As an awkward teenager, I spent a weird week at L’Abri in Switzerland in 1983. My visit was half spiritual pilgrimage, and half celebrity tourism, but five days proved too few to really connect with a community designed for longer work and study visits.
My most life-changing encounter that week was with a book I read, from L’Abri’s library, John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus (1972). In that slim study I discovered a thread woven through the Bible that includes the laws of the Jubilee year in Leviticus 25, the prophetic promises of Isaiah 61, and Jesus’ Nazareth Manifesto in Luke 4:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty
to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
In Leviticus, the people of God were instructed to celebrate a jubilee—a year of the Lord’s favour—every fifty or so years. These years pointed forward to the future re-booting of creation. The prophet Isaiah wrote the first draft of the manifesto that Jesus read aloud in the synagogue of Nazareth—centuries later—to publicly explain what he was all about.
Those five days I spent in L’Abri were—despite my disappointments—like a little jubilee. They were a preview of what it would be like to live in a community dedicated to the glory of God and the full flourishing of our humanity. Even decades later, I retain a few vivid memories: a Solidarnosc poster on the wall of L’Abri’s library, eating cherries off a tree next to the road while hiking up the mountain to the village of Huemoz, a slow breakfast conversation with my hosts in Chalet Bellevue (if I remember the name of the house correctly) about Tintin and Asterix comics, deciding that I liked abstract expressionist art while staring in wonder at the lichens growing on a large rock outside the L’Abri chapel shortly after listening to a taped lecture by Hans Rookmaaker on jazz.
While we impatiently follow in the wake of the work of the Spirit of God, waiting for the complete re-booting of heaven and earth, we need more communities like L’Abri and more little jubilees.
This issue of Comment celebrates the promise of the future reign of God, partly by being the house journal for one such event: the annual Jubilee student conference in Pittsburgh. To our readers there and everywhere, we hope this issue points to the yearned-for return of Jesus, and the fulfillment of creation’s possibilities.