by Bishop Wayne Smith

On Easter Day, almost no preacher will turn to the appointed reading from the Epistle to the Colossians. I have gone there perhaps two times in thirty years of ordained ministry, and the reason is simple: The gospel readings on Easter Day are so compelling.

Nonetheless, the Epistle to the Colossians has something to tell us. The author addresses a community that is blessed – or cursed, depending on the perspective – with a lot of spiritual athletes. This part is definitely not good, that the spiritual athletes are pretty impressed with their own abilities. They are impressed with their knowledge, their techniques, their efforts, their spiritual authority, all of which give them visions and carry them off into the heavenly spheres.

Colossians says: They’ve got it wrong. The spiritual life is not possible because of techniques and visionary high dives. A spiritual life is available to the Christian because Jesus is risen from the dead and lives on high, and not on the basis of heavy spiritual lifting.

Let me put it this way, I read a book some years ago that said the normal practice for a Christian’s spiritual life should include forty minutes of contemplative prayer, or the prayer or silence, or meditation, or whatever you want to call it. In fact the author suggested forty minutes, twice a day.

A lovely idea, I suppose, but it’s not going to happen. This respected writer must have lived in Colossae – a capable spiritual athlete who has lost perspective. He is like a distance runner who takes long distances as the norm for everyone, when it comes to exercises. If he can run a long time and get something out of it, then everybody ought to be able to do that. Spiritual athleticism as a norm can leave out so many people, who themselves still need a spiritual life.

And everybody needs a spiritual life, the same way everybody needs to exercise.

When it comes to the spiritual life, the billions alive on this fragile earth are basically beggars looking for bread. All of us. You tell spiritual beggars that eighty minutes of meditation every day is a norm – and what you give them in saying that, isn’t bread. Even if it would be good for them, it probably will seem so impossible as to be irrelevant.

And yet everybody still needs a spiritual life. Colossians recognizes this basic truth. That short, pithy reading from the epistle on Easter Day recognizes this truth. The hiding away of human life in the heavenly places – oh yes, that’s to be desired. But be very clear, says Colossians. We get to have a spiritual life because of the resurrection of Jesus, which is sheer gift and not a burden to be endured.

We don’t get a spiritual life because we know a lot of techniques, or meditate eighty minutes a day. Though let me be clear: Everyone is free within the life of the community to do those eighty minutes. If one is so wired. If one has the desire. If one has the need. There is nothing in the tradition to stop a believer from going such distances. My point, and Colossians’, is that meditation is not what saves us. Jesus risen from the dead — that’s our salvation.

 

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