Preached on 7th February 2021 at Priory Church of St Mary in Monmouth, By ASWA President – Bishop Dominic Walker OGS
The Cosmic Christ – Creation Sunday
The name of Bill Anders is not a household name but he was one of the first group of American astronauts to orbit the moon and to photograph our planet earth from space. He said that that experience made him rethink his Christian faith because he realised that the earth is nothing but a tiny speck of dust in a galaxy that is only one of countless millions of others in our ever expanding universe created some 13.77 billion years ago [give or take 40 million years or so]. The magnitude of the universe is beyond our human understanding especially when we believe that God has counted every hair on our head and knows when every sparrow falls from the sky.
In our attempt to understand God we have to use imagery, analogy, stories and metaphors. Trying to grasp the vastness of God with our small and finite minds is not a new problem. The psalmist said to God in Psalm 8, When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
As a parish priest when I carried out funeral visits the bereaved often would tell me how they imagined the deceased up in heaven looking down upon them. They imagined heaven as some kind of parallel universe up above the skies and I never knew whether to challenge that primary school view or to let them find comfort from it.
Well, today’s readings are two of the most difficult passages in the New Testament – not exactly children friendly for a family service. In the Letter to the Colossians, Paul is writing to a church that he had not founded and he was at pains to explain the nature of Christ because there was a heresy going around called Gnosticism which taught two things in particular that opposed Christianity. Gnostics said that matter was evil but spirit was good, so God could not be the creator of matter. They also believed that salvation came through intellectual knowledge – you had to study your way into heaven and so Paul was keen to put them right and to show that Christ was the co-creator who came to earth, in other words he was both spirit and matter and we do not earn our salvation because he has gained us salvation through his suffering on the cross.
Paul wrote of Christ He is the image of the invisible God…for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created. He himself is before all things and in him all things hold together…For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and though him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things by making peace through the blood of the cross. Paul is saying that Christ existed from the beginning – before creation – before the big bang – and that he exists in all things. The name Jesus was the name used during his 33 years on earth whilst the title Christ refers to him before creation and after the Ascension.
Now if you think this is heavy going for a Sunday morning so is the Gospel reading which refers to the word – the logos – existing from the beginning and becoming flesh – spirit taking on matter as Paul describes. This teaching is sometimes referred to as the ‘cosmic Christ’ because Christ is in every created thing and in every animal and every human person and today is called ‘Creation Sunday’ because our minds are drawn to the vastness of creation which is beyond our human understanding and also to Christ’s presence in everything, every virus, every vaccine, every stone, every animal and every person which should make us reverence creation and one another.
So how can we know this God who is in everything but beyond our understanding? Well we do it most of the time when we worship and many of our hymns draw our attention to the world around us. Just think of All things bright and beautiful, For the beauty of the earth and our Eucharistic hymns that recognise Christ’s sacramental presence in bread and wine. We think of God in human and anthropological ways – he is our Father, he is love, he is wise and so on. This approach to God theologians call the kataphatic tradition.
But there is another tradition sometimes called the the apophatic tradition or the negative way (via negativa) in which we meet Christ in the unknowing when we cast aside all images of God that we might have in our minds and enter the darkness of the not-knowing. We abandon all anthropomorphism that wants to see God in human terms because God is not an object and so it is easier to speak of what God is not, rather than what God is because human language can never do justice to God and runs the danger of reducing him to the level of humanity. This approach is greatly favoured in the Eastern Orthodox Church with its emphasis on mystery, Our problem in the West is that we want to solve mysteries – science and Agatha Christie encourage us to see mysteries as who-dun-its needing to be solved – whereas in Christian mystery we need to allow ourselves to be drawn by silence into the mystery to become part of it.
So with our limited minds we come before the incomprehensible God who reveals himself in the Word made flesh and in all his creation – and allow ourselves to be lost in wonder, love and praise. Amen.