Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
"Raised with Christ"
A grouchy husband made it into heaven along with his wife. However he was still rather glum. "What’s wrong now?" the wife asked. "Can’t you see, we’re in heaven? This is beautiful—the music is great, the food is out of this world, the mansion has everything and more we’d ever dreamt of, the golf course is the best we’ve ever seen, there’s no fees, no taxes, our health is fantastic, why aren’t you happy? What’s wrong with you?"
The husband replied, "If we hadn’t eaten that miserable oat bran, we could have been here ten years ago."
The punch line of this joke compliments the words of our second lesson today. In this passage, the Christians at Colossae, which was a town of Phrygia in Asia Minor, close to Ephesus, were exhorted to focus on heaven. Earlier they had been told that through the entrance rite of Christianity; through the sacrament of Holy Baptism; they had died and risen with Christ. Now, continuing with that line of thought, they are instructed: "So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."
In other words, they are to live, to act like Easter people. They are to live and act as resurrection people. This is true, because for the writer of this letter, the resurrection is something that has already been accomplished in the past, the writer reminds them and us: "you have been raised with Christ," an action, a fact that has already occurred—not "you shall be raised with Christ" in the future. The resurrection is an accomplished action; a victory won; a fact that has now become part of Christian salvation history, says the writer of Colossians with utmost confidence.
Pastor and professor, Donald Deffner tells the following story: An atheist who served as a custodian at a seminary enjoyed baiting the young theologians. He told one who was reading a book about eternal life, "If you ask me, that’s so much hogwash. When you’re dead, you’re dead." The student replied, "You’re right, George. When you’re dead, you’re dead." The janitor walked away, wondering what in the world that young man was doing at a seminary. The student’s point was that hope of eternal life comes only after one has faced the reality of eternal death—which the janitor had not.1
Our second lesson reminds us that hope of eternal life comes only after we have faced the reality of eternal death. We have all done that when we were baptised. In baptism we were buried with Christ in his death and in baptism we were raised with Christ to new, resurrection life. Therefore, the writer exhorts the Colossian Christians to focus on this new reality of resurrection. Resurrection, says the writer, is to be the Christian’s entire orientation in life. Resurrection is the key, the guide, the reason for living life now in this world. Resurrection is the Christian’s life focus. What does that mean? Does it mean that we’re so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good? No, not at all! That is to misunderstand the message of our passage. Rather, it is to live life on earth in light of the reality, the accomplished fact that Christ, through his death and resurrection has won the victory for us and for everyone—that is why he is now "seated at the right hand of God." This picture of Christ being exalted, by sitting at God’s right hand is a Jewish concept of future reward in heaven; it is giving Christ the ultimate honour as the Messiah. It reminds one of a winner, victor after a great battle. Christ is the Victor, Christ is the Winner, and Christ is the Ultimate Conqueror. Hence militant Easter hymns like "The Strife Is O’er, the Battle Done," and "Thine Is the Glory" are most appropriate as we celebrate the truth of Easter Sunday and the power of the resurrection. Christ has defeated the powers of sin, death and evil. If that is true, says our second lesson, then the way we live as Christians each day points to that reality of the resurrection.
One of our magazines carried a cartoon of a pastor addressing an overflow congregation on Easter Sunday and asking, "Are you not just a little curious as to what goes on here between Easters?" Regardless of the motivation, what does Easter mean to you? Or rather, what does Christ mean to you? Do you reckon him a notable historical personage like Socrates, Buddha, Gandhi? Do you reverence him as the sublimest ethical teacher of all time? Or do you believe that he overcame the sharpness of death, that is to say, he is not only the Jesus of history but the Jesus of experience, alive and at work in the world here and now? If you incline to shy away from that last question, dismissing it perhaps as sheer mysticism, take another look at the facts. Christianity is something more than hero-worship. It is not just the perpetuation of a great memory. It is a relationship to and a fellowship with a Christ who is "alive for evermore." Everything in Christianity depends on the reality of the resurrection of Christ, on the fact that he rose from the grave, appeared to his disciples, made his presence felt in their lives, and still makes his presence felt, is in our generation as great an actuality as he was to his first followers.
"Shall I tell you," David Livingstone asked the students of Glasgow University on his return from sixteen years spent in Africa, "what sustained me amidst the toil and hardship, and loneliness of my exiled life? It was the promise, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end.’" For multitudes this is life’s most precious conviction. When they speak about Christ, they use not only the past and future tenses but the present tense as well. "Lo, I am with you always." That is the heartwarming, heart-gladdening fact we celebrate this morning.2
For us Christians, our ultimate security; our eternal home; our most healthy state of being is in heaven with God in Christ. That does not mean we are so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. Rather, that means living in light of the fact of our baptismal inheritance and covenant. That means living in light of the fact that, as our second lesson reminds us we: "have been raised with Christ." This is an accomplished fact that shapes all of our history, personally and collectively. In light of this fact, our life on earth can bring resurrection where there is death; hope to the hopeless; love to the loveless. In the face of all sufferings and failures—there is healing and ultimate victory thanks to our risen Saviour Jesus Christ. Yes, we "have been raised with Christ!" Alleluia! Amen.
1 Donald L. Deffner, Sermons for Church Year Festivals (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1997), p. 68.
2 Robert J. McCracken, "The Inevitableness of Easter," in: Paul H. Sherry, Editor, The Riverside Preachers: Fosdick McCracken Campbell Coffin (New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1978), pp. 99-100.