Colossians 1: 15-16
I had a primary school teacher moment this week and made these jigsaw pairs for Sunday's all age talk on Colossians 1: 15-20, the pre-eminence of Christ or, depending on your age, How big is your Jesus?/How cosmic is your Christ?
There's a reason why I nearly always, out of the 3 set readings for Sunday, go with the gospel for an all age talk.
Because stories speak loudly, and you can focus on narrative for younger minds, and the meaning behind the story for the older ones (though sometimes, a wonderful bright 6 year old can be relied upon to give the succinct theological meaning in front of everyone else, thus proving the truth, 'from the mouths of babes and infants you have ordained praise').
But this Sunday's gospel is (again) John 1 - the Prologue. We read it at the Carol Service every year: 'In the beginning was the Word'. It's a wonderful pean to the divinity of Christ, but it's not a story. So this Sunday we're going with the Epistle. And that presents some challenges for the children - hence the jigsaws. I enjoy preparing all age talks in the hope that, like the 1970s Heineken advert, they will 'refresh the parts other sermons cannot reach'.
But this still leaves the problem with preaching on doctrine, not narrative: how to avoid the sacred/secular divide? The sacred/secular divide line runs right through every area of life and even believers find it hard not to fall into the chasm - the chasm where you talk about religious stuff in church and then return to your normal every day life completely unaware of how faith relates to your life - to work, leisure, finance, parenting, politics, peace, ecology, healing.
Because the picture of Jesus in the Colossians reading is of a very big Saviour. This is not an image which fits well with the pluralistic range of 'saviours' on offer today. Even thinking about Jesus as a baby or a dead man who mysteriously re-appears is to limit the scope of what St Paul puts before us in this letter. Christ is cosmic. In him all things hold together - that is, atoms as well as the inner healing we all need before we can make peace with our lives and losses.
The pictures of Christ in this short reading are amazingly multi-faceted - hence the wide array of images on one half of the jigsaw pieces. Put briefly, Jesus is:
- fully part of the Godhead (the image of the invisible God)
- the agent of and reason for creation (all things have been created through him and for him)
- the being by which creation holds together
- the head of the body which is the church
- the alpha (beginning)
- the first raised (the first born from the dead)
- the one through whom we are reconciled to God (by his blood on the cross)
This doesn't just touch on theology but on the way we see the physical world, the metaphysical world, the ecclesiastical world, and the inner world. It speaks to the outburst this week by Stephen Fry, who railed against a God who was 'utterly utterly evil' because he apparently 'created' bone cancer in children. It speaks to the fear of death. It speaks to the human need to find meaning and purpose in life.
Christ is 'all in all' (another favourite Pauline phrase). Here's hoping that young or old tomorrow, we not only have a mind expanding experience of how big Jesus really is, but also take that picture out into the world - a world that is, despite the false sacred/secular divide, still 'charged with the grandeur of God' (Gerard Manley Hopkins).