Jeremiah 23:1-6, Colossians 1:11-20
November 21, 2010
This is Christ the King Sunday. And as you “liturgy buffs” no doubt know, Christ the King is the final Sunday of the liturgical year. The “liturgical year” is that whole series of Sundays throughout the calendar year that help us celebrate the life and times of Jesus. That whole thing was set up long ago at the earliest councils of the Church!
Long ago, they decided that the liturgical year would begin with Advent – which starts next week, by the way! It would then move through the life and ministry of Jesus in January and February. It would celebrate his passion, death, and resurrection in the time of Lent and Easter. It would commemorate the birth and the early days of his Church. And then the whole year would culminate in this celebration of “Jesus Christ the King.” That’s what the whole of the life of Christ leads up to!
You can see by your bulletins that we’re going to end this service today with the Hallelujah Chorus. And the reason is, that’s what this song is about. “The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever!” Over the years, there’s been a question about when to sing that song. Some have said it’s appropriate at Christmas. Some have said Easter. (I always forget what part of the oratorio it comes from. Adrienne?) Well, I was thinking last year, what better time to sing it than Christ the King Sunday. Doesn’t that make sense? And lo and behold, somebody took me seriously! (Wow! Maybe we’ll start a tradition! I’ll put it on Facebook!) So sing along if you know it!! (Oh what the heck, sing along even if you don’t know it!) Christ is king!
The scripture I’ve chosen to go along with “Christ the King” is this passage from the beginning of Colossians. Here, in this first chapter, we have this wonderful description of the eternal nature of Jesus Christ. It says, “He is the visible image of the invisible God, for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together.”
I love those words. They are truly amazing! But we have to remember that Paul wrote what he wrote for a reason. As I’ve said before, reading these letters is like listening to someone talk on the phone. We only hear their words. We don’t hear what the other person is saying. So here we have these amazing words, but unless we know some of the history, we don’t know why Paul wrote them. Sometimes we think when he wrote things like this, he was just “feeling lofty and majestic” at the time. But it turns out these people needed to hear these words!
Paul was writing to the Church in Colossae, and he was trying to give them an idea of just who this Jesus was and is. Because there were a lot of conflicting ideas about that. In that church there were a lot of people who had a lot of different opinions about that nature of Christ. And Paul was called on to try to “straighten things out.”
I think we might need to think about that, too. There are a lot of different understandings about Jesus in our world! And I’m not talking about those outside of traditional Christianity. We would expect that. We would expect the Jewish people, the Muslim people, and people of various other faiths and philosophies to think differently than we do about Jesus. But even in the Church, people sometimes aren’t sure what to think. At the very least, the importance of Jesus has been de-emphasized by many because too many people in our culture have become “offended” when they hear his name.
So I think we need these words, too! And we need to think about them, not just because we might have wrong ideas about Jesus. But also because we need this kind of inspiration from time to time. We need confirmation. We need edification in our beliefs. That’s why we have music like the Hallelujah Chorus. That’s why we sing it. Not just because it’s a wonderfully written or a beautiful sounding song – which it is. But it also lifts us up! It puts us in the mind of “Christ the King!” It helps us to remember. It helps us “catch an image” – again – of Jesus as Christ the King. That music, and Paul’s words, help us remember that he is “the visible image of the invisible God.”
Of course that song also helps us to praise the risen Christ! And that’s good too! I believe that pleases God. (No matter how well we sing it!) And that’s what our focus needs to be. In the end, I hope we’ll find that our faith is not so much about “knowing the right things,” as it is about “knowing God!” (You’ve heard me say that before!) The work that Jesus did on the cross is about our relationship with God. That’s what God wants! He wants us to have a daily, vibrant, growing, meaningful relationship with him. That’s what Paul’s words inspire us to think about!
And they do one thing more. As they speak about Jesus being “the visible image of the invisible God,” they remind us of this great mystery in Christ, that we are being conformed to his image! Paul would also write to the Corinthians that “we are being changed into his image, from one degree of Glory to the next.” (II Corinthians 3:18) And that brings us full circle. We were created in God’s image, now, in Christ, we are to reclaim that image in ourselves!
So hear these words again as you prepare your hearts and minds for this sacrament. For in it we commune with Jesus, who is “the visible image of the invisible God, for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together.”
Eternal God, we praise you for “the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ.” We thank you that you have brought us back into your kingdom through him. And we remember in this sacrament your love represented here at this table. Help us to know your presence now in this communion, for we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.