[I will be absent for the next week focusing solely on writing study notes for Bible study. My absence was pre-planned and in no way indicate I have taken the energetic advice of my critic to cease function as a blogger or as a priest.]
Today many of us attended a church where the second reading came from Colossians 1:15-28. Most scholars assume that St. Paul has is quoting an ancient hymn to Jesus. We know from secular sources that Christians sang hymns to Christ as God. Much of the original intent of the hymn and Paul's reason for using it are lost on us. Paul is responding to both pagan and Jewish "adversaries" in this letter, as well as addressing fellow Christians. [It is the nature of communication.] No doubt some of the intricacies are lost and our best theories may make sense, but sometimes reality does not make sense! No tragedy here, though, even if we cannot fully and completely understand everything about this song, we can understand much and receive insight and joy as a result.
We begin Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation; 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. He Himself is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
The Greek eiekon (= image, likeness) is where we get the word icon. With these words we are provided all we need to know about Jesus' identity. He is The Unseen 'seen.' Christianity finds its heart and center here. Too often people believe that Christianity is about salvation. "If you die today where will you spend eternity?" asks the sincere evangelist. That question, however important, is secondary. The primary question is who is God? In light of that question comes a related, equally important question, "Who is Jesus?" In the verse above we have the remarkable answer of those witnesses of Jesus' life and those who trust in Him.
God cannot be seen. God is beyong concrete reality. He stands outside of time: past, present, future are all eternally within Him. To use words which can not convey the reality, God is eternally and fully now, above and beyond time. He is eternal, without beginning, middle or end. To ponder such a thing is to literally lose one's mind (hence the experience of mystics in deepest prayerful meditation). We tend to think of eternity as a looooong time or God as SuperPowered (like the comic books). We cannot grasp God, the person or the concept. By analogy, we stand with a plastic cup (our mind) before the ocean (God) and seek to contain in the limited what is beyond our holding. Yet the effort to know God is not futile. He has revealed Himself to us, through creation, for example, and even more directly through the prophets. From time to time the veil is lifted and we get a glimpse ourself, perhaps in prayer, study or experiences. What Paul shares with us here, however, is that the fullness of that revelation is found in the man, Jesus.
This is why we Christians are compelled to deny that there are many ways to God. Jesus is God. He alone reveals the Father because He alone is the full revelation of the Father. And He has done so for all eternity, before the world or time existed. In Sweet & Viola's book on Jesus they state, "Jesus is God's Self Knowledge." The words of Jesus provide insight into God. Jesus is not fundamentally an ethical teacher, though He does teach ethics. Jesus is not fundamentally a religious instructor, nor is He a political, social, or communal leader, though He also functions in those realms. He is, first and foremost, The Image of God, The Creator (in Him, Through Him) and the Purpose (for Him) of creation. Everything holds together in Him.
Some choose to reject such ideas. God is invisible so it is possible to not see. Some would make Jesus a teacher and project on Him their particular politcal/social/ethical concerns (all of us do it to some extent, I am guilty) and see nothing more than that (some of us see Him as more than our projections). However, Paul invites us to ponder "what if?" What if Jesus is the face of God? What if Jesus, before time and before incarnation, was the means by which it all came to be and somehow at the heart of things, the heart of all things, He is the principle which holds it all together?
If so then self emptying, being for other, poured out in love is the most real thing we encounter. If so, faith and trust in the face of all darkness is the best way. If so, loving others, even, perhaps especially, those who are mean and cruel and hateful, is the higher way. If so, then the Cross is what holds it all together. Cross and resurrection, of course.
God reconciles a sinful world to Himself, we read later, by the blood of that cross. He redeems our pains and sorrows, out alienation and injury, our offenses and transgresssions; He takes it all into Himself and brings it to its end. This is not easily understood. Some of us are too angry, too lost, too distracted to begin to ponder such a mystery. Perhaps bad Christians have tainted the Jesus story? Perhaps bad experiences close our mind to the wonderful Good News of a God so committed to people? Perhaps God is too subtle for our tastes in all this; Jesus is not big or loud enough for our submission? All these and ten thousand other obstacles stand in the way. Not least, we are just tired and busy and our little cup cannot hold that ocean so we dare not even dip it in to know what we can know.
For those with hope, or desire to know God in Jesus, Colossains 1:15-28 provides a great starting place. The fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Him, of course that fullness is mediated through the limitations of time and space. Suddenly, it is not God's limits which are manifest, but the limits of time and space are exposed. How can eternity walk and talk in Judah, eat and sleep in Nazareth, laugh and cry in Samaria? How can the fullness of "beyond time" be live today and wonder about tomorrow? In Jesus we experience the Eternal One, but only an aspect of Eternity, the small part revealed among us in time and space...
Such questons may beckon, but do not lose focus. Search Jesus with a hungry heart and a yearning faith and the Light of God will open into your own darkness. In the end, perhaps, you will find the small cup has grown to the size of a barrel (even a swimming pool). It is not all there is, but it is plenty to sustain you until that day when you are transformed to share in the fullness of His life. Then all will be clearer...