The Church’s year is closing; and we look towards the glorious consummation of God’s plan for creation – when the Saviour will ‘hand over the kingdom to God the Father’ (1 Cor 15:24), having triumphed over all evil, and (as our second reading puts it) ‘made peace by the blood of his cross’.
Let us not be put off by the fact that in today’s world, ‘kings and queens’ are no more than symbolic figures. Today we are invited to rejoice in the fact that we have the one ‘in whom all things were made’ as our leader. The incident remembered in our first reading – when the tribal chiefs of old Israel proclaimed David to be their leader - reminds us how important leadership is in our life. All the best things of life, we achieve together. Good leadership makes this possible; bad leadership creates most of the world’s greatest problems. Our Saviour is far more than a symbolic figure, we know; and our faith will be greatly strengthened, if we own him as the leader who can bring fulfilment to all our hopes.
‘Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection; for the sake of the joy which lay ahead of him, he endured the cross, disregarding the shame of it, and has taken his seat at the right of God’s throne’ (Heb 12:2). This text, like our gospel reading from Luke, reminds us that all our human expectations are overturned as we come to understand how Christ the King establishes and exercises his reign. Luke’s portrayal of Jesus crucified shows how well the community for which he wrote his gospel had come to appreciate this. Jesus (proclaimed ‘The King of the Jews’, in the inscription attached to the cross) has made himself powerless; he is rejected by ‘the leaders’ of the people (while ‘the people’, foreshadowing those who are to find faith, stand watching in silent awe); he is mocked and ridiculed by the leaders, by the brutal soldiers, and even by one of the criminals crucified with him. Ironically, their jeers give expression to what the crucified one really is - ‘the Christ of God’, ‘the Chosen One’, the ‘king’ the nation longs for, the one who ‘saves’.
And then, as if to reduce them all to silence, the other criminal crucified with him makes his submission of faith in Jesus crucified – as the one who would fulfil the hopes of Israel: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. And Jesus responds with the first pronouncement of an everlasting reign that will be shaped by the generous and merciful ways of his Father: ‘I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise’.
The first Christians were to glory in the reign of Christ – so different from the ruthless regimes of their familiar world. In today’s reading from the letter to the Colossians, we have a hymn from their early liturgies, celebrating the Saviour whose leadership ‘holds all things in unity’.
John Thornhill sm