Appeal to God

This hymn anticipates the celebration of Christ’s Ascension.   It expounds a remarkable fact of history: that members of a small, first-century sect within the Roman Empire proclaimed that ‘their’ God had gone into heaven… with angels, authorities and powers made subject to him (1 Peter 3.22).  Furthermore, they set this proclamation within the rite of baptism: new members were baptised, not merely into the culture of their local congregation and tribe, but into the universal Church, whose business, under God,  was nothing less than the salvation of humankind within the universe.

Appeal to God, my sisters and my brothers.midi


I find it astonishing that the first century Christian sect, a small cultural minority within the Roman Empire, addressed itself to the frontiers of the empire and beyond. Christians could have talked un-controversially about ‘their’ God, and thus fitted in happily to the climate of religious toleration permitted by Rome. Instead, Paul proclaimed The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth … made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they should live[1]. The author the First Letter of Peter likewise wrote of Jesus Christ as having gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him[2]. So it is not surprising that there were those who wondered whether Christians were manoeuvring to establish an empire that would subvert Roman power. For Christians to achieve that kind of impact entailed a high degree of readiness to oppose the Empire, even while they practised loyalty to the powers that be.

Perhaps most remarkable of all is that in 1 Peter this canvas of cosmic concern figures in instruction about baptism[3]…. (B)aptism…now saves you…as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven…[4] In the west, baptism has long been regarded as a rite of initiation into the culture of the local Christian tribe. But it appears that in the beginning Christians were baptized into the universal church, and that the business of the universal church was the salvation of the universe.

This hymn offers an exposition of the idea of an appeal to God for a good conscience. Conscience here is not private organ that now troubles, now consoles the comfortable. It is the arena in which persons appraise public issues of community and justice in the light of Christ risen ‘beyond the pride of blood or nation … beyond the clamour of self-interest’. The point of this conscience is to discern that ‘life (the risen Christ) lifts high each soul in new beginning … and empowers each soul for new beginnings’, and we are called with ‘all earth to heaven in joy combined’. To have been enslaved by tribalism or self-interest is sin to be confessed, but only en route to claiming the reality that ‘Christ has conquered! … Compassion covers sins of every kind …’ Baptismal good conscience thus says Amen to new life in the world as it is for the sake of the world to come.

[1] Acts 17.24, 26

[2] 1 Peter 3.22

[3] It used to be commonly believed that 1 Peter was written as a training manual for people preparing to be baptized, but scholars today are less sure about that view.

[4] 1 Peter 3.21

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