With the first words of Paul’s letter to the Galatians we are transported into a world grace on the move. This grace is active and disruptive. It changed lives. It continues to change lives.
Martin Luther, one of the great reformers of the Church in the 16th century, referred to the book of Galatians as his “little Kathi von Bora.” You see, Kathi von Bora was his wife whom he loved dearly. Luther was a former monk; Kathi von Bora was a former nun. Neither of them had expected to end up in love and in a marriage. But it happened, and it happened in large part because of the abrasive grace Luther encountered in this letter. The grace by which Luther was encountered, the word of the gospel, shattered the walls of the medieval established church and its doctrines of separation. Luther knew himself freed through that gospel, and his proclamation of the same gospel of grace brought down many walls throughout Europe. Luther left the monastery. Kathi von Bora, like so many others, left her cloister. These two found each other, freed from walls that divide. Luther loved his wife; and he loved the book of Galatians, his little “Kathi von Bora.” Calling the book thus symbolizes everything Luther gained through the letter: emancipation from fear and rigidly observed, legalistically interpreted doctrines of the Church. Freed and encountered by Love.
At the heart of Galatians is a love letter that proclaims humanity is radically free, emancipated from whatever has bound them, whatever has separated them, whatever has weighed them down. It is a love letter that proclaims these freed, former slaves are now in a new relationship, one defined and energized by love. The individual is now part of a family, called into community, challenged to dare to love and be loved. The gospel heard through this letter puts us all into a new partnership with God, with Jesus, and with one another. Freed from our isolating and alienating bondage, we are called to be “one in the bonds of love.”
At the heart of the book of Galatians is a beat, a rhythm, a pulse. The chance to encounter and be encountered by a living Being…the God who is Love. The Spirit of God moves among us, quickening us, making us aware of the pulse of life within us. Through this letter we have the chance for encounter: to be touched and to be seen.
But this grace that encounters us is abrasive. Such grace brought Paul into conflict with his whole mode of existence…living in relation to God through God’s law (torah). When Paul is encountered by the living Jesus, Paul’s world is shattered; his life is radically re-ordered. He sees himself as “freed” to be the “slave” of Christ. Such is the way of grace…shattering our preconceptions and re-orienting our lives in a radical service of the other, proclaiming with everything we do a love that pulls down the walls that separate…a grace that calls former slaves to the family table…where all are brothers and sisters who get to break bread with one another.