Anyone who reads the New Testament will see at once that Paul was driven by an unflinching conviction. He was convinced that Jeshua bar Youssef - Jesus in Greek - was the Mashiach, God’s Anointed One – the Christ in Greek. Paul, a Pharisee, knew therefore that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus meant that human history had taken a decisive turn. So far as Paul was concerned, a process was in train whereby God has arrived among us to judge us and to bring under God’s rule as many as are willing to be so led.
Within about 25 years, starting with the preaching of John the Baptiser, all round the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea, groups of Jews and gentiles were meeting in Jesus’ name and looking forward to God’s final revelation of God’s power. One such was the church at Thessaloniki. It was a Roman colony, capital of Greek Macedonia, and a key place for Paul to establish a church, though we should remember that his “churches” were no more than a handful of households, and that of mostly socially marginal people. These little communities who followed the resurrected Messiah were waiting excitedly for God’s rule to be established on earth. So much so that, in Paul’s second letter to Thessaloniki, we learn that some of them had even given up work and were devoting themselves entirely to prayer! – and they were also upsetting the neighbours with their strange behaviour and expectation. Not so fast, Paul warned. Yes, God is coming, has arrived, but no, you cannot simply drop out of the world.
Paul had to deal with the question the Christians of Thessaloniki raised and which we have to tackle today. If God is coming in judgement, when should we expect that to happen? In the course of his surviving letters, we can find the outline of Paul’s answer. God did not leave the world at the resurrection of Jesus. Rather the body of God’s Anointed One lives now and lives in this world. The rather shocking insight that Paul offered to the churches is that we are the Body of the Anointed One, every one of us, however unimportant we may think we are. And we live under two regimes: one is the everyday world where we make our living, pay our taxes, shape our personal, physical, political and social lives; and the other is the rule of God who is present now as our Creator, our Redeemer and our Sustainer. Today we come under the judgement of God; today we must heed the call of John the Baptizer to make straight the way of the Lord. Today too we can receive in this sacrament the assurance that God offers to nourish us as parts of the Body of his Anointed One.