Raised with Christ - Lectionary Reflection for Easter A (Colossians 3)
Colossians 3:1-4 NRSV
3 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Although Easter has arrived, this particular year (the year I write this), churches won’t be gathering for in-person services (or at least they shouldn’t be gathering in person). Instead of in-person gatherings, most of us are trying to find alternate ways of being together online. While we grieve the loss of this opportunity to join in singing the great Easter hymns (Christ the Lord is Risen, Crown Him with Many Crowns) and share in all the other elements that make Easter special, it might be worth remembering that on that first Easter morning, the followers of Jesus were either scattered to their own homes or perhaps hiding out in an upper room, while a few brave souls, including Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John checked out the tomb. They didn’t gather in a sanctuary colorfully decorated with lilies and tulips. While I find the organ to be a powerful instrument on Easter morning, they didn’t have organs either.
With that reminder concerning the first Easter morning, might we hear the witness to the resurrection offered to us by the Colossian letter? Whether the author is Paul or not (and for the sake of simplicity I’m assuming Pauline authorship), this letter offers us one of the most robust discussions of the Cosmic Christ in the hymn (Col. 1:15-20). While the reading for today comes from chapter 3, which has a more practical application, I think it is appropriate to consider that hymn as the backdrop to this reading.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Col. 1:15-20)
The one, whose resurrection, we celebrate is the “image of the invisible God.” In him, all things were created. In him, the “fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” This is the one whose resurrection and exaltation we come to celebrate. We have been raised with Christ who sits exalted at the right hand of God. Yes, Easter has cosmic implications. Death has met its match. So, let us “crown him with many crowns.”
In these four verses of chapter 3 of Colossians Paul applies the message of the resurrection to the daily lives of the Christians gathered in Colossae. Note the realized eschatology present here— “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above.” Paul is assuming that they were already resurrected with Christ, maybe not physically, but they received the promissory note of resurrection, so in Paul’s mind, they should live accordingly. That is they should “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Yes, Paul presumes that the heavens lie above the earthly realm, so looking up is an appropriate metaphor. We might not view the universe in quite the same way as first-century folks did, but I think we can work with the metaphor. Paul wants the church to focus on the things of God, rather than on earthly things. That may sound like an encouragement to live our lives in such a way that we’re so heavenly minded that we’re of no earthly good, I don’t think so. Instead, the concern here is the orientation of our lives. Do we orient our lives to the ways of God, or do we follow the lead of a narcissistic culture?
As we read this word, we might want to think in terms of baptism. While it’s not explicit here, we could read this in light of Romans 6, where Paul makes a clear connection between one’s baptism and one’s participation in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. This is the word we read in Romans: “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” (Rom. 6:3-4).
While Paul assumes that our resurrection is accomplished in the resurrection of Jesus, we still live mortal lives. We still await the full revelation of Christ’s glory, but the promise is there. If you read further along in the chapter, from verses 5-11, you will find more specific instructions as to what it means to live a resurrection life.
But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all! (Col. 3:8-11 NRSV)
With this word of admonition, might we celebrate the day of Christ's resurrection. And, If we understand this word in light of the letter’s cosmic vision, the resurrection of Jesus has turned everything upside down, or perhaps better right-side up. We have drawn into that cosmic vision because we share in the resurrection in Christ, and we can enjoy the blessings of that event.
As John of Damascus declared many centuries in the past:
Now let the heavens be joyful! Let earth its song begin!
The world resound in triumph, and all that is therein;
Let all things seen and unseen their notes of gladness blend;
For Christ the Lord has risen, our joy that has no end.
—“The Day of Resurrection!” Chalice Hymnal, #228, vs. 3