Christ the Centre

Dr Sarah Mortimer
The Second Sunday before Lent


Choral Eucharist

Colossians 1:15-20; John 1:1-14

As a teenager I was prone to asking awkward questions.  I was curious about the world around me and what was happening within it.   And curious too about the explanations which I was given, only some of which ever seemed to make sense to me.  Always the most mysterious were the responses to my questions about religion, and as I went to a school with compulsory chapel there was plenty to spark my imagination - but also baffle my grasp of logic.  This being a very English school, enthusiasm was frowned upon, and so I tried to figure out some of these strange Christian ideas for myself, under the radar.  I’m not sure how far I got with the doctrines, but what I did learn was that these ideas mattered, that somehow they can shape who we are and who we become.   That our theology, our sense of God, lies at the heart of our lives and our communities, whether we realise and understand it or not.

I suspect some version of this story will be familiar to many, the curiosity, the sense of seeking, the ongoing search for truth and meaning – wherever it takes us.  For this, I think, is one of our defining characteristics as human beings: we long to understand and make sense of the world around us, a world shot through with light and beauty, but also a world that can be dark and difficult, a world where we are often loved, but also often hurt.  We long, or at least I long, for the truth that binds everything together, not by papering over those tensions but by holding it, drawing us and our lives into true relationship.  Our hope and our curiosity grow together, hand in hand.

This human search is not at all new, of course, and our readings this morning are at aimed squarely at people like this, people who are curious and hopeful.  People who desire and long to know the deepest truths of life, of their relationship to God and each other, people who will not settle for easy answers.  And these are not simple readings; they challenge and stretch our minds and imaginations.  Even more, though, they speak to our hearts.  For they offer us glimpses of God as Trinity, especially of the relationship between Father and Son.  But they offer us this vision not primarily as knowledge or information about faraway metaphysical beings, but as a reality which changes our lives, as truth which reorientates the world in new and dramatic ways – if we find the space to be curious and to listen, in hope and faith.  For then we might just find that what initially seems most abstract can in fact be most real. 

I want to focus for a moment on St Paul’s words to the Colossians, these rich verses which may be an early Christian hymn, whose language is poetic and seriously complex.   Paul knows he is writing to a community fascinated by ideas and philosophy, used to debating the latest, shiniest, theories, and now excited by what they hear of the gospel.   He wants to encourage their questioning, but also to invite them to see the world anew, to see the world in hope.  For the divine truth of this hymn is not like the speculative metaphysics that they may have heard before, it’s not just ivory tower conjecture.  It speaks of what lies at the heart of the universe, the centre around which it all coheres, which draws it together into harmony and unity.  This, Paul says, is Jesus Christ, through whom all things and all people were created and through whom they are reconciled, with God and with each other.   It is in Christ that we humans can see something of the divine presence that creates and saves and reconciles us, and come to share in the true fullness of life.

But reconciliation is rarely easy.  It is not a forgetting of the past or a simple blunting of its harsh, rough edges, but the holding together of that which has been broken, even in its brokenness, in the jaggedness of its pieces.   As human beings, we love and we care, and so we are vulnerable, for love and relationship and vulnerability are, as we know, all bound up together.  True reconciliation does not deny who we are and who we have been, but allows us to see it anew, within the story of God’s own vulnerability, of Christ’s arms stretched out upon the cross.    Paul’s words, poetic and mysterious, point us to this great cosmic reality and invite us to live in its light and in its hope.   And as I read them now these words seem to me not so much answers to questions as glimpses of a vision, one that calls on us to see the new horizons it can open.

That sense of new horizons, of a new way of living in the world, is one of the themes of John’s gospel that is announced in the wonderful prologue we heard once more.   John tells us of God as Word and as light, coming and dwelling with us, not to overpower or subdue us but to share that light with us.  Here we can find true relationship, ‘the power to become children of God’, because in Jesus we will see what it means to be the Father’s son, to live ‘full of grace and truth’.  In seeing that relationship we will be drawn to become part of it, to live as God’s children, reconciled to God and to each other.  The truth that we find in the Christian story is one that will dwell with us and in us, spurring our curiosity even as it strengthens our love.    And, as Jesus will say later in John’s gospel, it is by our love, for God and for each other, that we show ourselves to be disciples, show that we have caught a glimpse of that great truth at the heart of the universe, of God as love and God as Trinity in Unity.  When we do not love, when we are selfish or exclude others, then we show how much we still have to learn, for love and truth will not be separated.

As I’ve reflected on these readings, this week and over the years, I still find them mysterious, opaque, difficult to understand however much I try.  Yet in their mysteriousness I also find hope, for these words affirm our quest for truth, our search for understanding, our longing for true relationship, true reconciliation.  They show that without questions and curiosity and the desire in our hearts that they express then we cannot grow in faith or love, for God or for each other.   For it is only as our lives are opened to the infinite grace of God and to the redeeming light of Christ that we can come to learn what we are seeking for.  And, through that grace, to find the abundant, eternal life that our hearts truly desire.