In this, our 2nd to the last sermon in the series “20 Questions in 10 Weeks” today’s questions are about a Pauline view of suffering and death.
More specifically the two questions are,
1. “Colossians 1:24 states, “Completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” question mark.
2. Explain, “Death has died.”
While that second phrase is not explicitly found in scripture, I assume it to be a riff on Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 15 and in Romans 6.
Both questions are about the meaning of scripture associated with the Apostle Paul. Therefore, today I’m going to try and do a little Paul to you all, in the hopes that it will answer these two questions.
Let us pray.
“I am celebrating my suffering, which is for your benefit. I am filling my flesh with the afflictions of Christ that currently overflow from him. This is done for the sake of his body, which is all of us, the Church.” (HSV Colossians 1:24)
So, what does it mean to complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? What does it mean that Death has died?
My short answer is this:
The Church Universal, in this in-between time, suffers while fulfilling the Great Commission, so that Christ may be all in all.
Let me break that down for you.
The Church Universal: A community that transcends all borders both of space and time, which is created in Baptism and is a part of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In this in-between time: We live in the already/not yet. Christ has already completed the redemption of the world, but it is not yet so.
We have been buried with Christ and we are suffering with him and we will be raised with him.
The world itself is in labor, the new creation will be born, yet we are in the labor pains.
We were wounded, and we will be healed, but right now that wound itches so very much.
Normandy was stormed on D-Day, but it isn’t VE-Day yet.
We are at an in-between time.
Suffers: This is the crux of it, I guess.
The Colossians are a Gentile group of Christians—that is non-Jews, presumably formerly Pagan. They were led astray, they decided to add on to their Christian faith. They added worship of angels and astrological adoration. Additionally, and more to the point, they likely practiced a severe form of asceticism—ritual suffering in order to have visions.
To this Paul responds, “You don’t need to whip yourself or starve yourself to be a good Christian, if you try to consistently live in faith, hope, and love, you will surely have struggle enough without adding to it.”
As for Paul, he knew plenty about suffering.
He experienced the suffering that comes with conversion, losing his former life and religious certainties that day when he fell from his horse on the Road to Damascus.
Suffering imprisonment, beatings, stoning, shipwreck, that famous and unnamed “thorn in his side” and all the dangers of the constant travel that accompanied his proclamation of the Gospel.
Suffering the experience of planting community after community, but never staying there long enough to see through his vision—only able to hear of the controversies in his young communities and respond in letter form, suffering as well the sadness that comes with not completing his most cherished wish, to form a Christian community in Spain.
While fulfilling the Great Commission:
This suffering is suffering for a purpose, it is completing Christ’s body, by spreading the Gospel, or borrowing Paul’s language—“Making the word of God fully known” and making new Christians, through the act of Baptism.
It is also completing Christ’s body, by sustaining and building up the Christian Community—“presenting everyone mature in Christ,” making sure we are following after Jesus, making sure we’re disciples.
Or to put all that another way, when we follow the Great Commission found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” it will take effort and time and treasure and yes suffering, but it is a suffering for the sake of the Body of Christ, completing that body of Christ.
So that Christ may be all in all:
That the whole creation will find redemption.
That all of us will find ourselves in the fullness of the Body of Christ.
That even that last enemy, death, will be destroyed.
That through the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, we can truly say Death has died.
The Church Universal, in this in-between time, suffers while fulfilling the Great Commission, so that Christ may be all in all. A+A