If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above,
Where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on
Things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life
Is hid with Christ in God.
(Col. 3. 1-3)
There is something rather strange about our Easter Epistle, which was addressed by St. Paul to the Church at Colossae, a small Phrygian city in Asian Minor. For no sooner has Christ appeared to Peter, to Mary Magdalene, James and all the Apostles, to some five hundred, to Stephen before his martyrdom, and lastly to Paul as one born out of due season (1 Cor. 15. 8) than He disappears and returns to His hidden state, with the Father in Heaven. And St. Paul seems to suggest that man is back to having a relationship with the hidden God. Your life is hid with Christ in God. (Col. iii. 3) He did say that, didn’t he? But what does he mean by it? Surely, he is not advocating what passes for most as real religion and Christian experience these days? Plainly, he is not urging us onwards towards some kind of private affair, a hidden relationship, between you and a god who keeps your life hid within himself never to be challenged, questioned, or called to account by Mother Church or your fellow Christians. Nor can he be calling us to the kind of a la carte religion that picks and chooses what it wants, when it wants, and how it wants in order to ward off unwelcome advances by an intrusive and overly interested God?
No, this is not what St. Paul is suggesting at all. Rather, what he has in mind is a kind of hiddenness that points to an unbreakable intimacy and communion with God. The word is not pejorative but positive. For St. Paul, being hid with Christ in God (Idem) points to a relationship whose nature and value are known fully by Christ and shall be discovered by us progressively if we see to find the secret of it. He makes the conclusion because of the radical belief that Christ indeed has already taken our lives within Himself back to the Father. And this is not to say merely that He has Risen and Ascended to God as a kind of occult medium between man and God in general. This is no paranormal mystical movement, no cosmic sentimental syrup for New Age superstitious slothful slugs. No, indeed, St. Paul means that Christ has returned human life to the God the Father for the beginning of a relationship whose bond cannot be broken by any created principality, power, or dominion. To put it more exactly, because He has lovingly taken our old fallen nature into death, now He raises it up and returns it to God forever. Because He has taken it up again, enlivened it, and returned it to a place where no harm can happen unto it, St. Paul says rightly that our life is hid with Christ in God. (Idem) But more importantly for St. Paul, Christ has taken us into Himself, and in the scars and wounds which He exposes in the hands and feet of His Resurrected Body, He reveals that the men of all ages can be reconciled to God the Father. Suffering and death have always been seen as an obstacle to man’s relationship with God. But for Christians, the suffering and death of Jesus Christ are the fundamental building blocks that lay the foundation of a faith relationship whose life is now hid with Christ in God. (Idem)
But how do we find this relationship through the Risen Lord with whom our life is hid in God? The Apostles had a hard enough time seeing how man’s life could be hid with Christ in God in His death on Good Friday. What were they to make of His Resurrection on Easter Sunday? The struggle between life and death and sin and righteousness must have nearly conquered their already teetering faith. Perhaps George Herbert’s poem about the life that is hid with Christ in God (Idem) will be of use:
MY words & thoughts do both expresse this notion,
That Life hath with the sun a double motion.
The first Is straight, and our diurnall friend,
The other Hid and doth obliquely bend.
One life is wrapt In flesh, and tends to earth:
The other winds towards Him, whose happie birth
Taught me to live here so, That still one eye
Should aim and shoot at that which Is on high:
Quitting with daily labour all My pleasure,
To gain at harvest an eternall Treasure.
The poet tells us that life has a double motion or meaning. First, its external, visible, and physical life is illuminated by the sun in the sky. This is straightforward; we are enlivened and illuminated by the sun who is our diurnal or daily friend. This life is earthly and mundane. The second life is inward and spiritual. Here another sun enlivens and illuminates us. This is God’s Son who is transcendent and heavenly. Here the spiritual sun longs to enlighten and enliven our hearts and souls. The first life is wrapped up in earthly flesh and tends towards death. The second life is heavenward bent and leaps up to heaven inspired by Christ’s birth. Christ’s birth has taught us that with one eye on earthly life we tend towards His death. Yet, always with our other eye -the spiritual eye, we can focus on that light which leads back to Heaven’s life. And so with the poet we must toil and labor to be enlivened and illuminated by the greater sun, God’s own Son, so that at the Harvest of Souls we might be rewarded with God’s eternal treasure.
We must, therefore, keep our mind’s eye on that double motion of death and new life that we find in Jesus Christ. Our mind’s eye must beware of living in the light that leads only to the first death that will become the second eternal and unending death. Our mind’s eye must then see the sun and its other light so that we might follow Christ into the everlasting joy of eternal life. CHRIST being raised from the dead dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over Him. For in that He died, He died unto sin once: but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin: but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. vi. 9) Christ Jesus our Saviour is Risen from the dead. He invites us to become a part of that double motion that has destroyed death and generated new life. So we must seek those things which are above. (Col. iii. 1) Not above and beyond our reach, but above and beyond our wildest dreams and imaginings, above and beyond what we desire or deserve, above and beyond the threats of the world, the flesh, or the devil. And yet not above and beyond what God’s love can and will do for us. God’s love overcomes sin with righteousness and death with life. The double motion of earthly and heavenly life is bound up in the light of God’s sun, Jesus Christ. Seeming contraries are now swallowed up into Christ’s victorious love. What we seek is not above and beyond God’s ever-healing touch, His ever-quickening Spirit, or His ever-present desire to save His people. But yes, above and within the heart of Jesus, whose Glorified Body and Life are with the Father and also with us. Yes, above and within Jesus Christ Himself, in whom every aspect of our lives can become a new occasion for our rising up and out of ourselves, mortifying [our] members which are upon earth; [up and out of] our uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness….(Col. iii. 5) In our bodies, because hid within His Risen and Glorified Body. In our souls, because hid within His Risen and Glorified human Soul. In our manhood, because hid within His Manhood that invites us to discover the hidden depths of the Father’s hidden love. Christ is risen from the dead. Sin is finished, death is finished, Satan is finished, if only we shall believe that our life is hid with Christ in God. (Col. iii. 3)
CHRIST is risen from the dead: and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death: by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die: even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Cor. xv. 20. To be hid with Christ in God, we must be made alive. To be made alive we must become assimilated to Christ’s work, here and now, as we become part of His Glorified Body in time and space. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (St. John vi. 51) What is our life? To be hid with Christ in God. How can it be perfected? We must sit down and taste His meat (Herbert, “Love bade me welcome…”). Christ’s meat is His Body and Blood which we shall receive in the Holy Communion. This is the perpetual offering of Himself to us. When we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we do show the Lord’s death, until He comes again. (1 Cor. xi. 26) What do we show? His death. What does that mean? We take His death into us. What does it bring? New life in Him. When we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we do begin to reckon [ourselves] to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans vi. 11)
Thanks be to God that giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. xv. 57) On this Resurrection morn, let us remember that the motion of our destiny must be a double motion. If we intend with pleasure/ To gain at harvest and eternal treasure, we must be dying daily to earthly sin. There can be no eternal joy unless we have been broken over and over again through His death. New life demands death. False happiness, superficial earthliness, shortcuts to the kingdom, and all refusals to face the facts of our sin must die. We must die in the light of one sun to come live through another. [Our] life hath with the sun a double motion.... Monsignor Knox tells us that death, burial, resurrection comprise the secret of all sanctity. Our secret may be hid with Christ in God, but its joy must be experienced in our intimacy with Christ so that we cannot help but give it to all others. My…Life…is…Hid…in…Him…that…is…my…Treasure. (Idem) Happy Easter. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons