In the midst of the uncertainties and fears accompanying the coronavirus pandemic, it’s worth pausing and reflecting on those all too rare moments when we experience a deep longing that we know nothing on earth can satisfy.
We might experience such moments when our hearts are lifted to a sense of the transcendent, perhaps when hearing some sublime music or gazing on a glorious scene that draws us beyond the material to the ethereal. For a few all too fleeting seconds we are enchanted by the prospect of a world whose beauty and peace surpass our usual experience. And we long for it.
Does our longing suggest it could be real?
The myths and legends of the past, and the various religions of the world, may speak of life beyond our experience now. But the Christian Scriptures are of a very different order. They have a unique authority, for the events of which they speak and the utterances they record are firmly grounded in history. Furthermore, they point to a future that is foreshadowed by and is consistent with our experiences now – but of a very different order.
In Colossians 1:25ff Paul the Apostle writes of God’s good news that he preaches. He sums it up with these words: Christ in you the hope of glory (1:27).
Christ in you… For many today Christianity is little more than a belief system and moral code which is nothing more than human invention. But Paul wants us to understand that the events surrounding Jesus of Nazareth hold the key.
Put to death at the order of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor in Judea at the time, Jesus’ life, death and his subsequent resurrection have turned out to be the hinge of history. It was God’s means of opening the way, not only to put us right with him, but also of opening up for us a new dimension of life that begins now and stretches into eternity. And because this life is grounded in historical events and draws us into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we retain our individuality as persons, but are caught up into the riches and glory of life with Christ himself. What is more, we don’t have to languish in ignorance or unbelief, because the notion of God no longer seems so remote.
The hope of glory… Coupled with this present experience is something else: the hope of glory. We have a future expectation of God’s commendation and reflecting the glorious light of Christ himself as we are perfectly drawn into the light of his kingdom. Those brief moments that give us a glimpse of something far, far richer than even the best of our experiences now, point to our relationship with Christ and what it will be when we live openly in the presence God. The best is yet to be.
It is important we think this through. There will be times when we will be disappointed with the way life treats us. In fact we may be disillusioned at times with Christianity because of life’s experiences. We thought that turning to Jesus Christ as Lord would solve all our problems –finding the right marriage partner, getting and keeping a job, and enjoying a successful career, would all follow as a matter of course. You may have thought you could bring whatever was on your heart to God, and it would happen.
But finding God’s forgiveness and becoming one of his people doesn’t mean this: our bodies are still subject to sickness, marriages to disagreements, and jobs to redundancy. What the gospel message offers us in terms of life here and now is not transformed outward circumstances, but transformed inner spiritual resources – Christ in you. Outwardly our bodies are wasting away, Paul says elsewhere, but inwardly we are being renewed, day by day.
A sure hope. Yes, the Scriptures speak of a better world where there is no pain and frustration, loneliness and grief. But we need to understand that this is a future world, one that we perceive by faith, not by sight. The hope of glory is not some vague, wistful, ‘maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t, kind of hope. It is a sure, confident, certain hope, grounded in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yes, hope by definition is unrealized for the present, but it is a sure hope. It is this hope that gives meaning and purpose to our lives now.
Reflect: I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:25-27).
Prayer: God our Father, make us joyful in the ascension of your Son Jesus Christ. May we follow him into the new creation, for his ascension is our glory and our hope. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (An Australian Prayer Book, Ascension Day)