Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 29th August 2021.
The word ‘grace’ often appears in the Bible, in hymns and in prayers. But what does it mean?
Like many words in the English language, it is a word with more than one meaning. It can mean, for example, elegance, beauty or charm. But it has quite a different meaning in a Christian context.
The English word ‘grace’ originally comes from the Latin ‘gratia’ meaning ‘thanks’. Hence, people say ‘the Grace’, a prayer of thanks to God before a meal.
The Merrriam-Webster Dictionary describes grace as ‘unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification’. This means that, in essence, grace is support from God.
A feature of grace is that we cannot demand it, in the same way that we cannot demand love from anyone. We can only be offered love as a free gift by someone else who offers it to us.
Grace can mean forgiveness. Like love, we cannot demand forgiveness. And we cannot forgive ourselves. Forgiveness can only come from someone we have hurt, or from God.
We have an expression ‘grace and favour’, which is mostly used in the context of someone, such as the monarch, allowing someone to live in a house rent-free. Again, it is a free gift.
The concept of grace or favour first appears in the Bible in Genesis, Chapter 6, where it says, ‘Noah found favour in the sight of the Lord.’ When all living creatures were facing destruction, God saved Noah and his family and a large number of animals. This leads to another meaning of grace – salvation.
We have an expression, ‘There, but for the grace of God …” These words have been attributed to many saintly people, including John Bunyan, but they are thought to have been first spoken by John Bradford, a sixteenth century Protestant martyr, who is recorded as having said, on seeing some criminals taken away for execution, ‘There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford’. In fact John Bradford was himself burnt at the stake in Smithfield in 1555.
Another example of grace in the Old Testament is in the Book of Ezra, when Ezra says that, although God allowed most of the people of Israel to be led into Babylonian captivity, he left the people of Israel a remnant who did not go into captivity, as a sign that God’s gracious favour bestowed upon Israel in the covenant continued, even in times of great disobedience and/or destruction among the Israelites.
Turning to the New Testament, the coming of Jesus Christ into the world was an act of grace by God, a free gift to the world, offering forgiveness, healing, hope and salvation. St. John describes Jesus as “full of grace and truth”.
St. Luke uses the word ‘grace’ many times in both Luke and Acts, often in the sense of God sustaining the followers of Jesus. But the largest use of the word ‘grace’ in the New Testament is in the letters of St. Paul. Sometimes Paul uses the word grace as being linked to a responsibility. For example, in Romans 15:16, Paul speaks of, ” … the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God.” So in this sense grace is the power given by God to humans to perform the takes which God has set them.
Paul also associates grace with salvation. And like St. John, Paul associates grace with truth. He said that the gospel was growing and bearing fruit, “just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth” (Colossians 1:6)
In the same way that Paul connects grace with responsibility, St. Peter says: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10) It is a bit like the condition in the Lord’s Prayer, when we say, “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. In a similar way, if we pray for God’s grace, we should show grace – love, forgiveness, support – to other people.
Whilst we cannot demand grace, we can seek it, we can pray for it, for ourselves and for others. As I write, in August 2021, we are all aware of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, where thousands are trying to flee the country. Sadly, many will fail in their attempts. We should pray that God’s grace – his love, his support, his salvation – will help all those whose lives are affected by this crisis. Here is a prayer once written by the Afghan author Khaled Hosseini, author of ‘The Kite Runner’ (a good read!): “ … there is a God, there always has been. I see him here, in the eyes of the people in this [hospital] corridor of desperation. This is the real house of God, this is where those who have lost God will find Him… there is a God, there has to be, and now I will pray, I will pray that He will forgive that I have neglected Him all of these years, forgive that I have betrayed, lied, and sinned with impunity only to turn to Him now in my hour of need. I pray that He is as merciful, benevolent, and gracious as His book says He is.” One can imagine that prayer being echoed today.
May all of us, whatever our situation in life, continually live and pray in hope of the grace of God – his love, his forgiveness and his salvation – to fill our lives and give us his peace.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore.