First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages from the Lectionary

Easter Sunday

William Loader

Easter Day: 20 April Colossians 3:1-4

This passage does not stand alone. Immediately before it we have an attack on a religiosity which puts great store on obedience to commandments relating to what appear to be external ritual concerns. "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" (2:21). Possibly they have their background in a form of religious fundamentalism which is applying biblical purity laws. There may also be some allusion to sexual abstinence. These form part of a world of fearful religiosity which holds people captive to oughts and, in the case of Colossians, to angels who appear to administer the laws (2:22). Colossians has had to insist that in such a world of competing powers, Christ is the ultimate power and only power that matters and that Christ's power is not to oppress but to liberate and reconcile all things and all people (1:15-20).

So part of the emphasis of the opening statement of our passage is: leave religion behind, even if it masquerades as Christian! The identity of the believer comes from joining with Christ. As Christ rejected what is evil (including religious evil) and rose to new life, so we have left behind the machinations of evils, including its religious forms, to enter new life. Our attention is to be directed towards "those things that are above". Within the author's frame of reference above and below reflect closeness and distance in relation to God. We can just as easily turn the image upside down and speak about seeking what is in the depths.

As long as we recognise that this is imagery we can keep ourselves from perverting the statement into a call to otherworldliness or thinking only about 'heaven'. Part of the image sees Christ enthroned at God's right hand. This derives from Psalm 110:1 in which the psalmist reports God's words to the king at his coronation: "Sit at my right hand!" Christians and possibly already other Jewish groups recycled this psalm as a prediction of what would also be true for God's Anointed, the Royal Messiah. And so it comes to refer to Jesus as Messiah. But, here, too the ideas have tumbled forward into something which leaves Jewish hopes behind; they now become a Christian assertion about God and the world. The enthronement expresses in an image that Christ exercises God's being and purpose, as he did in his life. God's being is Christ-shaped wherever it is. That has less to do with the glory and might of eastern royalty and more to do with God the compassionate and the reconciler as the preceding chapters show. God's goodness seeks to embody all reality in harmony, justice and peace and to disempower the forces that destroy.

"Things below" in 3:2 might just as well refer to the religious preoccupations of the previous chapter as they do to what follows the passage where, more widely, acts of immorality and division come into focus. One could translate these ideas in 3:2 into an exhortation to follow a new set of rules defined by Christ, but this misses the dynamic of the passage and the context, which speaks rather of a corporate reality, a body, in which things happen because of connections (2:19). Here the assumption is that focus matters. Goals drive behaviour. More than that, setting one's mind (3:2) means making a relationship central in which we share a vision and a purpose and this, in the context of an ongoing relationship, generates the fruit of goodness in us. Resurrection life is focused life in which the passion (vision but also vulnerability) of the crucified and risen one takes hold of us and does things to us.

That focus also gives expression to a belonging with Christ, and, of course, that means ultimately with God. To be hidden in God at one level is a promise of enclosure and warmth. We enter this belonging by faith. It comes close to an image of God as mother in and through whom we wait to be born anew. We are hidden in God. Colossians employs "hidden" in the ancient sense of something waiting to come to light. The language frequently applies to God's plans and purposes and was a favourite among those who sought to interpret history as the unveiling (apocalypsis) of God's design. Sometimes the image is of a scroll whose seals are broken. As it unrolls things begin to happen. It can be very fatalistic and unhelpful. But the image here is not about fate or theories of determinism.

It is the poetry of hope: we ourselves become part of God's being to be unveiled in the world. This is not about becoming dazzling and powerful revelations of God, let alone gods. It is however about being revealed as belonging to God and sharing in God's glory, that is, God's being. The allusion is probably to the common view that there will be a climax in which Christ appears in glory with God and all those who belong to him - the so-called second coming. That is the primary focus of the text.

Standing back from it, however, we can see that this notion of being hidden in God and then being revealed is a pattern for thinking about spirituality and about spiritual action - at any time. We are called to become so hidden in the being of God that we become part of God's event, God's "doings" in the world. That is glorious - but not in the sense of the self indulgence of oriental monarchs but in the sense of being vibrant, alive, and shining with God's being. This is, indeed, resurrection life.

Gospel: Easter Day: 20 April  Matthew 28:1-10
or Easter Day: 20 April  John 20:1-18

Epistle Alternative:  Easter Day 20 April  Acts 10:34-43

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