End of the Term
I've pasted below my summary "lecture" for the last day of the course I've been teaching- it is always so hard to let the students go...
On the last day of our class, it is time to consider what you have accomplished in this course. We have considered many themes, and referred to a lot of new vocabulary, but what you have formed on the whole is a conceptual framework by which to interpret your experience of the Jewish and Christian traditions through the rest of your lives. Whether in the community where you worship, or in your personal reading of Scripture, you should be able to keep in mind the underlying paradigm: “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” The story is familiar to you now: the one God, Creator of the universe, calls His people together to make a binding covenant with Him, which He will uphold according to His own mercy. Those who keep covenant with God form God’s ecclesia, which exists to bear witness to the one God in the world which He made. The Christian tradition takes these promises to their fullest extent, in the belief that God has dwelt with humanity by entering, suffering, dying, and rising in humanity’s own flesh- and in this way, the story of God Himself becomes our story too when we are born in baptism, renewed in confession, and find sustenance from Him for rebounding from the sufferings of our age; and all the while, always with God, we wait in hope for our own resurrection and assumption.
I hope that if this class has accomplished nothing else, we would remember to take the central paradigm seriously, and look for the God who is with us, with expectation to find Him. And when you enter a Jewish synagogue or a Catholic Church, and you see the tabernacle, you will recall that God is present, as He promised– in word on the one hand, in full presence on the other- and that for the baptized, our lives are caught up in His.
Another thing, which I hope you will keep at the forefront of your mind, is that the story of the ecclesia is a love story. The story which is recorded in the ecclesia’s authoritative texts is not merely a canon- rather, it is a description of the most passionate encounter in eternity, between the one God of Israel who bound Himself to His people in love. Then, in mercy, He also espoused the Gentiles through Christ. By virtue of our human birth on this planet, we are all caught up in this story- and whether we choose to be found within God’s ecclesia, or outside of her, our own story will be characterized by the response that we choose to make to this historical reality of the one God who, as the prophet Zephaniah tells us, is “dwelling in the midst of us, mighty to save; and He will rejoice over us with singing.”
You have asked in this course whether God’s inclinations towards His people ever changes, and this is an excellent question; you have noticed that at one point, God can sound so stern, but at other points, He can sound so tender, and with your question you focus attention on the unchanging character of God. Whatever the tone of a difficult sermon, or a passage of Scripture that rings with fire and brim-stone, or whatever encounters with the problem of pain you may have to endure in your lifetime, remember this: the words of God, the tone of God, the will of God, are always to be understood as the words and the tone and the will of a passionate lover- not of an irritated judge nor a stern instructor, nor an angry father, nor a betrayed friend, but a passionate bridegroom who has utterly disclosed Himself to His beloved. He thus communicates with her honestly, holding nothing back- not anger, nor warning, nor words of endearment, because the sine qua non of the lover is that he gives himself entirely to his beloved.
For my part, you have answered the question that I brought into this course. I wondered whether a bright group of students of your age could approach these traditions and texts with real curiosity as well as reverence and affection. You have answered this question with a resounding yes. You have taught me many things, but mainly I am grateful that you have taught me this. I rejoice with you in all the hope of your great potential, and I commend you to the God we have considered this term.