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Our Rich Liturgical Heritage:

The law that brings

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The Rt Revd Dr Peter Brain

Our services of Holy Communion commence with a reminder of God’s laws. Provision is made for the reading of the commandments or of our Lord’s distillation of the ten into the two great commandments. I am so glad for this weekly reminder of my obligation as a Christian to obey God in every aspect of my life.

Like the daily reminder of the mirror they show me up: that I am not to be a ‘law unto myself’ and reshape me with the affirmation that my Father has expectations for his adopted child, as he prescribes the way of freedom.

In this way we are helped to grasp his loving call to be a set-apart people. Freedom for the believer, is freedom to obey and an invitation to find happiness in conformity to his will rather than the prevailing ways of the world or fickle whims of our self-centred nature.

The attraction of these commands is captured by the response: Lord, have mercy on us: and write your law in our hearts by your Holy Spirit. Two essential truths of Christianity are affirmed in this response. The first is that we are not saved by law keeping. This has never been God’s way because we are unable to keep his law perfectly or fully. The introduction to the first command (from Exodus 20:2 and included in the AAPB and APBA): who brought you out of the land of slavery before the recitation of the commands, makes this clear. Israel was called by God to be his Old Covenant people as an act of his sheer grace to them. They certainly did not deserve, nor had the ability to earn his favour or calling to be a blessing to all nations. They had been saved out of Egyptian bondage by his powerful and gracious act of salvation in the Exodus. In response to this gracious salvation, they were to show their gratitude and become a blessing and light to other nations by their obedience to the ten commandments which covered every aspect of their lives.

The second is that the saved person will desire above all else to be a transformed person. A person whose heart is bent on doing God’s will under the influence of the indwelling Spirit of God. The law was given by God to show us his holiness and to show us our sin. When it does this work, we are humbled, and stripped of any pride or presumption as we come into God’s presence. We go to our knees in repentance (hence the general confessions) and are driven to Christ by faith, who alone atoned for our sins in his perfect life and propitiatory death. Then as a sign of his mercy Christ sends us back to the law with a new attitude, adoration and appetite for obedience. The Holy Spirit’s helps us to keep his law.

This obedience resists every temptation to be harsh with others through self-righteousness or lax with ourselves through complacency, presumption or a libertine spirit. Each commandment is taken seriously by the Spirit filled and directed believer. They want to be the Father’s obedient children, imitating their loving Saviour and master, eager to neither grieve nor hinder the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in and amongst us.

The rhyme, ‘To run and work the law demands, yet gives me neither feet nor hands. But better news the gospel brings, it bids me fly and gives me wings’, encapsulates this joyful relationship between the law and the gospel. Like a mirror into God’s holiness the commands show us up and then point us to the marvellous removal of sin’s penalty to be found in trusting Christ. Then, we discover the window of the fresh grace of God the Holy Spirit engulfing, enriching and enabling us, bit by bit, day by day, to overcome the power of sin and grow more Christlike as disciples. We leave the family table nourished by God’s grace with a renewed spring in our step, blessed by God to be a blessing to others. These introductions serve us well as we gather for Holy Communion.

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