I begin reading Colossians with some trepidation. It has always seemed so above me somehow, all this highfalutin’ language about the “image of the invisible” and “fullness of godness.” I need plain English; just give me the facts. No sugar coating, please! I have to confess to being put off a little too by the notion that Paul is writing to “holy and faithful brothers and sisters.” He must not have been in a real church lately–never served on a church committee or tried to serve Christ with other believers–if he thinks baptism has transferred us all (all of us?) without any residue of darkness from one way of living to another: abracadabra, hocus pocus, pronto, “poof”! That isn’t the way baptism works, is it? And just who does Paul think he’s kidding? Is this just some rhetorical flourish, insincere compliment, false praise? This doesn’t seem like the Paul we’ve come to know (and love?) in the cantankerous letters to the Corinthians. Are the people of Colossae just a better group? The Paul of Colossians 1 seems a little too optimistic about my present condition, so I’m cautious. There must be more to discover. There must be a “but” lurking, waiting to pounce from the shadows somewhere. We’ve been transferred from the power of darkness, but…. We are full of faith, love, hope, holiness, fruit, truth, wisdom, the knowledge of God’s will, spiritual understanding, patience, joy, light, but… But there’s no but. There once was a but…
Once you were alienated from God and you were enemies with him in your minds, which was shown by your evil actions. But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through death, to present you before God as a people who are holy, faultless, and without blame. (Colossians 1:21-22, CEB, emphasis added.)
And there may yet be a hook: “But you need to remain well established and rooted in faith and not shift away from the hope given in the good news that you heard.” (1:23, CEB, emphasis added.) A friend of mine, a church historian, made the following comment via Facebook about the auspicious nature of this day:
If the church had deemed Pelagius a saint rather than a heretic, then today would be his feast day. Welcome to that brief period that comes every year when we believe the slate wiped clean, and our own efforts to save, er, improve ourselves somehow more efficacious than they’ve been all those previous Januarys. In a week or so we’ll believe in grace again but for now, we revel in a world made new by the flipping of the calendar.
And so we begin again, with new and renewed resolutions, reading the letter to the Colossians, hoping this time truly to understand the mystery! Does it seem to turn faith upside down? Let’s work hard and struggle toward the goal together.