Formations 01.17.2021: A Christ of Cosmic Proportions

Colossians 1:11-23

There is a Latin aphorism from the earliest centuries of the church that has always resonated with me: lex orandi, lex credendi, “the rule of prayer is the rule of belief.” In a nutshell, this aphorism says that there is a deep connection between liturgy and faith. Worship renewal expert David Webber used to paraphrase this saying as: “Show me how you worship, and I’ll tell you what you believe.”

Does that ring true to you? It certainly does to me. Enter a church’s worship space and look at how the space is decorated (or not). Listen to the themes in the music that is sung. Take note of how much of the “work” of worship is in the hands of the platform personalities and how much is in the hands of the people in the pews. How lavish are the symbols presented in worship—or how stingy? Do these things, and it shouldn’t take you long to get a decent first impression of what that community truly believes—whether they say it out loud or not.

Think about the music that adorns our worship. Sometimes Christians sing hymns that go like this:

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.

And sometimes Christians sing hymns that go like this:

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Though I’m not at all opposed to simple, heartfelt songs of praise, that is certainly not all there is to the Christian faith. Therefore, it shouldn’t be all there is to Christian worship. Embedded in this week’s Scripture passage is a hymn to Christ in which the worshiping church praises him for his roles in both creation and redemption (vv. 15-20). It is a theologically dense hymn, more like “Holy, Holy, Holy” than “Alleluia.”

The hymn in Colossians 1 proclaims Christ as the “firstborn of all creation” (v. 15). He is the agent of creation, in who all things have been created and in whom all things hold together.

Furthermore, as the “firstborn from the dead” (v. 18), through his cross he has brought reconciliation with respect to “all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (v. 20). Therefore, Paul says, his readers, though once hostile to God, have now been reconciled, and he himself has become God’s servant in sharing this good news.

That is a whole lot of gospel in just a few poetic lines!

You might feel more at home with Gospel stories of the earthly Jesus than with the Jesus we find in Colossians 1. I know I am. Our challenge this week is to rest in this exalted picture of Jesus as a cosmic figure at the center of God’s eternal plan without letting go of the earthbound Jesus who told parables, debated with Pharisees, and ate with sinners. A well-rounded faith requires both.

Discussion

  • If a neutral observer came to worship in your church, what might they conclude about what you believe as a congregation?
  • How might expanding our repertoire of worship elements (hymns, prayers, gestures, symbols, etc.) expand our understanding of Christ? How might this help us to worship God more fully?
  • What does it mean that Jesus reconciles all things in heaven and earth to God (v. 20)?
  • What is the role of the cross in this reconciling work? Why do you suppose Paul makes so much of the cross in this context?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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