11-10-2021 Colossians 1:18-29
When we think about the human body, when we think about the physical human body, we think about the body itself, it’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s functions. We tend to judge what we can or cannot do based on our physical condition and then contemplate what we can do to correct any faults or errors that our bodies may have. But, what we so seldom consider is the role that our head, our brain, our mind, plays in this development as well. I think of numerous people that I’ve met throughout my life who were in perfect physical condition, people of whom a photo would spawn envy in athletes everywhere, and yet an issue in their head has caused their bodies to mis-function, leaving them physically impaired. This is fully worth noting here, because although the body may be perfectly able to function, it all comes down to it’s ability to perform those tasks which the brain is telling it to. And the inverse is equally true as well. The perfect brain telling the imperfect body to perform certain tasks could very easily result in a failure to perform that tasks. That imperfect body becomes trained into habits that are not conducive to the tasks which the mind has set forth to accomplish.
This has full bearing on todays passage and thus we must take this into consideration and keep it in mind as we go through it. The Church is the Body of Christ, thus we are the Body of Christ. Yet we, as humans, are far from perfect. St John tells us that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is far from us.” (1 John 1:8). And yet, St Paul writes of Jesus stating that “He is the head of the body.” He who is without sin is telling the imperfect body what to do. Even though we are separated from God by our imperfections, the point remains that we are of one nature; we were created in His image and His likeness. It was through our own free will that we were separated from Him, and there becomes a goal of reconciliation of the Head with the body. A reconciliation of us to Him, that we can be fully joined together with Him in the Kingdom.
Now, consider someone who is lazy. And their brain begins to tell them that there’s something wrong with their lives. It begins to tell them to exercise, to work out, to go outdoors and do something. When they first begin to listen to their brain and start performing those tasks, it is difficult. Their bodies have become acclimated to this particular lifestyle and so it resists. The body is used to lying around doing nothing, so when the mind says to go outside and go biking or walking, it finds everything that it can do to make this as uncomfortable as possible. And we can either surrender to this discomfort or we can begin to slowly build up another lifestyle. What I have found from exercising is that the more frequently you do it, the easier it becomes.
And in application, I’ve found this same truth to be true spiritually as well. We begin to form habits. When we don’t attend the liturgy for a few weeks, it becomes easier to stay up late on Saturday and sleep in on Sunday than to make the sacrifice of not fulfilling the body’s desire to have fun on Saturday night. When we skip the prayer rule in the morning, it becomes much easier to skip it in the afternoon and evening as well. We develop the habit of satiating earthly desires instead of fulfilling spiritual needs. We see this in the Church as well. And Jesus, who is the head of the Church, tells us those things which we must do instead. And it’s hard to fathom the idea of making those sacrifices. Most of us, if we’re honest, would much rather spend two hours on social media or watching the TV than spend thirty minutes before the icons in prayer. Most of us will gladly arrive at the bar at nine and stay five hours, but don’t want to spend two hours in the liturgy. I’ve met self-proclaimed Christians that will watch a two hour concert on the television and then say that it’s too late to say their prayers. And all of those things are the imperfect body trying to preside over the perfect head.
But what we must strive to understand is that Christ is the fullness of all things who came down to teach us, not merely in words, but in His actions, what we were created to be. He came, if you’ll forgive the expression, to lead by example. “He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death,” (Hebrews 5:7); “After the crowds went away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.” (Matthew 14:23); “It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12). There are so many times that we find in the Scripture that Jesus went to pray, He even prayed for the salvation of those who were crucifying Him, while He was being crucified. And He calls us to do the same. In our sin, we create this division between us and Him, and in His coming down in the flesh, He came to reconcile this, to end the alienation between God and creation, between the head and the imperfect body. And He did all of this through words, but also through being the example of what the perfect life in God should look like. And through this, the Church truly becomes the Body of Christ, the source of restoration and fulfillment.
Paul speaks of the body of His flesh as being mortal (capable of dying) humanity of Christ before the resurrection. And yet, we cannot become one with Him until we are united to Him in His death and resurrection. Until we put off the old man and become a new creation in Christ. It is through His death that we die with Him, we die to our sinful ways, we begin to become the new body that starts to obey what the head is telling us to do. And this can be very painful. Anyone who has lived a lazy life and begins to exercise will tell you that it is painful at first to begin being physically active again, and yet, the more frequently it is done, the easier it becomes. To put off old habits and ways of life is often a struggle, but it helps to strengthen our ways in the long run. At one time I never prayed, I didn’t believe in it, but to slowly work my way into it I feel has helped me appreciate more and more the power of prayer in my life. In making sacrifices, not out of a legalistic approach, but out of faith, I’ve seen the blessings that I’ve been given with much more appreciation, knowing that because of them I’ve been able to help others as well.
And St Paul continues to tell what this reconciliation looks like. To continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, obedient to what Christ has said and clinging to the promises regardless of what the world says. He says that he rejoices in the sufferings that the world has imposed upon him, because the Church and Christ are so intimately bound that, as we may suffer and die, so too does He suffer with us in His works of reconciliation. To be reconciled with Christ while alive in the flesh is a painful process, not only from the breaking of old sinful ways and habits, but also because the world doesn’t align with the teachings of Christ. And so to have the mind of Christ in the world is almost guaranteed to offer pain, suffering, rejection. But, as he wrote in his letter to Ephesus, all of his sufferings are but naught for having gained Christ. And, Christ so loved the world, He loves His children, and He suffers with us whenever we suffer in His name.
Paul concludes this passage by speaking of fulfilling the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from the ages but now has been revealed. This mystery is that “in Him, through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace…having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His pleasure which He purposed in Himself” (Ephesians 1:7-9). Notice how often Jesus is referenced in that passage. His blood, His grace, His will, His pleasure, He purposed. We do nothing more than follow Him, we obey Him (His will), and He does everything else. And this mystery is fully experienced in the sacraments of the Church.
It is dually important to note that Paul constantly stresses that it is not through our works that we can attain to this eternal paradise, it is through our faith. But, true salvific faith is far beyond a mere mental acknowledgement of His existence, it is to become a true child of God. It is to look to Him as a Father and therefore, as with any son or daughter, obey what our Father says. When we are baptized, we die with Christ. We die to our old selves, our old ways, and begin anew in Christ. And, inevitably, when we see our old selves begin to slowly creep back in, we must strive even harder to become like Christ. This is part of why confession is so important in our spiritual lives. We are forgiven for our sins through the sacrament of confession, but also it gives us the chance to inflect on our lives, to see exactly where that old self is creeping back in, and to pray for the strength to resist those urges, those habits which we ingrained in our lives for so many years. And we must remember that God loved us so much that He gave mankind His expectations, and we failed. He gave us His commandments, and we failed. He put His expectations in writing (the Torah), and we failed. So, He came down in the flesh and not only told us in His words, but exemplified for us the suffering and betrayal that we would encounter, and we still fail every day of our lives. But, because of His love for us, He never gives up on us. There is always hope, so long as there is faith. True salvific faith, which must lead to obedience to Him, and in turn leads to change in ourselves. Just as the lazy person can eventually break those habits if the brain never gives up, so also can we be changed in accordance with the Will of God.
Christ is in our midst.