Friday, November 19, 2004

Christ the King Sunday – Nov. 21, 2004

This Sunday traditionally marks the end of the liturgical year. This denotation is of course arbitrary, since the argument could be made that Easter is the proper beginning of the Christian year. Thus the Triduum somehow contains both the ending and beginning (especially if the Great Vigil is kept… and it should be!).

For the texts this week, I was slightly surprised that they were not of the blatantly apocalyptic variety to which I have grown accustomed. No sheep and goats from Matthew. No visions from Daniel or scenes from the heavenly court in Revelation. Instead this week, we get a text from Jeremiah, the hymn/creed from Colossians, and the crucifixion scene from Luke with the penitent thief (traditionally called St. Dismas). This passage is one of interest, since Jesus’ words to the thief “Truly I say to you today you will be with me in paradise,” have often been used to support the notion that as soon as one dies the soul goes off to be with God in heaven. However, the Greek is a little ambiguous. It all depends on how you punctuate the sentence. Is it “Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.” OR “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” But this, I think is a discussion for another time.

In the congregation which I serve, we made an interesting choice. We are doing our “annual” pledge drive. (It’s annual only in the sense that we are reviving a practice that was tried a few times every couple of years, but we are hoping to create a new practice that becomes self-sustaining.) The Colossians text fits right in with that. The basic gist of the text, and it is not at all subtle about it, is that all things are Christ’s. The Greek phrase “ta panta” (I will figure out a way in the future to use a Greek font in addition to transliterating) shows up 6 times in verses 15-20. That all things belong to Christ is the basis of Christian stewardship, but I was struck by some of the other “economic” language.

In the introduction to the creed/hymn, our epistle writer (I tend to think Paul did not write this epistle, but I do hold out a real possibility that he might have written it) writes, “In all strength, may you be made strong by all endurance and patience, while giving thanks with joy to the Father who made y’all fit for the portion of the share of the saints in light;”(vv. 11-12) (I am aware that setting out my own translation, which might be wrong, does entail some hubris, but I wanted to point out some things of interest… ) The “portion of the share” gets translated as “to share in the inheritance” by NRSV, which I think is correct. But this is an “economic” term. We share in the inheritance because, as it states further, we are “rescued from the authority of the dark and brought into the kingdom/rule of his beloved son…” The Greek word for “share” klhros (h= eta, so sounds like “ay”) has in other places a sense of distribution of a country conquered by the Jews, which certainly goes well with the second part of the introduction about being rescued and brought into the kingdom of the beloved Son.

Ultimately we share in the inheritance of the saints in light only be being rescued from one authority, that of darkness, and being brought into the rule of Christ, who is our king. Again the word kingdom or rule comes from the Greek word “basileia.” Basileia is more of an active word, but it implies that there is a king over its subject. There are certainly echoes of Romans here, where we are either a slave to sin or a slave to God. Here we are either a subject of darkness or a subject of Christ, where we share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

The creed/hymn goes on further to talk about this king.

  • He is the image of the invisible God, firstborn of all creation. All things have been made through him and for him.
  • He is before all things and all things have hung together/existed in him.
  • He is the head of the body, the Church.
  • He is the beginning/ruler (arxh), firstborn of the dead ones, so that he himself might be in all things.
  • In him is pleased to dwell every fullness (pan to plhrwma; w=omega, sounds like a long o), and to reconcile all things to him, after making peace through the blood of his cross.

All things, seen and unseen, are created through Christ and for Christ. How do we talk about stewardship and our giving without coming to terms with this? Even folks who tithe, must wrestle with it, since Wesley has a line in one of his sermons that goes something like, “If you are giving ten percent to Christ, what are you doing with the other 90%?” One hundred percent is what belongs to Christ: all things, visible and invisible, things on earth and in heaven, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities. Again here is another echo from Romans. This time from the favorite funeral passage, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, not depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39)

What I find interesting is the phrase, “in him is pleased to dwell every fullness.” Not just fullness, but every fullness is pleased to dwell in him. There is a sense that his divinity is in superabundance, and that it cannot be diminished. Despite having died, he is the firstborn of the dead, his divinity is not reduced by that. He was a human, but that too did not reduce his divinity. After all, everything came into being in and through him.

Notice too the beginning and ending of the hymn. “He is the image of the invisible God” and “to reconcile all things to him, after making peace through the blood of his cross.” Christ is the image (eikwn) of the invisible God… Christ pours himself out for us, in the same way that God the Father poured out his love to begin creation in the first place.

So how does all of this relate to Christ being King anyway? Modern humans in the West have little understanding of what it means to live under a king. In America we live under a president. We would never believe that all things belong to the king. I think it’s apparent that most Americans see the need for some of their money to go to the state for various benefits, but they are always seeking to minimize that amount. Even when they want to increase taxes, they try to do so in a way that minimizes how much. Here Christ as our king claims everything. Everything is meant for him. We owe it all to him, being subjects in his kingdom of light. Of course, what does that mean? It means that all of our goods should serve him. So of course, not all of our money should be handed over to the Church. We all need to eat and be sustained bodily. We need to raise our children, put a roof over their heads, and clothes on their backs. That can all, I think, be seen as serving Christ. But what about the rest? I am literally surrounded right now by boxes of mine that are unused for any purpose mostly. These boxes are things that I have accumulated throughout years. How do these serve Christ?

It is in our king that every fullness is pleased to dwell. We should be free from the need to accumulate more and more, to hoard. Our abundance comes from the one in whom all abundance exists, that is where we should look for our sense of abundance. We share in that inheritance.

Grace and Peace.


Phillip said...

I know this Sunday is Christ the King, but might this Colossians text actually suggest that Christ is the kingDOM? It was Origen who said, "The Gospel Jesus is autobasileia, the kingdom himself," and there is some echo to this in vv 13-14. "Kingdom" (basileia) is feminine in the Greek, yet the relative pronoun in v 14 is masculine. God has "transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in WHOM (not "in which," which would sound a little less awkward) we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." At this point, the writer of Colossians almost makes Jesus sound like a place where things like redemption happen, yet we usually don't think of a person as a place. God's kingdom happens where Jesus is present. Jesus' kingship is therefore dynamic, eternal, able to operate inside our time and outside of it. It spans death, which is the de facto downfall to all earthly kingdoms. The kingdom of God comes among us now--often in secretive ways--but that does not mean that Christ is limited to ruling as King wherever he can eke out territory in this world--in a stable manger, in a fishing boat, on an church altar, in a political platform, etc. No, Christ is able to be King over and in and through and in spite of all things. When Christ is with me and I know his benefits, I'm therefore already living in his kingdom, I'm already transferred there. And yet, I can pray "thy kingdom come," that all the world--including me--may become truly redeemed and reconciled "IN CHRIST" and know more fully that we have been created for him.

Brian said...

You make some good points Phillip as always.

And I know you like Origen, but he does make me a little nervous at times. :)


Brian said...

Some further reflection on your comments Phillip, made me think about the text a little bit more.

The text says that we are rescued from the darkness and brought into the kingdom of his beloved son (eis thn basileian tou huio ths agaphs autou). What is the use of the genetive?

It could be that the genetive serves the use to locate the kingdom or more precisely describe what (or who!) the kingdom is...

brought into the kingdom in his beloved son

brought into the kingdom which is his beloved son

Of course, the sense that probably makes the most sense is that of the kingdom which belongs to the beloved son... i.e. the beloved son is the ruler of this kingdom and we are brought into it.