The women who saw the empty tomb on that first Easter morning ran away from it with fear and great joy (Matthew 28:8). I’ve always been struck by that description. Fear and great joy—those are two emotions that don’t often go together. But as I thought about it, I realized that I had experienced that same combination just a week ago.
I’ve got this new fascination with the Appalachian Trail. I’m not into camping, so doing long stretches of it at a time is probably not going to happen for me. But I do enjoy what they call “section hiking.” One of the last times I went out there I had a goal of doing a certain section, and I kept at it even though it was starting to get dark. Toward the end I literally started to run, with fear, because I know a person can lose the path in the dark, but also with great joy, because I was basking in the glow of a beautiful sunset and I was achieving my goal.
One of the reasons I like being on the trail is because you spend a lot of time up on a high mountain. You get some great views. I’ve noticed over the years that having a view from up high—whether it be a tall building or a mountaintop—has great appeal to me. There’s something about it that I just can’t explain. And it’s not just me, either. Many people seem to have the same desire for high places. Thankfully some of those people volunteer to put up our shroud!
While I’m not sure why we have this desire, it occurs to me that we can use it to remind ourselves of Paul’s words in our second reading. There in Colossians chapter three he tells his fellow Christians to “set your mind on things that are above.” In fact, he says it twice… so I will too: “Set your mind on things that are above.”
It’s good to be reminded of this Biblical command. It’s so easy to spend all of our mindful energy on what is earthly instead… like our jobs, our families, our pursuits. One of the main reasons for coming together in worship every seven days is to be reminded of setting our minds on things that are above. We need that habit, lest we forget.
It seems to me that Paul’s phrase here—“set your mind on things that are above”—is fairly self-explanatory. He wants us to be aware of God and God’s teachings. If there’s any question about who God is or what is teachings are, Paul directs us to Christ Jesus. “Where Christ is,” he says. He does this because in the journey of Christ Jesus we see God most clearly. That journey, which includes a sacrificial death and a vindicating resurrection, ends with him “seated at the right hand of God.” Here Paul uses another well-understood phrase to remind us that Jesus has returned to his rightful position of power and glory.
Set your mind on things that are above. How important that message is—even on Easter, a day when we naturally think about God’s work. On Easter, we are to set our minds not just on the special music we hear, but on the meaning behind it; not just on the Easter eggs, but their meaning; not just the fine clothes, the family gathering, the tasty meal… but the meaning behind it all. Christ Jesus is risen from the dead! He rules and reigns as our victorious king! That is the meaning of Easter.
In the verses that immediately follow our text, Paul tells us more about “setting our minds on things above.” He says: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impure passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is no Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”
When we set our minds on things that are above, that means we choose to live our lives in ways that reflect God’s teachings—His higher ways. We put aside that which is evil and selfish and we live according to God’s Laws—laws that govern our personal behavior, and laws that remind us of our equality (Jew, Greek, etc.) in God’s sight.
In our text from Colossians, Paul definitely has as one of his purposes this urging of Christians to live lives that are Godly and pure. However, Paul’s urgings of moral living are always backed by theological statements of “how” and “why.” Paul always gives us the reasons for his admonitions. His reasons here are given in Easter language. “You have died… you have been raised… your life is hidden… you will appear with him in glory.”
This is Easter language. And, it is also Baptismal language. The dying, the rising, the life hidden in Christ… all this happened for us at our baptism. Paul is referencing the words he said just a few verses previous: “For in him,” Paul says about Jesus, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him… having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. You, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
In baptism we have been “Christed.” Yes, I know that’s not normally a word we use. It gets flagged by spell-check. But it’s also an excellent way of understanding what has happened to us. We have been Christed. In Romans, Paul says it this way—we have been “joined to the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.” Here in Colossians Paul simply says “you have died… you have been raised… your life is hidden… you will appear with him in glory.”
Most of us get the death and resurrection part. Or at least we think we do. We will die and be resurrected someday, right? That is true. But Paul is actually talking here about the death and resurrection that happened to us in the past, when we were first saved. Christ Jesus came to us in the Gospel—given either through preaching or baptism—and saved us from our sins. As such, we have already died, and we have already been raised.
Today we lift up again the importance of both the death and resurrection that happened to us when we were first joined to Christ, and the death and resurrection that will take place with our bodies someday. These are everything to us! They happen because Christ is risen.
There is one further point in our text today that should be explored, and that is Paul’s words about our being hidden. “Your life is hidden with Christ in God,” he says. This idea echoes a word that is used in the Old Testament – that God is our “hiding place.” Psalm 119:114, for instance, says: “You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word.” Being hidden with Christ in God is a promise of safety. God is protecting us. God is preserving us.
We should not get the false idea from this hiddenness of ours that all will be completely safe and easy for us. Just as Jesus made clear that those who hide their talents in the ground should not do so (using the same word, by the way), so also God will not hide us so much that we cannot be exposed to pains and sorrows, for it is through these pains and sorrows that God will cause us to grow. God’s hiding refers to His ultimate care for us, not keeping us from all suffering.
One of our favorite Easter traditions is the Easter Egg hunt. At St. Paul’s we always have the youth group hide the eggs and the young kids find them. We usually have to tell the youth: “Don’t hide them so well that they can’t be found.” God, on the other hand, always hides us in just the right kind of way. Though some troubles may find us, we are still safely hidden in His grace. We can endure in faith through the help He gives us.
I remember a conversation we once had in the confirmation class I attended as a youth. The question was asked: “what happens if your last thought or your last action before you died was something sinful, and you didn’t get a chance to confess that sin. Would you still be saved?” The pastor used that opportunity to introduce us to a very important concept—the state of grace. He said: “When you are in a faith relationship with Jesus you are in a state of grace. God will still forgive that sin for Jesus’ sake.” It is the same concept as being hidden with Christ in God. It is a beautiful promise of God, and a very comforting one as well.
Since you have been raised with Christ, set your minds on things that are above, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. I told you at the beginning of the sermon that I liked being in high places. I like the view. But I’m pretty sure another thing I like is the climb—the sense of accomplishment I get when I make it to the top. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of accomplishment, but I must admit that it is a very earthly kind of accomplishment. I put my mind to it, I did it… and that’s fine—as long as I’m also setting my mind on things above.
A person can spend their whole life focusing on earthly concerns—climbing mountains, climbing careers, climbing up the so-called social ladder. There’s something innate in us that wants to improve, but also something innate in us that wants to stand out. And sometimes we will step on others in order to make our way to the top.
God calls us to put our minds on Him—His ways, His promises. In doing so, we will be better equipped to beat back that impulse to climb in a selfish and sinful manner. And, we will be filled with the joy of Christ’s accomplishments—our death, our resurrection, our hiddenness, and our future glory.
At the end of our Easter Gospel reading we heard the angel telling the women: “Go tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee.” Reading on we discover that the disciples did meet Jesus—on a mountain, in Galilee. There was probably a beautiful view that day as Jesus and his disciples met, but the focus was not on the beauty of the earth. Rather, it was on the beauty of Jesus’ promise to them—that he would be with them always. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” And so he is. He is with us here. He is with us now. Because he is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.