Col 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
In August 642 AD King Oswald of Northumbria was defeated and killed in
battle against Penda, a rival king who was a pagan. Oswald had invited
the monks at Iona to send a Christian mission to convert his kingdom.
Aidan came and set up his headquarters on Lindisfarne, the tidal island,
just across the water from Bamburgh, the royal fortress. These were Saxon
times, when life was tough, and the British Isles were divided into a
number of smaller kingdoms, not all of which were Christian. Although
Oswald had to be a warrior king, in order to survive, and had defeated
other kings, his overall desire was to bring the light of the Christian
Gospel to his own people. Such was his desire that he would sometimes
accompany Aidan on his preaching tours. Aidan couldn’t speak the
language of the Anglo-Saxons very well, but Oswald knew Aidan’s
Irish tongue. So the King would interpret the missionary bishop’s
words in order to enlighten his own subjects. Humbly, he helped his own
subjects to receive the Gospel. An earthly king was pointing to our heavenly
King - Jesus.
Today is the last Sunday of the Christian year. Next week we start again
with Advent. Today we celebrate the reign of our heavenly King, Jesus
Christ. We recall what it meant for him to be king. We are reminded in
the Scriptures what sort of kingship was his. Our two readings today contrast
his two sides. In the opening words of Colossians we learn that the beloved
Son of God, the Creator of the universe has a special place in the order
of the universe. Our attention is drawn far away from mere earthly things
to a universal stage where Christ is the “first born of all creation”.
Christian teaching holds that the Son was the agent of creation –
“in him all things in heaven and on earth were created..”
In other words, through Christ, God created all that exists. We also understand
that all things hold together in Christ. He is, as it were, the central
hub of creation. Not only does he have the supreme place in creation,
but he is also the head of the Church – God’s creation of
a faithful community. Finally, through his dual roles in creation and
in the Church, God works to bring about reconciliation in this broken
King of Peace
Leaders influence the way life goes for their people. These days we are
cynical about our political leaders. But we follow without too much question
the dictates of fashion, or public opinion, or the persuasive power of
advertising and marketing. Most of us remain the led rather than leaders.
Oswald, like so many other kings or rulers, accepted Christ and thus his
kingdom gradually became Christian. In Colossians we learn how Christ
seeks to bring his influence to bear upon his subjects – whether
in human society or in the physical universe. Christ is the King of Peace
– the one who seeks by his just and gentle rule, to bring together
those parts of his kingdom that do not fit together very happily.
“If you really are a king,” the soldiers and religious leaders
mocked, then act like a king! There is an angry edge to their words as
they scoff at the defeated looking character, hanging as a victim of Roman
brutality. The death sentence hung over his head was enough to make people
react bitterly to him. Some were offended by the bald statement, The King
of the Jews”. They couldn’t take the humiliation, which was
perhaps, intended by Pilate, after he had been forced by the crowd to
let Jesus be condemned to death. So they reviled Jesus: “What sort
of a king are you, if this is where you end up!” They missed the
whole point. Perhaps they were too close to see. The very fact that the
King of Creation came to bring together his warring subjects, put this
king of peace onto the cross. There was no other way for him to achieve
this peace mission. St Luke, who so often favoured the underdog, highlights
the straightforward honesty of one of the criminals hanging with Jesus.
It took a dying condemned man to see who Jesus was. “Remember me
when you come into your kingdom!” More sincere words to allegiance
were never spoken by someone who wanted to accept Jesus’ kingship,
Jesus’ authority. In other words, the criminal saw, firstly that
Jesus was on his way somewhere through this death; second, he saw that
whatever or wherever Jesus was going, was a kingdom; and thirdly, he desired
to be in with this, whatever it might be. His words of faith and trust
were immediately accepted and rewarded by Jesus: “today you will
be with me in paradise.” All the others around had said, “If
you are a king…!” The criminal simply said: “remember
me, oh king!” as they died side by side.
Once upon a time there was a kingdom of monkeys. They were ruled by a
very large and very wise monkey king. The monkeys lived near a stand of
mango trees which ran alongside a river and enjoyed a constant supply
of these delicious fruits. One day the king noticed a castle being built
downstream from the mango trees. He ordered the monkeys to gather all
the mangoes from the trees. They dutifully responded, and collected all
the mangoes bar one which was hidden behind a bird’s nest.
One day this
mango fell from the tree into the river. The human king who inhabited
the recently built castle was taking a swim when the mango floated by.
He picked it up, and after learning from his Prime Minister that it was
a delicious fruit, he ate it. So impressed was he that the human king
determined to gain more mangoes, and set out with his guards in search
of themango trees.
When the human king found the mangoes he also found the monkeys. Though
the monkeys were willing to share the mangoes with him, the human king
wasn't. Deciding he would have all the mangoes for himself he order his
soldiers to pursue and slay the monkeys.
of this reached the wise monkey king he sadly knew that the day he feared
had arrived. The soldiers chased the monkeys through the forest until
they came to the edge of a tall cliff. The monkey king knew that if he
could get his subjects across the other side they would be safe. But how
to do it?
The monkey king took his huge body and used it to form a bridge between
the cliffs. One by one his subjects climbed over him to safety. The king
grew increasingly wearied and bruised, but knew he must hold on. As the
monkey’s scrambled across their king grew ever weaker, yet still
he held on. Finally, when the last monkey had cross the bridge, the monkey
king had witnessed the whole scene from high on the hill. He was so moved
by the monkey king's sacrifice that he ordered his guards to find a way
down the rocky cliff and rescue the monkey king. The guards found him,
barely alive, and brought him back to the king. The human king ordered
his best doctors to care for the monkey king and waited from him to regain
consciousness. When he did so the human king asked "You are their
king, why did you bother to die for them?"
The monkey king replied, "Because I am their King". And with
that, he died.
Eyes of faith
Colossians tells us of the universal significance of King Jesus –
his throne, as it were, is at the centre of the universe. He is not a
moon god or a sun king, but he is the Son of the most high God, the creator
of the universe. But Jesus is a king easily misunderstood. His sacrifice
on the cross is not a failure, a sign of shame and disgust. His sacrifice
on the cross is a sign, to those with the eyes of faith, that he is fulfilling
his role exactly. He has come not to save himself, not to promote himself,
but to rescue all parts of his kingdom that are in danger of falling apart.
He is the king who can only be seen clearly with the eyes of faith. Faith
utters, like the criminal, the simple words of allegiance to Jesus –
“remember me!” those are the words of a true subject. Christ
is King where his rule is accepted in the heart. The kingdom of God is
not a place, it is a relationship. Christ rules in hearts and lives that
accept his kingship. As more and more accept, so his kingdom grows. As
his kingdom grows, so the broken world is healed, is brought back together.
In this way, he is the King of Peace.
© Rev Paul Smith