Hid with Christ in God

By Derek Olsen*

One of my friends was recently writing about the end of a ninth-month chaplaincy placement. During an online discussion of worship practices, he stated that he had prayed and sat and wept with a lot of suffering people over that time; what then, he asked, does a lengthy document on sacramental theology have to do with the suffering of a common person?

My response—perhaps a bit flippant—was to suggest that if it wasn’t immediately obvious how the sacraments connected with the suffering, then either the lengthy document was bad theology, or the caregiver needed reeducation in basic Christian theology. In his case I was preaching to the choir. Just a few posts earlier, he had treated us to a moving meditation on a request for baptism from an inmate of the psych unit, one whose endless rounds from the ward to the streets and back again left him at the literal margins of Christian community.

Conversations about the sacraments are not—or should not be—esoteric arguments about essences and obscurities several frames of reference removed from our daily realities. No, the sacraments stand right next to our daily experience because they stand at the heart of what we understand Christianity to be; they are part and parcel of the mystery of salvation.

The whole issue of Christian salvation is fraught with difficulties and confusion: Who gets saved? Do I get saved? Does that guy get saved? How do I get saved? As we all well know, different Christian groups have answered and debated these questions in different ways, a debate that has accelerated since the Reformation and caused innumerable divisions between Christians. More effective than arguing “who,” I find, is contemplating “what.” What, as far as the Scriptures are concerned, is salvation? The answer to which I return again and again—an answer which seems to contain both so many other answers and possibilities—comes from one of the those books towards the middlish-end of the New Testament, one of those books we hear about too little and pass over too often: “…your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3b).

Your life is hid with Christ in God… There is no other promise in Scripture as open or deep as this, for what Scripture teaches is not simply metaphor but the ontology of the new creation—to be a Christian, to be saved, is not about getting wings and a halo when you die, nor having your consciousness expanded by a great teacher who died long ago. Rather, it is to participate in the very life of God through what Christ has done for us—and to us.

And, as Colossians tells it, the path to this life is through death; indeed, that’s the first part of the verse…: “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” This death of which Scripture speaks is mentioned but a few verses before:

“Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with [him] through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses…” (Col 2:12–13).

Death, Christ’s death, is our path to life through the waters of Baptism. Again—as Paul writes in Romans:

“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3–4).

There—that’s the key… We in our baptism are buried into death; we are drowned beneath the waters: the waters of the Flood, the waters of the Red Sea, the waters of the womb of the Spirit. As they close over our heads our breath is stripped from us and replaced with a new breath, a new Spirit, a Holy Spirit, and we rise from the waters new people of a new people, rising from death to resurrection life, a life invigorated by the power of the Spirit, a life hid with Christ in God.

Now, you may be thinking that all this is very mystical sounding—and it is. This may be all well and good for meditation in a cloistered nook—but what about reality: a poopy toddler in one hand, a frozen chicken in the other, and twenty minutes to get dinner done? The truth is simple—this too is the resurrection life. It is incarnate, and therefore messy. But it is in these moments, in that split second when trying to wipe and re-diaper before the wriggling infant can stab her foot into the filth of the recently removed diaper, that I have the potential to realize I am doing more than just one more chore; rather, I am performing an act of service to the very image of God, to a member of Christ. This is to live the life hid in God—but all too often, the diaper remains a diaper; the chore, a chore. The message, the truth of resurrection life is simple, so simple—but the remembering is hard.

This is one of the functions of the Eucharist. To recall us, to remind us, to bring us once again to an awareness of our place in the narrative of what God has done, what God is doing for the world through Jesus Christ. We gather to discern the Body, in broken bread, in gathered bodies, to find the presence of Christ made real and true and tangible in the words of the Gospel and in the wine. The relationship begun in Baptism—the life hid in God—is nourished, not by bread alone but by everything that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord, and when those words and bread are joined and the bread becomes bread alone no longer, then we truly receive the bread that satisfies, the bread of life. This bread, this wine, they lead us deeper into the relationship begun in baptism, changing us, converting us, not through a conversion of mind alone, but into the literal conversion of the nature of our being: as we take the very Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ into our body and blood we are changed more and more into his likeness—and another small piece of creation is invited into the redemption wrought by Christ.

Furthermore, as we receive this bread-which-is-Body we, in turn, become Body-which-is-bread to feed a world hungry and thirty for love, for knowledge of God and—indeed—for basic bread itself. The conversion is proofed, is completed when the Body of Christ moves like a Body, the limbs and members caring for one another, extending itself with arms outstretched to welcome the world, to invite the whole of the groaning creation into a life hid with Christ in God. And not just in the abstract either but with hands washing dishes, with arms enfolding those who weep, with bodies that labor on behalf of others, with voices that bring forth songs to praise and delight, and—yes—even in the changing of diapers.

* Derek Olsen blogs at Haligweorc.

About this article he writes: This post is in response to a string of comments from a while back concerning Communion without Baptism—sometimes referred to as “Open Communion.” (Because I find the latter term a bit ambiguous, I prefer the former language.) This is the first of a three-part consideration of the Eucharist in our Episcopal communities, especially in reference to the place of Holy Baptism. The current post considers the sacraments in the context of Christian life, the next will examine the issues of Scriptural interpretation connected with this debate, and in the third I hope to clarify conceptions and misconceptions about the relation between Baptism and Eucharist.

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