Eucharist Sermon - 7 February 2021

The Second Sunday before Lent
Colossians 1: 15-20; John 1: 1-14
The Revd Philippa White, Precentor and School Chaplain

Christ himself is before all things and in him all things hold together.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Salvation.

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.
                    On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.

R.S. Thomas, The Coming, H’m (1972)

There are various places in the Old Testament – particularly Proverbs and Psalms – where we glimpse an addition to the familiar stories of creation at the beginning of Genesis. In those, the wisdom of God is present when creation begins. Working with God, like the master builder to God’s architect. Rejoicing in God’s presence at all that is made, and delighting especially in human beings, made in the image of God.

That’s the set of stories on which the familiar prologue to John’s Gospel and the reading from Colossians draw. The Colossians reading is a hymn, so similar to language about Wisdom in the Old Testament and in Jewish devotional writing that some think it a hymn to Wisdom, revised to apply to Jesus. Not wisdom, but Christ is the image of the invisible God. Or perhaps, Christ is the wisdom of God whom we’ve always known about.

These poems, lyrical and theological reflections on the Jesus who had lived and taught and healed not so very long before, are the beginning of the process in the first four Christian centuries of hammering out arguments about who Jesus was and how he related to God and to the faith into which he had come. They’re at the beginning of the process that ends with the Nicene Creed – ‘eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made.’

Jesus is before all things, writes the author of Colossians, and in him all things hold together.

This takes us back to the creation stories about Wisdom. All things hold together in Jesus because all things were created through Jesus, the Word and Wisdom of God present and participating in creation. But all things hold together in Jesus too because Jesus is the Word spoken in the world, the Word who became flesh and lived among us, Jesus who saw our world and said, in the words of the RS Thomas poem with which I began, Let me go there.

Jesus, the very Christ in and through and for whom all things were created, the image of the invisible God, came to us. And in him all things hold together: things in heaven and things on earth.

When the Word became flesh, suddenly heaven and earth were held together – together in the body of Jesus, human and divine. In him all things hold together, the heavenly and the earthly. Nothing out of reach of God’s love.

And when the Word became flesh, as we hear in RS Thomas, birth and death, Bethlehem and Golgotha, incarnation and passion are held together too. The Word became flesh; Jesus was born in Bethlehem; knowing how his earthly story would end. With a bare tree, a bare hill, crossed boughs; blood and pain and death.

‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 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 the Cross.’

Birth and death, creation and salvation, heaven and earth, us and God: in Jesus all things hold together. And that matters.

It matters on the cosmic scale that is so big it seems abstract, but is the very foundation of the world.

And it matters on our own scale.

In Jesus all things hold together – not in us. So if we are feeling the strain of holding everything together: in our team at work, in an institution, in a community group, among volunteers, in our family, for friends who are struggling – be comforted. In Christ, not in us, all things hold together.

And if we are feeling helpless, hopeless, as if there is no place for us in a world that has changed – be comforted. In Christ, not in us, all things hold together.

And Christ who holds all things together calls us to hold together faith with our doubt; hope with our fear; acts of love and service with our helplessness. For in Christ we are held together too, and held in solidarity with the world to which Christ came, where we and all humanity hold out our arms in almost hopeless hope, to the bare tree that awaits Christ’s coming.

In Jesus all things hold together: incarnation and passion, creation and salvation. The Jesus who is God’s Wisdom and Word, speaking all that is into being, is the same Jesus who came to this ruined creation and into it brought salvation. And each of us, called into his life, are called to be part of that same work: held together with Christ in hope, and called to hold together faith and action.

For the mystery and the awe-full joy is this: if Jesus is truly God, before all things, then he chose to come. To our scorched, crusted, shadowy world; to bare trees, slimy rivers, and vanished Aprils.

Jesus, truly God, the Word and Wisdom of God, there before anything else existed – chose to limit himself to humanness for a time. Because his heart broke for us. Because he was willing to have his body broken for us.

In the bread which will be broken in a few minutes, we see Jesus: the Word made flesh, in whom all things hold together, broken apart. And this too is not ironic, but paradox – as all real truth is. It is in the breaking open of the body of Jesus, on that bare tree that saddened the sky, that all things hold together: the breaking of his body on the bare hill of Calvary, the temple curtain torn in two, is the bringing together of us with God, the reason that in Jesus all things hold together. And the breaking of his body under substance of bread at the altar is the place and the moment where all time holds together. It is the place and the moment where the body of the church is held together with its head, Christ. It is the place and the moment where our bodies are held together with the body of Jesus.

And even when we can only see it on a screen, it is nevertheless real. Even when we cannot receive the broken body of Christ in our hands and our mouths, the breaking of his body at the altar still does its work: holding us together with him. Still takes its part in the one breaking of his body once and for all on the crossed boughs of the Tree, still participates in his work: holding all things together. Until that day when all things will be made new – things in heaven and things on earth; and in that new creation, it will still be Christ who holds all things together. And we will see his glory at last, full of grace and truth.

and that will be heaven
at last   the first unclouded

   to stand like the sunflower
turned full face to the sun           drenched
with light             in the still centre
held       while the circling planets
hum with an utter joy

                 seeing and knowing
at last                in every particle
seen and known                 and not turning

                 never turning away

Evangeline Paterson, and that will be heaven,
from the Lion Book of Christian Poetry, ed. Mary Batchelor, Lion (2005)