SERMON: In him all things hold together

SERMON: In him all things hold together

A sermon preached by Nikolaj Christensen on 20 February 2022, our 3rd annual Environment Sunday. You can also watch the sermon on YouTube.

The words ‘in him all things hold together’ are from St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians [1.17]. In Christ, everything holds together; without him, everything falls apart.

‘Who then is this?’ the disciples ask. If he sleeps, the Universe seems to be tearing into pieces as they experienced in that storm on the lake. And when he died, the earth shook and there was darkness in the middle of the day. But by his calmness and constancy the Universe is held together and calmed.

I wonder if you feel like the Lord has fallen asleep? I’m not only thinking of the literal storms we’ve experienced, but the fact that Covid is now here to stay, democracy is challenged worldwide and at home, there may be war on the east side of Europe again any day, thousands of species are going extinct and never coming back, the climate is on course for irreversible change, the poles are melting – more every year – and meanwhile the poor are having to choose between freezing or starving, if they’re lucky enough not to have to do both. To say nothing of the storms you may be facing in your life! We would be right to say with the disciples: ‘Get up, get up, we’re dying!’ Lord, you’re supposed to be the one in whom ‘all things hold together’.

‘Who then is this?’ Christ is not only the divine Lord of the winds and the seas, but the ultimate human being: ‘He is the image (or icon) of the invisible God’, according to St Paul. Man and woman were made ‘in the image of God’, as we can read in the Book of Genesis. We bear his likeness, but he is the prototype, ‘eternally begotten of the Father’, himself a perfect reproduction of God, the Father – the creator of all things through his Word and his Breath, the Spirit. And he, the Word, the Son of God, is sent to us. When this world became broken, the one who made it came himself to put it right. Who could better fix something than the one who made it in the first place!

But that’s several thousand years down the line from what we heard today from Genesis about Adam, who is a shadow of the one who was to come. Adam, made of dust and spirit. Adam, from the Hebrew word ‘adamah’ meaning ‘earth’, into whom God breathed his Spirit. A son of God although not the Son of God. Like ‘every animal’, a link in the chain of evolution, and yet somehow more than that. In need of a partner and helper as his equal, which could not be found among the other animals.

He was flesh looking for flesh with which to mate, and yet made for something higher, the covenant of marriage. Naked, at one with the earth, but also born with the potential for shame and alienation from the earth, where the earth becomes something ‘other’, something to toil over, not a bountiful garden yielding its fruit freely but a field to till and weed.

Instead of a gift to receive freely, the earth and its resources become something to which we apply our ‘knowledge of good and evil’ – the fruit of that infamous tree. And we certainly shouldn’t brush off the ‘knowledge of good’: to take the most obvious example, the infant mortality rate in countries with adequate access to healthcare is staggeringly low today compared to any other era of human history. But at the same time, our technology is bringing untold destruction to our environment, causing suffering here and now for other animals as well as to poorer communities of humans across the globe. ‘The tree of the knowledge’ is a double-edged sword – now that we have it, we must use it wisely!

Like the disciples, we must ‘go to him’, the ‘Master’, the one in whom it all holds together. ‘Where is your faith?’ he asks. ‘In you’, is the correct answer. He is the one who demonstrated by his life how to be at one with the natural world, in tune with ‘the birds of the air’ and ‘the lilies of the field’, and at one with the storm so that he could sleep through it or calm it at will. The chaos we face is no match for him.

Not only did he live as the most perfect human being ever, but he made himself one with us in our death, because as he said, ‘unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’ [John 12.24]. The whole created world has been suffering because of our misuse of it – but he becomes one with it, as a seed becomes one with the ground.

As St Paul said, ‘through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, … by making peace through the blood of his cross.’ Through that he has become a new ‘beginning, the firstborn from the dead’. A new creation begins with his resurrection. The pieces fall back into place.

Adam was put in the garden to maintain it, but remember when Mary Magdalene encountered the risen Christ in the garden of Gethsemane on that glorious morning, and at first she thinks he is the gardener. Well, he is. He is the one who brings God’s garden back into order. He is worthy of all praise, and even as we worry about the state of the earth, even as we work on protecting it as if it all depended on us, our hope and confidence in the future comes from him, in whom ‘all things hold together’.