31 Jul 2016
“For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:3)
In the name …
The other day I was going through the church’s mail when I came across a letter from the Vice President and General Manager of AT&T New England. Now that’s a mighty impressive position. I’m sure the Vice President is a well-educated and intelligent person so what she has to say is important and not a waste of her time or of mine. The letter is addressed to Holy Name of Jesus Church and with that formality out of the way it then proceeds to say in a surprisingly casual tone, “Hi, Jesus.” Wow, she thinks I’m Jesus. That’s pretty cool. A few times I’ve heard parents tell me that their young son or daughter thought that I was God, but this is a grown-up, corporate executive calling me Jesus. In today’s reading from the Epistle to the Colossians we are told that our lives are “hidden with Christ in God.” Maybe the Russians can find Hillary’s lost emails, and maybe AT&T got me confused with Jesus because they found out that “my life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Or did you hear what the Patriot’s head coach, Bill Belichick, said in an interview this past week. On Friday, a reporter asked him if there were a chance Jimmy Garoppolo would keep his job as starter for the Patriots' fifth game of the season, even though Tom Brady's suspension will be lifted after the fourth game. Belichick’s succinct answer: “Jesus Christ.” Again, maybe Tom or Jimmy are also “hidden with Christ in God” and Belichick just got them confused because why else would he use Jesus’ name in that way?
But for as unpolished as this form-letter is and inappropriate as Belichick’s answer, they may be able to help us understand a very bewildering statement about us Christians having died and then having our lives hidden with Christ in God. Maybe they’re jarring enough to help us realize how close we are supposed to be as Christians to Christ.
So to begin we should know that all of this talk about “raised with Christ” and “you have died and your life is hidden with Christ” is not about dead Christians. It is early church language for baptism. Back in that day, baptisms were performed on adults and often by a full immersion. Jesus went into the Jordan River to be baptized by John, and I’m sure Christians would have tried to mimic this practice in some way as they baptized. And the earliest church saw a hidden reality being played out in all of this. As the person was submerged under the water in the rite of baptism, it symbolized the death and burial of Jesus. As Jesus actually died so the person being baptized died to his or her old life when they went under the waters of baptism. That’s why we hear the injunction: “Put to death the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and the greed that is idolatry.” (Col. 3:5) Baptism was more than a one-time event. Baptism was supposed to be the beginning of a brand new lifestyle as a Christian, as a person living like Christ, actually dying to their old life.
This new life was connected directly to Jesus’ resurrection. Just as Jesus was resurrected so the person emerging from the waters of baptism was reborn. The old ways are replaced by the new. This means that the baptized person should be a changed person. This is why we hear in Colossians: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” (Col. 3:1) The one baptized is now called a Christian, and Christian means that “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Jesus, in other words, surrounds, enfolds and encompasses us. That’s how close Christ and Christian are meant to be. So a letter whose salutation is “Hi, Jesus” or a coach who confuses his quarterback with “Jesus Christ” is kind of, sort of, onto something. Obviously, it’s only an automated form letter and the “Hi, Jesus” is because of Holy Name of Jesus, and Belichick was just annoyed by what he thought to be a ridiculous question, but the idea that each of us who have been baptized are hidden with Christ in God is no mistake. There is a very real connection between Christ and Christian, and we’re supposed to live up to that connection so that we and others can even imagine a confusion of names. That’s where the name Christian comes from; His name becomes our name.
And this all ties-in with Jesus’ parable of the rich fool. Here was a person judged successful and probably happy by the standards of the world. He could lead a life of leisure and he was free from all want. His priority was only this life. But in the parable God calls the man a fool because he could not see anything beyond his own pleasures. Not only did the rich fool not see the promise of eternal life; he also would not consider the needs of his neighbours. Their plight was unimportant to him. It was not his concern or responsibility. He lived only to fulfill his own pleasures. Instead of being “hidden with Christ in God,” he was hidden in piles of his own ego and his own stuff, and neither last or make a difference for good in the world. And so God calls the man a fool. We only have a certain amount of time and a certain number of chances to make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of others. If we blow past all of them and only think about the power and potential of more money, if we only think of ourselves, then we are ignoring the promise of all of our baptisms to “be hidden with Christ in God.”
That we may not be judged a fool by God. That we may instead be confused with Jesus because we take Christ and our name as Christian so seriously. For this may we pray in Jesus’ most holy of names. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo