The Christian year begins with Advent, the four weeks before Christmas during which we prepare to meet the child born to be king of the Jews. Now, having worked through the story of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection over the last year, we end with a celebration of Christ as king.
But our readings give us two very different pictures of Christ as king.
Colossians describes Christ as the divine king, Christ as God incarnate. (You may recognize some of the language from the Eucharistic Prayer we have used for the last couple of months.)
Listen again to what it says. “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and earth were created…[A]ll things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together….In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things.”
That is impressive stuff! In Colossians, we see Christ as the King of all creation, the one who created all things, holds all things together, redeems all things. This is the Christ we worship.
As we turn to the Gospel reading, with its very different picture of Christ the king, as we look at Christ on the cross, keep that picture of the divine Christ in your minds. What we see on the cross is God incarnate.
We all know the story. Jesus has been betrayed, rejected, tortured. In his last moments, the people around him mock his pain. And written above Jesus through it all is the inscription “This is the King of the Jews.”
That may have been a warning—this is what happens to anyone who claims to be king of the Jews. That may have been more mockery. Just maybe it was a perverse profession of faith.
But this much is clear: this is a surprising picture of a king, especially a divine king.
And the lesson is simple. Jesus is a different kind of king. Jesus is the kind of king who submits to pain and humiliation out of love for his people. Jesus is the kind of king who forgives his enemies even as they kill him. Jesus is the kind of king who promises a dying man that they will be together in paradise. Jesus is the kind of king who dies for us.
Of course, Jesus is also the kind of king whom death cannot hold. Jesus rises from the grave, defeating sin and evil and death. Jesus ascends to the right had of the Father, where he takes his rightful place as the Lord of all creation. Colossians reminds us of all that.
But the resurrection does not undo the crucifixion. And so, on this Christ the King Sunday, we say two things about our King and Lord. One is that he reigns in power and glory forever. The other is that he suffers and dies. Both are true of our Lord.
And both are true in our world and in our lives.
As we look around us, we can see plenty of crucifixion moments, plenty of examples of the enduring power of sin and death, the stuff that put Jesus on the cross.
And, in the midst of those crucifixion moments, we have resurrection moments, kingdom moments, moments when we glimpse the power of God’s kingdom at work.
I witnessed both over the last week or so: a bit of crucifixion and a bit of God’s redeeming grace.
A little over a week ago, someone defaced Mount Tom with racist and anti-Semitic graffiti. The racism and anti-Semitism were not subtle.
I say what is obvious. Bigotry is always an expression of hatred. In this case, in many cases, it is cowardly. It is also threatening. Bigotry is intended to intimidate the targeted groups.
On the cross, Christ exposed the sin and evil at the heart of a broken creation. On the cross, Christ endured hatred in the name of love. Every expression of hatred is a rejection of the God of love. Every expression of hatred drives us back to the foot of the cross. Every expression of hatred is a crucifixion moment.
Until Jesus comes back and establishes God’s kingdom in power and glory, crucifixion moments will continue. Until that day, we will never fully escape the cross.
But the good news of Christ is that crucifixion is only part of the story. The one who dies is also the one who reigns. Christ rose from the dead. And Christ’s resurrection makes possible other resurrection moments, kingdom moments, even in the midst of our broken and sinful world.
As we would hope, the crucifixion moment on Mount Tom called forth a whole series of resurrection moments. Good people promptly cleaned up the graffiti. They were not park employees. They were just good people who refused to let an expression of hatred stand on public land.
Other people blanketed Mount Tom with love. Literally. They wrote messages of love on blankets and laid them all around the site where the graffiti had been.
Our diocese organized a ritual to “reclaim the space.” Our Bishop led a short service of cleansing and rededication.
For now, in that space, love has spoken more powerfully than hatred.
I am under no illusions. Whoever wrote the graffiti in the first place will probably return. Crucifixion moments will continue to happen. But for today, I am glad that resurrection, kingdom, grace, love, have been made visible.
This is exactly what our reading in Colossians is all about.
It begins with a prayer. “May you be strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience.” We need to be strong. We need to endure. We need to face crucifixion moments with the power of God’s love.
And we can, because we worship the king of all creation, the king in whom all things hold together, even despite the power of sin. We can because of what Christ has done.
Listen one more time to Colossians. In Christ, God “has rescued us from the power of darkness.” God has “transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption.” Through Christ, “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
Of course we live in a world of sin and darkness, in which the cross remains a constant possibility. But we are the people of God. We are part of God’s kingdom even now. We see crucifixion moments, and we see through them to the resurrection waiting to shine forth.
Just that power of seeing, that ability to see resurrection even in the face of crucifixion, is already an incredible gift.
But God calls us to more. God calls us to be like those people who responded to the graffiti with actions. God calls us to be agents of resurrection in our world. That is what it means to serve our divine King.
And so, on this day, I give thanks to God for the redemption of Jesus Christ. I give praise to Christ our King, who brings life and love out of hatred and death. And I pray that we may be messengers and agents of Christ’s kingdom in our world.
In the name of Jesus Christ, king of kings and lord of lords. Amen.