearly "know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge".
Thank you Dagmar for the service and the sermon.