The Wardrobe of Easter: Compassion
God's Word makes a breath-taking confession about followers of Jesus: they have become resurrected with their risen Lord.
Note Paul’s bold claim, spoken first to the Colossian community, but true about all Christians: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ.” Consequently, one fact is more certain—and more important—than anything else that can be said about them: Believers in Jesus have become “Eastered people,” raised from an old life of death and sin to a fresh, alive-in-Christ manner of living.
As a natural and necessary consequence of this fact, Paul encourages believers to live and act appropriately. His summons: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience…etc.” (Colossians 3.12ff) Dress up daily in your dazzling “Easter best,” so to speak, in apparel which shows forth and proves the fact of your new aliveness.
The Uniform of Easter
What articles of clothing make up the Christian “uniform of Easter?” They are the resurrection character-qualities and practices the Lord’s followers are to put on and wear daily. Paul lists no fewer than 31 of these qualities in Colossians 3.12-4.18. In succeeding weeks, during the seasons of Easter and Pentecost and Ordinary Time, we shall examine each of them. We begin with the quality of compassion, first on Paul’s list.
“Compassion” means “to suffer together with.” The word itself comes from the Latin: the preposition “cum” or “with” and the verb “patior” or “to suffer.” A compassionate person does not turn away from a neighbor who suffers and is in trouble. Rather, willingly, deliberately, and with magnificent tenderness, she enters into the sacred arena of another’s distress, and shares it.
Why should Eastered, risen-with-Jesus people act with compassion? For three reasons (at least):
1. Compassionate Christians deliver vital help to others.
Believers whose lives are marked by compassion are conduits, as it were, through which God’s strength can flow into the lives of those who suffer and are troubled. It can soothe them and bring fresh hope and courage. (cf. I Sam 23.6, II Cor. 1.3-7)
2. Compassionate Christians can serve as a model of a better way—God’s better way—to live together.
In a culture shot through with competitiveness, vindictiveness, envy and bitterness, throngs upon throngs of human hearts are lonely, drenched in tears and parched with longing for others to show them care. It’s a “sad world,” as the 16th century Christian confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, so simply but eloquently puts it. No human being—not even one’s strongest enemy—is spared from having to bear her or his burden of pain and trouble. Robert Louis Stevenson commented: “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”
Sharing others’ suffering divides their anguish; showing them compassion alleviates their distress. An ancient philosopher—was it Philo of Alexandria?—once advised: “Be kind and compassionate today, for everyone you meet is fighting a difficult battle.” The risen Lord beckons his followers, as evidence of their triumphant rising with him, to set the pace in showing compassion toward all.
3. Compassionate Christians mimic God.
The heart of the Triune God himself throbs with compassion. The Father is compassionate: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.” (Psalm 103.13) The Son is compassionate: “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9.36) The Holy Spirit is compassionate: "I will pray to the Father,” Jesus said to his disciples before he left them to return to his Father:, “ [the Father] shall give you another comforter to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth..." (John 14.16) Scripture praises the triune God as the “God of all comfort [read: “compassion”] who is compassionate toward us in all our troubles. (II Corinthians 1.3-7)
Finding compassion in worship
God himself being compassionate, Christians who daily put on their Easter clothing of compassion are acting like God himself.
There’s no finer nor more strategic place to hear the call to act compassionately toward others and become skilled in putting on this resurrection virtue than in the assembly of God’s people gathered for worship. There the risen Lord’s followers hear his summons to live like him. There He promises them his Spirit’s presence and power to do so. There he speaks his words of blessing, “Lo, I am with you,” as they depart to take up again their work of compassion in the world. Corporate Christian worship, therefore, serves as—dress rehearsal!—practice for performing acts of compassion from Monday through Saturday.
And on Sunday, too.
O Master, let me walk with thee
in lowly paths of service free;
tell me thy secret; help me bear
the strain of toil, the fret of care.
Help me the slow of heart to move
by some clear winning word of love;
teach me the wayward feet to stay,
and guide them in the homeward way.
Teach me thy patience; still with thee
in closer, dearer company,
in work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
in trust that triumphs over wrong.
In hope that sends a shining ray
far down the future's broadening way,
in peace that only thou canst give,
with thee, O Master, let me live.
Words: Washington Gladden (1836-1918), P.D.
This series was written to be read in the following order: