Lines from the Letter to the Hebrews formed the Epistle reading for the Holy Communion on Sunday. The opening verses were once part of the readings for Christmas in the old Book of Common Prayer, the poetry of their seventeenth century form coming back in snatches as the passage was read. Glowing coal fires and the smell of fruit cake floated through the mind, tending to obscure the complex theological arguments of the writer.
Only in re-reading the lines to construct a homily for a midweek Communion service did the full force of what was being said really strike home. The verses were drawn from the first and second chapter of Hebrews and make an assertion about the regard God has for ordinary people.
Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
The writer’s claim is that the one whom he has already described as having divine status before the beginning of time stands alongside the most plain and the most ordinary of people as their brother. To be a brother in such times meant accepting all the duties and responsibilities that went with family ties. It meant that no matter how isolated and wretched a person may feel, there was someone standing with them.
Words from Sebastian Faulks’ novel Charlotte Gray came to mind. Levade, a Jew in Nazi-occupied France, has a sense of God standing in solidarity with him, standing alongside him as close as a brother:
“No child born knows the world he is entering, and at the moment of his birth he is a stranger to his parents. When he dies, many years later, there may be regrets among those left behind that they never knew him better, but he is forgotten almost as soon as he dies because there is no time for others to puzzle out his life. After a few years he will be referred to once or twice by a grandchild, then by no one at all. Unknown at the moment of birth, unknown after death. This weight of solitude! A being unknown.
And yet, if I believe in God, I am known. On the tombs of the English soldiers, the ones too fragmented to have a name, I remember that they wrote ‘Known unto God’. By this they meant that here was a man, who did once have arms and legs and a father and a mother, but they could not find all the parts of him – least of all his name.
God will know me, even as I cannot know myself. If He created me, then He has lived with me. He knows the nature of my temptations and the manner of my failing. So I am not alone. I have for my companion the creator of the world.
At the hour of my death I would wish to be ‘known unto God’.”
Hebrews says we are known unto God not only in the hour of our death, but in every hour a brother stands with us.