“Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Mark 3:35)
When the new translation of the of mass appeared, some six years ago now, we were perhaps a little surprised by some of the words which appeared. “Consubstantial” for example. “Conciliation” is another. And yet another which we hear from time to time is “Coheirs”. We hear it said that we are “Coheirs with Christ”.
It is an unfamiliar phrase, and an odd word. When we see it on the page, it may even seem difficult to pronounce. Coheirs is a word which may exist in the dictionary, but which I have to say I have never heard in conversation or even read anywhere else.
However, it is a word which indicates to us something very important about our faith.
An heir, of course, is someone who inherits, and more than just this, is someone who inherits by right of who they are. Usually the Heir is the only one who inherits. It could be a title, or some status or rank, or property. We know the word best when we speak of the heir to the throne, or the heir to a title. And of course there can be only one king, only one Lord Grantham. Sometimes a kingdom may be split up between others - this happens in Shakespeare's King Lear. It happened also to the sons of King Herod the Great. (Notable because they are unusual). But the successors in each case don't share the one Kingdom, no, they are the sole heirs of the parts they do inherit. And when we speak of “heirs and successors” we generally mean not beneficiaries, but those of future generations.
So “coheirs” are rare things, because heirs generally don't inherit together. So rare, that I can’t think of any actual example, even in history. That's why the word is so unfamiliar.
Yet we hear that we are coheirs with Christ. What does it mean? And why would the translators wanted to have used such an unusual word?
It is really about who Christ is, and what he does, and who we become.
The idea comes from St Paul, “… we are co-heirs with Christ … we share in his sufferings so that we might share in his glory.” (Romans 8:20)
When God became man in Christ, what we call the Incarnation, he didn’t just appear amongst us, like a ghost or a spirit an angel or a hologram. As St John says, he dwelt amongst us. He shared our lives, Our tears, Our sufferings.
He did not just speak a message to us, but he provided an example and model in his own life.
He did not just tell us to care for the poor, but he became poor for our sake.
He did not just sit at our bedsides to console us, but he took up his own bed on the ward.
His is a way not of sympathy, but of empathy.
He became one of us.
The fathers of the early Church, the teachers of the Christian communities of the first centuries, put it this way: God became man, so that we might become God.
So we are sons in the Son, and kings in the King.
St Paul says “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). He says that in baptism we die with Christ so that we might also rise with him (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12)
When we receive his body and his blood, we become part of his life, his body
We are coheirs with Christ.
We are his brothers and his sisters and his mother.
In faith, in hope, in love, we are one with him.