This is the sermon I have preached yesterday at the church of St Mary Magdalen in the city centre. The readings set for the day came from the Roman calendar and so did their translations which didn't 100% match my quotations.
Fr Peter Groves and the congregation of Mary Mags have been really wonderful; they are well used to host ordinands involved in preaching courses.
“He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14).
Let me start by thanking Fr Peter for allowing this little Italian hobo to come and talk to you this morning. In my three years at St Stephen’s House I have heard and read many good things about this church, but one in particular stuck in my mind. It’s a quotation from Merrily on High by Fr Colin Stephenson former vicar of this parish. I know what some of you might be thinking: “Trust a Staggers ordinand to quote Merrily on High”.
Anyway, it goes like this: a preacher from the Diocese of Gibraltar was greeted with a gale of laughter by the congregation of Mary Mags for having said that he knew many Italians who longed to join the Church of England. Words of prophecy...
The thing is, if I wanted to find some common ground for our reflections today I could not have asked for a better day. Today we celebrate the Reign of Christ, or the solemnity of Christ the King. Under His just and gentle rule we are all the same; we have all been transferred by the Father in the Kingdom of His beloved son (Col 1:13).
Today’s New Testament readings seem to me to complete perfectly the liturgical year which is now ending. It seems like we have gone full circle; over six months after celebrating the Paschal mysteries we are back on Calvary to contemplate the Cross and the sacrifice which Jesus made for the sake of all the created order. Over six months after singing “the royal banners forward go”; we are still following the insignia of the Lamb which was slain, of the King of Kings.
“through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross” (Col 1:20)
The passage from Colossians we have just heard describes Christ’s work of redemption by employing a very powerful language of creation, suffering and reconciliation. The later verses of this passage encapsulate what the Church has believed about Jesus since the earliest times; in fact most Biblical scholars hold that these verses are part of a hymn about Christ which pre-dates the preaching of Paul; in other words a form of creedal statement used by one or more church communities in the first few years following the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Because of the context and content of these verses, we can find a parallel between the typically Jewish idea of Wisdom personified and Jesus; this sort of Wisdom Christology was one of the first attempts of the Church to reflect upon the nature of Christ: Jesus as the Wisdom of God; therefore, Jesus as the co-author of Creation and Jesus as sharer in the divinity of the Godhead.
So this ancient statement declares that Jesus is the very image of the invisible God or according to the Letter to the Hebrews he is the exact imprint of the Father. We can see the Father because we see the Son. Moreover, we can participate in the divine life of the Father, because Jesus has come to share his divine life with us in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Further down we read that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation; this is to say, he is prior to all and over all. He is the very embodiment of all the created order as everything is held together in Him. More importantly, He is prior to and over all the New Creation which has been inaugurated with His death and resurrection. Indeed, every time we look at an image of our crucified Lord and King we should remind ourselves of the words of Revelation:
“Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5).
This is all good, but what does it actually say to us, how does it feed our relationship with Jesus and how does it influence our dealings with one another?
Well, as Christians, by standing at the foot of the Cross, we see the new Creation being launched. That which the leaders of Jerusalem, the soldiers and the un-repented criminal saw as a curse and divine judgment we see – through the eyes of Baptism – as the coming of the new heaven and the new earth. By holding fast to this faith we are given another chance. No matter how grave or mundane our sin is, it is nailed to the Cross from which Christ reigns. We are the happy subjects to which the King of Kings has granted pardon, forgiveness and complete rehabilitation.
God “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:13).
We can turn to one another and say: “we can do it; we can live this new life; we are all in this together!”
But then again, the ruins of the Old Creation are still all around us. We are the ones who say “please Lord, free me from this, free me from that”, “PleeEeeese!” or worse we are the ones who say “if there were a God, he wouldn’t let bad things happen to good people” or “how can we say that Jesus is King when evil seems still lurking about?” The words of Luke echo our complaints; WE are often the leaders of Jerusalem, the soldiers and the un-repented criminals...
“they scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah* of God, his chosen one!’” (Luke 23:35).
“‘Are you not the Messiah?* Save yourself and us!’” (Luke 23:39).
At first we easily type-cast Jesus very much like any earthly, absolute monarch, perhaps only greater in status. He should listen to our wisdom and to our vision of justice and endorse them.
But in fact, I think the problem for all of us goes deeper than that. We like Jesus to be our King, and yet it is so easy not to like his throne; we like to be Christians and yet it is so easy not to follow Christ to Calvary. However, if Jesus does not reign from that Cross in our hearts, all is vain: vain is the hope of resurrection; vain is our Eucharist and unredeemable our sufferings.
If we truly believe in the universal reign of Jesus, we know that we are a people on the move; we are all fellow pilgrims towards the heavenly Jerusalem were our true citizenship will be revealed. We know from experience that sufferings are all around us because we encourage and succour one another to alleviate the pain of the journey. So let us look at the radiant majesty of our crucified King, although for many from the outside it will seem pointless. Let us yearn to see the Lamb which was slain on His throne of glory and to see His kingship to fully revealed.
We know that sufferings, crying and death will end, one day. And that glorious day will come!
“May [we] be made strong with all the strength that comes from Jesus’ glorious power, and may [we] be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father” (Col 1:11-12). Amen.