Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"Hidden with Christ in God," Col. 3:1-4

Here's something I wrote last spring for a manuscript which I'm circulating among potential publishers. My mother's death in September makes me appreciate again the truths that I tried to affirm and describe:

Following the monthly communion service at our church, I turned to a passage that, although not specifically Eucharistic, connects to the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory (Col. 3:1-4)

I've cited this favorite passage elsewhere, especially verse 3, “for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

"Hidden with Christ in God" makes me think of being kept in a protective and secure place, out of reach of danger. Obviously, we still face difficult and dangerous, painful situations. But if we have a relationship with Christ----even a small, tenuous faith, a dimly burning wick (Isa. 42:3)----then Christ keeps us out of reach of the full powers of death and evil.

How have we “died” if we’re still alive?  Our physical lives will last a while but are temporary, ephemeral.  But meanwhile, we participate in the reality of Christ's death and resurrection---a realm of reality, so to speak, which is forceful and real for us today, even though the historical events happened long ago----so that now, our sins and wrongdoings and failures (and our smallness in the universe) have no more force to separate us from God.  Now, we continue to live our physical lives, which are temporary and ephemeral, but our true, new life, which is in God, is “hidden with Christ.”  Baptism is a sign of this safekeeping, our “burial” with Christ, so that as Christ is buried we are buried with him, and as he has risen from death so too will we be raised to eternal life:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Roman 6:3-11).

You have to draw a parallel between being covered in a certain amount of water, and being covered with dirt.  There are different modes of being baptized, and there are different ways by which our dead bodies are respectfully disposed of.  But the main idea is that we are "covered" (hidden) by the power found in Christ's death and then our true lives are lasting and eternal and live with God's life (that is, we are united with him in his resurrection).

We also participate in Christ’s death in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  In the language Jesus used in John chapter 6----off-putting language because it sounds so cannibalistic, and contrary to Jewish respect for life by, for instance, never ingesting animals’ blood----the life force of Jesus’ own blood and physical body become powerful forces for our own lives, both the lives we live now and the eternal, infinite life that is Christ’s own life, given to us.  But in a related way to the sacrament of baptism, that life force is given to us as we share in Christ’s death---in this case, his blood and body surrendered for our benefit by his execution.

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

Each time we share the bread and wine, we’re “preaching.”  We’re witnessing to the fact that our lives---and anybody’s----are hidden away and safeguarded by God.  Our very lives are tucked away and protected, so to speak, because we’re already sharing in the divine life of Christ.  Nothing we do in this life can separate us from God’s great love, because we have already died and been buried, so to speak.  If we’re already dead and interred in Christ’s own death, then of course we have a new identity for the remainder of our physical existence, characterized and empowered by God’s tremendous and infinite love.

We Gentile Christians don’t think too much about the Jewish purity laws, other than Deuteronomy 21:23, which Paul quotes in Gal. 3:13-14 to show how Christ took the curse of the law for us.  But any dead body, not just an executed person, conveys uncleanness if touched, and God’s Torah provided means by which persons could be purified from that uncleanness (Lev. 21:1-4, Num. 5:1-4, 19:1-21, 31:17-24). God incarnate in Christ died a human death: God took on that impurity, that uncleanness!  This, too, is a way that Christ embraced fully the tragedy of human nature---our mortality, the horror of death---so that Christ’s life sustains and redeems us, now and forever.

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