Through Christ and with Christ and in Christ

St. Peters Church Addingham

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‘Through Christ, and with Christ, and in Christ’

Or ‘by whom, and with whom, and in whom’ . We hear these words every week at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer and they sound grand and poetic, as the great prayer comes to a close. But what do they actually mean? Are they just three ways of saying the same thing? Or do the three phrases have different theological meanings?

All three phrases are used in the Bible by Jesus himself, and by St. Paul:

Through Christ

In Greek the word ‘dia’ can be translated as both ‘by’ and ‘through’ – as in Jesus’ words, ‘I am the way. No one can come to the Father except through/by me’ (John 14.6).

Jesus is the way to God. It is through Jesus, or by Jesus, that we can come to God. As St. Paul says:

‘Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand’ (Romans 5.1-2)

There is a danger that this makes God sound remote and inaccessible – that he will not let us into his presence unless Jesus has pacified him on our behalf. I do not think that is what the Bible means. Rather, God is spirit (John 4.24) and is therefore completely ‘other’ from us who live in a material world. He is inaccessible to us, not because he is distant from us but because he is different – his nature is beyond our apprehension. So to make himself known to us he sent his son to take our flesh upon him and to become human like us. Far from wanting to remove himself from us God wants to make himself known to us, to provide a way for us to come close to him. And he chose to do this through Christ. We can picture Jesus, we can relate to his life, we can read and respond to his words, we can enter into the story of his life and death. And as we do so we come to know God, for Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14.9)

We are different from God not only in that we have bodies; it is also the nature of the human condition that we are subject to sin and death. To have access to God is to be freed from the power of sin and death. So as we come to God through Jesus we find that he is not only the way but also the truth and the life.

As Jesus says: ‘I am the door; any one who enters through me will be saved’ (John 10.9)

This is the source of our joy as Christians. Just as we pray to the Father through Jesus, so ‘we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation.’ (Romans 5.11)

God makes himself known to us through Jesus. And we come to God through Jesus. In that sense Jesus is our go-between. I wonder how many couples met each other through a mutual friend or through a brother or sister? We spot someone we find very attractive and we want to get to know them but we do not know how. So we ask a mutual acquaintance to introduce us. That is exactly how it is with Jesus – we meet God through him.

With Christ

Images of Jesus as the ‘way’ or the ‘door’ can be impersonal in themselves. How can you relate to a door? So the next phrase, “with Christ”, complements this. Jesus is not only the way to God, he also accompanies us on the way. We come to God through Christ and with Christ.

The story of the road to Emmaus is an image of how Jesus walks with us on the way. He does not wait for us to come to him. He comes to us and walks alongside us, even before we recognise his presence with us. And as he walks with us on our journey of discipleship he encourages us, he opens the scriptures to us, and makes himself known to us in the breaking of the bread.

This is the nature of Jesus. He is named Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us’. He promises that where two or three are gathered together in his name he will with them. His last words in Matthew’s gospel are: “And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28.20)

But just as he is with us on our journey, so we who are with Christ go with him on his journey. The story of his death and resurrection become part of our story. Our baptism as a mystical symbol of this, as St. Paul writes:

‘Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that. we might be.freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him’.

(Romans 6.3-8)

In Christ

Through baptism we become a member of the body of Christ – we are incorporated into Christ.

If there is a progression of intimacy from ‘through Christ’ to ‘with Christ’ this finds its conclusion in the last phrase, ‘in Christ’.

Jesus expresses his complete intimacy with his Father in just this language of indwelling: “I am in the Father and the Father in me” (John 14.11). Jesus and the Father are one in love and will and action and nature, in the unity of the Spirit. For the very life and nature of God is one of community – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in eternal communion.

In Jesus’ last great prayer he prays that his disciples and all who believe in him may be drawn into this very same intimacy with him and his Father:

“May they all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, I pray that they also may be in us” (John 17.21)

In Christ we are invited to enter into the Holy Communion with God. In Christ we share his intimate relationship with the Father. In Christ we can call God our Father – we become one of the family. Through Christ we have access to the Father – with Christ we come into his presence – in Christ we enter into communion with God.

But that communion in Christ is not just a one-to-one relationship. Christ is in each one of us as individuals – but we are in Christ corporately. As we enter into communion with God we inevitably also share in communion with all the other members of the body of Christ:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3.28)

Jesus’ prayer is both that we should be one with God and also that we should be one with each other in him:

‘May they all be one, even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you.’ (John 17.21)

So each of those little phrases is packed with meaning, with resonance from the Bible. In those three phrases is the whole story of our salvation and communion with God, each clause drawing us closer to God and giving us greater cause for thanksgiving and praise. As I come to the end of the Eucharistic prayer I like to pause for silence and let these words resonate around our minds. I like to think of these phrases echoing round the temple of our soul as the final chords of a great anthem or organ voluntary reverberate around the vaulting of a cathedral:

Through Christ, and with Christ, and in Christ,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

all honour and glory are yours, O loving Father,

for ever and ever. Amen.