A Voice From The Isles:
20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.
St Paul startles us in this verse by claiming that he has someone living inside him; moreover this person is Christ. But it doesn’t stop there! Christ is able to live inside him because he has died, or rather he has been crucified with Christ. Clearly St Paul is still alive but he means something else here. The “I” which has died is his ego, that demanding subject who always strives to be King, to sit on the throne where rightly only God should take his seat. When the “I” has been put to death then the throne of the heart will be clear and empty, ready for Christ to come and take possession, to reign and to glorify the person who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Let us imagine for a moment a set of toy Russian dolls, one inside the other. Furthermore let us assume that that the middle doll is you or I. Open up that middle doll and you’ll find another. This of course is Christ. But there is one more doll to go. If we open up Christ, what do we find? In St Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae, we read:
9 “For in Him (that is Christ) dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily”. (Colossians 2)
So in Christ’s humanity there is the fullness of God and since He is in us that fullness is also within our hearts and lives.
In St Luke’s Gospel Jesus is recorded as teaching:
“The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17)
There is a beautiful expression of this truth in the Macarian Homilies. It shows how within the heart of the believer not just Christ is there to be found but also all the friends of God:
“Within the heart are unfathomable depths … The heart is Christ Palace: there Christ the King comes to take his rest, with the angels and the spirits of the saints, and he dwells there, walking within it and placing his kingdom there.” (The Macarian Homilies, 15, 20, 32-33).
Clearly we need more than just one doll inside us yet we do not thereby suffer from multiple personality disorder! The purpose of having the kingdom of God within us is to make us whole, to glorify us. The richness of God’s kingdom is precisely that generosity of God which overflows in the abundance of his many gifts. Again as St Paul teaches in Colossians:-
27 “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1)
Is that not a wonderful thing? This “Christ in us” is not to be limited by human smallmindedness. The indwelling Holy Spirit makes of us a new creation as yet again St Paul teaches in his second letter to the church at Corinth:
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5)
Now all this concerns what lies within us, inside us. But this is only half the story! Let us return to the Russian dolls. We chose the middle doll to represent us, yet we know that we can place the middle doll inside the next and slightly larger doll and then finally that doll within the largest doll of all.
The first doll that we find ourselves in, larger than ourselves, is the body of Christ. He is in us as persons but we are also in Him as a community, the body of Christ, the Church. Having Christ within us means that we are members one of one another, united in Him, for Christ is not limited to any single person but according to the Holy Spirit in the Church He is to be found in all persons!
Surely this must radically affect how we treat each other, how we care for one another, how we bear one another’s burdens, share one another’s joys. To quote St Paul’s well worn phrase, we are to become all things to all people because all people are Christ to us and especially in the household of faith. Did not Jesus indeed pray for this outcome? He did of course and in St John’s Gospel we read the following from his high priestly prayer just before his arrest in Gethsemane:
20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17)
Know then now that we have come to the final and largest doll. This is God in all things, rippling out from the Church to touch all flesh that the world might believe and find its glory in God, embracing the whole of creation. But remember, this largest doll has all the other smaller dolls within it, smaller not in significance that is but in the order of their operation. From the secret recesses of each human heart to the furthest galaxy of stars God’s kingdom stretches. Our vision, our hearts must be enlarged to encompass the length, the height, the depth of God’s infinite love and His power in the whole of creation.
Mean, cramped and petty, self obsessed and tainted by ego our love and loving must never be, and so we return to the beginning of St Paul’s teaching, his own personal experience of the life of Christ. He says, let us recall, “I have been crucified with Christ.”
We can never achieve the kind of loving expected of Christians without identifying with Christ and participating in his death. We must then ask God to put to death within us all that is not holy, all that is not true, all that is hateful or unjust. These despicable things proceed from the infinitely greedy “I” or “me” that, according to our choosing either crucifies Christ afresh or being crucified resurrects humanity to glory along with the whole of the creation renewed in Him and in us.
We have, therefore, the power within us from God to regenerate not only ourselves but also through our relationships with each other and the Earth, together, the whole of the Cosmos. God calls us all to this great and wonderful work of mission, but let us always take care in order for this to happen to ask God daily to embed Himself in us more and more deeply within us and we in Him for in no other way shall we or anyone or anything else be saved.