How do you respond to the highly charged language of today’s readings? Do you, perhaps, feel that it is all beyond our grasp? And yet, don’t you want to keep on stretching out your imagination to reach it?
Both readings take us back to the beginning – perhaps back to before the beginnings of time, light and life. Both passages highlight “being” and “creation of being” and both hint at things “hidden”, “invisible”, “partially visible” “darkness” and “light”. Poetic language which sends tingles down our spine but tests our imagination to the limits. At first, the words refuse to speak plainly and offer us no point of reference or certainty. And yet, just when we fear we’re right out of our depth (and are ready to give up the struggle!) both passages resolve themselves in one amazing conclusion.
What a gripping start to one of Paul’s letters and to John’s Gospel! And how similar is the effect of both pieces of writing on the reader. I hope you felt slightly light-headed as you plunged through time and space, from darkness to light and from incomprehension to comprehension and I hope that, suddenly, it all clicked for you – an epiphany beyond Epiphany, as it were. Both Paul and John faced daunting challenges as Jews taking the new Christian Faith out into the non-Jewish world. But, although both are addressing newcomers to faith in Jesus Christ, this doesn’t make the passages any less challenging for us, even with 2000 years of Christianity behind us! Over and over again throughout our lives, we all seek the meaning and purpose of existence, we all ponder what might be the nature and will of God, we all move between doubt and uncertainty, especially in dark times like these.
Paul thinks highly of the people of Colossae and although he hasn’t founded their church himself, he knows and understands their political, geographical, and cultural contexts. He writes to encourage them in their newfound understanding of God because he knows how much support they will need to resist the arguments and false beliefs which are already spreading through their community. His greeting and his prayer of thanksgiving for this new church are quickly followed by his breath-taking description of Jesus who, crucially, is “the image of the invisible God”. As Paul sees it, God in Jesus, creates, holds together everything he has created, reconciles, and brings peace. Exuberant language but totally compelling in its depiction of God’s self-giving love outpoured on the cross.
John’s opening words explode into our imagination – spine-tingling and breath-taking and packed with personal and shared associations for those who’ve heard them before. Almost every word has its own significance – a reflection in itself – try starting with “In the beginning was …” and see how long and how far it takes you! An explosive “big bang” in every other word of the passage! You are almost relieved to encounter the scary figure of John the Baptist in passing – this is someone you have heard about but what are you making of “The Word”/“The true light which … was coming into the world”? Today’s Gospel reading concludes at verse 14 with the dramatic proclamation the God’s Word has been born as a human being. We have the advantage of knowing that John the Gospel writer is talking about Jesus, “the Word made flesh” but the first readers/listeners had to wait for verse 29 to find out! Imagine how we would be feeling if we had never read or heard this passage before – awed and waiting to encounter Jesus. But for all of us, first time readers/listeners or not, the exciting challenge still springs out from both passages – to open our hearts and minds to seek and encounter God in Jesus, to follow Him and to become one with Him.