Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Christ the King Sunday
St Barbara’s; 20.11.16
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Can you think of a moment of mouth-dropping, eye-popping wonder? One of those moments when the world stood still, when you could hardly take in and comprehend what you had just seen or heard. Maybe you had just climbed to the summit of a mountain and for the first time saw a glimpse of the stunning vista on the other side. Maybe you were sitting in a concert and heard an inspirational piece of music. Maybe you had just witnessed the most extraordinary piece of skill on the football pitch. A moment of wonder, of amazement, of delight.
As the church of Colosse read Paul’s letter and came to the words that we heard read this morning, I wonder if they had a similar such moment. As his words were read aloud in the church, I imagine there were gasps of astonishment, mutterings of amazement, cries of delight. Because in a few lines he opens the window for us that we may catch a glimpse of just how great Christ really is. It is an extraordinary view, that takes our breath away.
Paul describes Jesus as “the image of the invisible God”. For many, a struggle with faith is how can you believe in something or someone that you have not seen. How can you be sure you haven’t just made the whole thing up. And for others too, the wonders of nature, or the kindness of strangers, or just an intuitive sense, may give some kind of belief in a God, but one that is vague and uncertain. God is unknowable.
But here Paul tells us we can know what God is like. Simply look at Jesus. And this Jesus is not some poor or weak imitation, a shaky and blurred image, like a jolted camera where only a vague body shape is decipherable. No. This image is one of crystal clarity, of perfect definition. For “in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell”. It is an extraordinary thought. Imagine trying to put an earthquake into a test-tube, or an ocean into a bottle. Imagine what it would be like for fire to become flesh, a hurricane to become human, for life itself to come to life and walk in our midst. That power, that dynamism, that energy. That is just an inkling of what Paul is trying to say here. Christ shows us who God is, in the one way we can truly understand, by showing us God in human form.
For all of us, there may be times in our lives when God feels distant, when we are not quite sure what he is like. Well, at such times, it is worth our looking to Jesus, to read afresh the gospels, to immerse ourselves afresh in the biographies of his life that we find in the Bible, for in Jesus we see what God is truly like.
But Paul has more. Not only is Christ the image of God, he is the lord of creation. The world in which we live is extraordinary, astounding in its beauty and complexity.That nine million people are tuning in each week to watch the second series of Planet Earth is testament to how many of us are left awed by the natural world. The mountain ibex that can scale cliff faces with nonchalant ease; the eagles that can speed to ground at 200mph. And Christ is the one who created it all. “For in him all things in heaven and earth were created”. Jesus was before it all and made it all. In creation we see something of the creator. As the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote: “As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame… as the just man justices… Christ plays in 10,000 places, lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his.” It is through Christ that the world is made, and through the world that we can see Christ.
Not only does he create creation; he sustains it. “In him all things hold together”, Paul writes. Our world may at times feel like it is falling apart. Whether our physical world, with the environmental damage we inflict upon it through greed and neglect; whether our relational world, with the tensions between us breaking out in conflict and violence between people, communities and nations; or our emotional world, as we struggle to cope with sadnesses, disappointments and anxieties. But for all our attempts to the contrary, despite our weakness, our failings, our anger and greed, Jesus will hold this world together. That is an important message of hope, particularly for the many who, given recent political events, feel uncertain about the future of the world. We are not in some inevitable free-fall to disaster. Christ holds all things together.
Christ creates, he sustains, and as Lord of Creation, he is also the purpose of creation “All things have been created for him.” From the vastness of the universe to the intricacy and detail of a strand of DNA; from the delicacy of a tiny flower to the solid magnificence of a towering mountain; from the first cry of a newborn baby to the anthem of praise of the angels in heaven, all is created for Jesus, to give him delight, to give him praise. And as part of his creation, that is our purpose too. This is the very purpose of our existence: to bring Christ praise, to offer him our love, to worship him through how we live.
Oceans of ink have been expended, centuries of debate have been had, as to what is the purpose, the point of our world, why are we here? This day of Christ the King, this final Sunday in the church’s year, reminds us once again that the Christian answer is simple: our universe, all that is, including humanity, including ourselves, are here for one simple thing: to love and worship Christ.
But Paul does not leave it there. The window he opens onto the greatness of Christ opens wider still. Not only is he is the image of God; not only is he the lord of creation, who creates and sustains and who is its focus; but he is also the Lord of the New Creation too. In a world which is in desperate need of healing, of restoring, of peace, he does not abandon us. Instead, he is at work among us, creating something new, a new heaven and a new earth, where sin and death have lost their power, where life can be lived in its fullness.
How does he do this? Paul tells us: “through Jesus, God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things by making peace through the blood of the cross.” This Jesus, the Lord of Creation, awesome, holy, incomparably wonderful and majestic – this Jesus not only takes on physical flesh. He dies for us. In the words of the Servant King song we often sing: “Hands that flung stars into space to cruel nails surrendered.” This is how much God loves us; how much he longs for us to know him and love him. He goes ahead of us into death to overcome it, so that for us death is no longer the end but part of the process of the new creation. The girl who you may have heard about in the news on Friday who has had her body cryogenically frozen because she did not want to die did not need to fear death. Christ has gone ahead of her to open the way to new life. We have a resurrection hope.
Christ is King: he is the image of the invisible God; he is the Lord of Creation; and is the Lord of a New Creation. But as our Gospel reading shows us, such kingship is not universally recognised. The rulers, the soldiers, even one of the criminals, looking at Jesus on the cross were united in their scorn for him: “If you are the king, the Messiah, why don’t you save yourself?” For them, the proof of true authority and power was ultimately to be able to save oneself, to use power for ones own ends. Christ shows us a different way. True authority, true power, true kingship is exercised not by self-interest but by humility, by sacrifice, by love. That is a message for our political leaders, but it is also a message for all of us in our relationships at home, at work, in our community. How do we choose to exercise the power, the authority, the influence that we may have, whether with our families or with our colleagues and friends? Is our model that of Christ or that of the rulers and soldiers?
The other criminal on the cross, eyes opened, recognised Jesus for who he is truly was: “Remember me,” he says to Jesus, “when you come into your kingdom.” He sees Jesus as King. And today we are able to see him as even more than that. As the image of God; as the Lord of Creation; as the Creator of a new heaven and a new earth. And Jesus’ response to the criminal is one for all of us to hear: “today you will be with me in paradise” he tells him. That is true for us too. They are fitting words with which to end the church’s year.