Colossians 1: 15-20, Luke 23: 33-43
This week marks the end of the current Christian year. We have finished the season of Pentecost and today we celebrate that Jesus Christ is our Shepherd, our King and our Gateway of Hope, and next Sunday ushers in Advent, the beginning of the new year on the church calendar.
Christ the King Sunday brings forth different images. Our images of Kings and their characteristics can come from History, Fairy tales and even current images of Royalty from around the world today. Historically the term king meant absolute power over subjects, arbitrary authority over life and death. Kingship included bodyguards and armies. It may mean violent suppression of dissents. King implied palaces and luxury apartments, extravagance, maybe lofty arrogance, and grand displays of pomp and ceremony designed to impress the people and keep them under the royal thumb.
Christ our king has nothing in common with such a king. Christ is not the man with his finger on the button of military violence. Jesus completely transforms the concept of kingship. Jesus didn’t drive in a big chariot or ride in a Bentley – he walked, rode a donkey or occasionally got in a boat or walked beside one.
Jeramiah 23:1-6 which is one of the other lectionary readings for today tells us that the corrupt Shepherd’s or the Kings of Judah of old are going, that a new Shepherd is coming. A shepherd is coming that gathers, a shepherd that brings back those sheep that had scattered due to the leadership of those corrupt shepherds.
Today’s reading from Colossians 1 gives us a twofold message. The first part in verses 11-14 lays out a multitude of ways in which we can grow and be transformed in Christ: strength, power, glory, endurance, patience, joy, and thanksgiving. We are told that we share in the kingdom of light, because of what the Son has done, we are set free and our sins have been forgiven.
The second part of the reading in verses 15-20 gives us a vision of ways to describe and understand Christ: He is the visible image of the invisible god, the creator, redeemer, and sustainer, he holds everything together, a direct channel to the timeless eternal things of God.
When we put both sections into dialogue together, we find that in Christ we can find strength, endurance, patience, joy and thanksgiving in letting go our old ways of living, the things that hold us back, and embrace growth in a new life. All of these things flow from the way that Christ connects us and all of his creation to the power, hope, faith, and love that make up life’s greatest possibilities and are the deepest realities of God and God’s creation.
Let’s hear some of those amazing words from Colossians again…
Christ is the very image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. For in him all things were created in heaven and on earth, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or empires, principalities or other authorities. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body of the church, the beginning and the first-born from the dead, and in everything he has no equal. For in Christ all the fullness of God was happy to come and live, and through him all things shall be reconciled, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
That is extraordinary, spontaneous praise from the writer. It stems from love not obedience, from joy not fear. It is not the praises given by fearful subjects to dictators, kings and emperors. Nor is it like the hollow diplomatic praises spoken to visiting heads of state by prime ministers and presidents or those who are trying to “butter up” someone.
This praise from Colossians is for a unique King and at the heart of it is the crucified Christ. This is not a strutting earthly king. This is a crucified man wearing a crown of thorns not a crown of gold. This is a man, who turns our ideas of kingship inside out, he was a King and a Shepherd who gathered all the sheep, the unusual sheep, the lost one, not just the gathered 99.
He is the humble son of Mary. A carpentry apprentice to Joseph. A teacher, a healer, a guy who hung out with all the foreigners, fishermen, the tax collectors. He listened to women with an unusual respect in what was a man’s world, in fact they were often given the important messages to deliver to others.
This King was a guy who was also a soul in agony, praying in an Olive grove knowing the things that were to come. Always central is his cross, reconciling love, and the promise of universal peace:
When they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified Jesus, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they do”. Luke 23: 33-34
There was also an inscription over him, written in Greek, Latin and Hebrew: “This is the King of the Jews.” Luke 23: 38
Both Colossians and The Gospel reading for today takes us back to the centrality of the cross, to that person of supreme love who even forgave those who killed him. Above the cross was a notice which was meant to be ironic humour: JESUS; KING OF THE JEWS. For us it is surely the very heart of the truth.
Christ’s kingliness is defined by that lonely, suffering figure dying on a cross, naked and forsaken, mocked by his enemies, at the place called “The Skull” yet even in his last hours forgiving his murderers and comforting a criminal who is dying at his side.
Jesus is there hanging from a cross. Not exactly the place you would look for a king, but then again, nothing is ever quite as you expect with Jesus. Jesus between two criminals. One joins the soldiers and religious authorities and mocks him, the other intervenes and protests Jesus’ innocence. He asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. He could have asked for anything, but he just asked Jesus that he simply be remembered and not forgotten, not to be saved or rescued, not to be relieved of pain, but simply to be remembered.
Jesus responds by declaring that today, even now, he would enter with Jesus into Paradise. What kind of king is this? Welcoming criminals into his realm and promising relief and release amid terrible agony?
He is a king that is never quite as you expect him. He is a king who refuses to conform to the expectations of this world. A king who will not be governed by the world’s limited vision. This king meets us in our weakness. This king is willing to embrace all, forgive all, redeem all, because that is his true nature. He is a king that delights in ushering us into his kingdom while at the same time exhorting us to recognize and work to restore the kingdom already surrounding us. What king is this? He is our king.
In the Children’s story today from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe we found that the wardrobe was a gateway. It was a gateway that empowered the transition between two places. Narnia was a place where all those that lived there or entered into, found that the King of the beasts, the Lion Aslan, laid down his life in love and sacrifice whilst being mocked by those who killed him. The sacrifice was made as written, for the sin of betrayal committed by Edmund. The story of Aslan and his resurrection is a supposition, a metaphor for the story of Jesus Christ the King, a painful sacrifice of love.
According to Luke, when the risen Christ is taken up into heaven, angels comfort the disciples with the words: “This same Jesus will come again.” The disciples know that they will meet Jesus again. Just as Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy know that they will one day go back to the Kingdom of Narnia and that they will meet Aslan again.
The real power in all of this story is love. God so loved us that he gave his only son. Jesus so loved us that he died on that cross. He tells us that the greatest commandment is to love ourselves and to love our neighbours as ourselves. Love is Jesus personified. Love is the King to which we must all one day give account.
In your newsletter today is a Poem – The Gates of Hope by Victoria Safford.
The Gates of Hope
“Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope—
Not the prudent gates of Optimism,
Which are somewhat narrower.
Not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
Nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
Which creak on shrill and angry hinges
(People cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through)
the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of
“Everything is gonna’ be all right.”
But a different, sometimes lonely place,
The place of truth-telling,
About your own soul first of all and its condition.
The place of resistance and defiance,
The piece of ground from which you see the world
Both as it is and as it could be
As it will be;
The place from which you glimpse not only struggle,
But the joy of the struggle.
And we stand there, beckoning and calling,
Telling people what we are seeing
Asking people what they see.”
Victoria Safford, the minister of White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church, in Mahtomedi, Minnesota (www.unitarian.org/whitebear), is the author of Walking Toward Morning.
Victoria Safford is encouraging us to tell people about what we are seeing & ask people what they see at the Gateway. For Christians, Jesus is the gateway, Jesus is the hope. Hope empowers the transition between two places.
In John 14:6 Jesus tells Thomas; “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Jesus is telling us he is the Way, he is the gateway, he is our gates of hope. He is our King and Our King remains the one with the crown of thorns.
Written by Delia Quigley
Delia is an elder at TUC and a leader at the monthly Rainbow Christian Alliance. She is also a leader in Kairos Outside ministry and in the Emmaus Walks.
Delia is a retired Federal Police officer and has served in several peacekeeping operations, and is a member of Presbytery Standing Committee.More from Delia Quigley