There are some texts that need to be savored; to be read slowly, almost ponderously as each word is wrung for every ounce of meaning and depth. This is not one of those texts. The beginning of Ephesians is designed to be read quickly, breathlessly as you get caught up in the emotion and the spirit of the words. This is a passage that is meant to be felt more than understood. It is to be poured out over the hearers like a fountain of sparkling wine that bubbles and foams and lightens the heart. Indeed, when Paul, or a ghost-writer, or later disciple trying to capture the essence of Paul, wrote these words, it was done without hesitation or pause. This whole text is one sentence in Greek. Clause after clause pours forth as though ideas and thoughts and emotions were weaving together almost on their own as the words were captured like a flock of butterflies in a net. When they were written, or dictated, or dreamed, they brought with them such hope and such joy, it must be experienced before it can be believed.
Not, it must be stressed, that there isn’t anything worth wrestling with intellectually in these verses. There is certainly profundity to be found here. And time should be spent digging deep into the themes and promises and hopes tucked away behind the lines and phrases. It’s just that you can’t move toward understanding, full understanding, until you enter into the spirit. This text is a song that has to be sung before it can be examined, before it can really be understood.
It is first a song of blessing. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us . . .” (1:3). It is praise to the source of blessing. It is an acknowledgement of the blessings that have poured down over us. Us? The church, the chosen, the children of God. Many commentators (such as Thomas R. Steagald, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, p.185) point out that this text is like the Jewish berakah, the formal language of blessing of God that is common in Jewish worship and prayer. Paul presents us liturgy, an act of worship, as we read these verses. Not only that, but there is a table of contents here for the rest of the letter—topics that he will return to later appear here in summary form. Ideas like the mystery revealed, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the will of God, are all touched on in this prelude of grace.
What is remarkable about this text is that it is wholly God-directed, God-inspired, and God-drenched. Yet, it also manages to invite us to explore the blessing placed within us. It celebrates the God who is at work in us and around us. We were blessed, chosen, destined for adoption, redeemed, forgiven, lavished with grace, taught the mystery, given an inheritance, so that we might live for the praise of God. It is about living a life of praise, of celebration for what God has and is doing in us.
It is worth dwelling on a few things in this amazing list of blessings. You can choose which ones speak to you most deeply as you seek to live the celebration of the company who have come. But consider these first. The mystery: Paul speaks of the mystery seven times in this short letter. It is obviously central to the thinking in the Epistle. In fact, it is a mystery that is no longer a mystery. Musterion in Greek has a variety of meanings, but for Paul it refers to the supreme redemptive revelation of God through the gospel of Christ, (according to the Freiberg Lexicon in Bibleworks, version 10). Paul presents it as a gift to us, as the knowledge that will lead us through this life, that God is working through Christ to gather all things up in God, things in heaven and things on earth.
Sit with that for a moment. Gather all things up in God. In the fullness of time, writes Paul, God will gather all things up. This has the meaning of unifying, making one under a single leadership, God in this case. In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. Laid alongside this passage, we now know that we are working God’s purposes out when we are in the business of reconciliation, making one, uniting. It’s not a mystery because we don’t understand it. Or that it waits to be revealed. It is musterion because it is the source of all that we do, the knowledge that drives us. Above all else, we know that it is our calling and our joy to bind together, to bring together things of heaven and things of earth. Or as Jesus puts it, to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
The second word that could stand some reflection is believe. Paul concludes our text by saying, “remember how this worked?” Remember how you came to faith? You heard the word of truth, the gospel of salvation and you believed in him, and were sealed by the Holy Spirit. You believed in him. Too often, we have reduced this word to the barest minimum of meaning. You made an intellectual assent to the idea of Christ. You agreed with an argument. You accepted a fact or a truth. Alongside the thousand other things you believe that you have picked up from living in this wonderful but broken world.
There is a weight to this word that many of us have lost. What Paul argues here is that when you heard this word, when I brought you this story, this person and handed him to you like a gift from above, you changed everything about who and what you are. You put your life in his hands. You secured your future to his grace. You wrapped yourself around him like he was now the air that you breathe and the bread that sustains you. We cannot be satisfied with an intellectual nod of the head to some cliché about salvation.
We conclude our Advent/Christmastide series with this idea that we are called to live our faith, not just accept it. Not just think about it, but to live it fully and wholeheartedly. Christ has come, and we’ve opened our doors to the wider community because we are called to gather all things together in God as a precursor to the gathering that will be done. We live each day in celebration of that mystery, that hope. Company has come.