He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Imaging the Invisible
Revd Caitlin Thomson, St. Mark's Church
During my undergraduate degree, I was able to participate in a module which explored Cognitive Linguistics (a branch of linguistic study which explores how the brain produces and interprets language – which, in this reflection I am probably doing a grave injustice to). In one tutorial, we were exploring how the imagination visualises abstract concepts and the tutor posed the following question: if you had to draw a week, what shape would it be?
Time, of course, does not have a shape – it is not an object but a concept. And yet, when given the challenge, the imagination produces an answer. Perhaps you might draw a grid – a shape which we associate with calendars and marking time. Similarly, you might (thinking of a clock) draw a segmented circle. I find myself drawing a semi-circle, with the flat base representing the weekend, and the height of the dome representing the middle of the week (in attempting this exercise just now, I have also discovered that if I then segment the shape into days, they move counter-clockwise through the days of the week).
We can then, of course, could theorise the psychological reasons behind the shapes each of us have drawn – perhaps someone who draws a calendar like grid values strict routine in their life, or has a clear timetable in their work or study; perhaps someone who draws a circle lives more in the moment of each day, with no particular favourite or least favourite part of the week; my semi-circle, perhaps, says something about how I value or perceive each day within the cycle of the week.
And the next question, posed by my tutor – what colour is Tuesday?
…and we could go on, attempting to paint a clear picture of what ‘a week’ looks like. In many ways, these questions seem pointless – a week doesn’t have a physical form, nor does it need to. As much as this exercise might help us delve into our psyches and explore how our cognitive processes draw together past experiences and emotional states to create meaning and ‘definitions’ which we can then refer to navigate our existence, a week remains an abstract construction to help us mark the passing of time. Whatever way we might ‘draw a week’ is not going to fundamentally change (or even define) the concept, but it does help us understand how we ourselves relate to it.
Where am I going with this?
Our readings today discuss the incarnation – that is, the immortal and invisible God entering humanity as Jesus Christ:
the Word became flesh and dwelt among us
As you may well have picked up from where I started, I was particularly struck by the opening words of our reading from Colossians:
He is the image of the invisible God
Jesus is, for us, the centre of all things – the cornerstone of our faith and the lynchpin that holds our understanding of God together. This is because by believing that Jesus is God incarnate, we accept him as the revelation of who and what God is. He is the authority upon whom we can shape our imaging of God.
What does God look like? Yes, an abstract, divine, immortal, infinite force, but also a teacher whose greatest commandment was love, who greeted his betrayers with a kiss, whose gut wrenched with compassion when he encountered suffering and did something to stop the suffering.
What does God look like? Yes, a creator who loves us and wants us to be free from sin and death, but also a man who died on a cross, taking the world’s sin to death in order to reconcile himself to all things, proclaiming “it is finished.”
Christ is the beginning of our faith because he helps us relate to the abstracts of God. What does God’s love look like? Jesus. What does God’s mercy look like? Jesus. What does God’s peace look like? Jesus. What does God’s justice look like? Jesus.
For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell
What a beautiful phrase:
God entered humanity joyously, and did not hold anything back.
Through Jesus, we are able to encounter the fullness of God’s character.
In Jesus, we are able to discover the depths of God’s love.
With Jesus, we are able to experience the peace of the new creation.
Because of Jesus, we are able to sketch the image of the invisible God, and our relationship with Jesus helps us understand how we do and can relate to God.
Jesus helps us understand that God is not abstract, but an active, living, loving force that wants to help us grow in understanding. As our imaging helps us relate to God, so God is reaching to relate to us.
God is active and present in the world, even though it can be hard to perceive. And perhaps this is why the image of God revealed in Jesus is so important, so helpful, such a revelation – if we want to ask Where is God?, we can ask Where can I see Jesus? Beyond the tagline “What Would Jesus Do?”, we can ask What things are happening that Jesus would be doing?
So Where can I see Jesus? When I am comforted in my distress, when I see people mobilising to feed hungry schoolchildren, when I see protests against injustice, when I see health workers caring for the dying in quarantined wards, when I see peacemakers crossing the boundaries between political extremes to encourage reconciliation, when I see church communities persisting to find new ways to gather in worship and fellowship despite the restrictions. That’s where I can see Jesus. That’s where God is.
The world is a difficult place to live in at the moment. If you find yourself questioning where God is, you aren’t alone – but God is still here.
Perhaps we can search for God together by sharing the stories of where we have seen Jesus this week, because if we have seen Jesus, we have seen God.
prepared by Oli
Lord, as we experience this wet winter, help us to be mindful of climate change and the effects that it has, and will have, on the poorest in our globalised world. We pray that you will be with our political and spiritual leaders to work together to limit the effects of global warming. We pray that you be with those who have suffered flooding in their homes over the past weeks, and that they are able to rebuild quickly and in partnership with one another.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer
Lord, as the national lockdown continues, leaving us at times struggling with feelings of disconnect within ourselves and with others, we ask for your reconciling hand. When we feel tired for no reason; demotivated; and distant from those we are normally close to, we pray that you strengthen us and hold us in your loving presence, guiding us by your light of hope.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer
Lord, as we look toward the start of Lent later this month, help us to reflect on what has felt like a year of lenten living, with restrictions; times of grief, and often fear, thus making celebration difficult. Help us to approach this period of fasting with a gentle heart, helping us do what we can but giving ourselves permission to do what we need to make it through the current hardships.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer
Lord, we pray for our community. We pray you will be with those who feel lonely or isolated and for those who are grieving or feel lost. We pray you are with those who cannot currently carry out their livelihoods or are struggling with the stresses of increased workloads or different ways of working. We pray you will be with community leaders as we rebuild after the pandemic subsides, helping us to make our community a rejuvenated space for healthy living and spiritual growth.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer
Lord, as the days get longer and lighter, remind us of your never ending and all-encompassing light. Allow us to open up, to empty ourselves in order to be filled with your unconditional love. We thank you for the simple things we can enjoy - the early spring flowers, the cheerful birdsong and our green spaces.
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
I would like to invite you to say The Lord’s Prayer, in which we can celebrate our togetherness even though we are apart. One version is below:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.