God seeks the reconciliation of all things to each other and God in the cross and resurrection of Christ.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Reign of Christ, year C
Texts: Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
God didn’t need to die on the cross to forgive your sins or mine.
The holy and Triune God who made all things has a heart wider than the universe God created, deeper than the depths of space. The Hebrews whose Scriptures and faith we share witness to a God whose capacity for forgiveness and love is beyond our imagining. Even in the depths of prophetic wrath, God’s forgiveness is announced. God can and does forgive whenever God wants to. The Bible says so. God just has to say, “you are forgiven.”
And today we heard Jesus, God-with-us, offer forgiveness – before he died – to all who were killing him, from priests to governor to soldiers.
But we needed the cross to see God’s forgiveness of us. To see the love of God for humanity and the creation that draws all things into God. We see our forgiveness at the cross because there we finally are convinced of God’s eternal love and mercy, dying for us rather than destroying us.
God didn’t need to raise Jesus from the dead to give you or me or anyone life after death, either.
The almighty and Triune God who made all things invented life. In God’s creation things live and die and new life comes through death. Stars and galaxies and planets and creatures die and produce new ones. If God wants to provide a life in a world to come after our death here, make a new creation, God can. And will. The Bible says so. God just has to say, “let there be life.”
But we needed Jesus’ resurrection to see this truth. Believers began to realize that if Jesus lives, death can’t stop God. So we will live, too. Paul powerfully proclaims this to the Corinthians. Because Christ is risen, without doubt, Paul says, you and I and all creatures now know that we also will rise to new life.
But something God aches and longs for God can’t do by declaring.
The Triune God deeply desires reconciliation in this creation. Between you and me, between all peoples and all nations. Reconciliation between all people and God. A world of harmony and peace with justice that God intended from the beginning. And God can’t simply say, “let there be reconciliation.” We’re involved – our will, our actions, our love.
Paul claims repeatedly in several letters that the purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection is the reconciliation of all things, and all people to God and all people to each other. God needed to die and rise to lead us to this way.
God had to live with us and proclaim it, model it. Jesus, God-with-us, proclaimed a reign of God steeped in reconciliation, where all are valued, all are loved, all are forgiven, all live in love with each other. Where enemies cease being enemies because they pray for each other and love each other. Where no one is driven away or marginalized for any reason. And that life and witness threatens the power of institutions both religious and political who thrive on control and conflict and judging and winning. They always resist.
So Jesus, God-with-us, let us kill him to show that the reconciliation of all things is God’s heart for the creation and God will stick to that heart even if it means dying. Through Christ, Paul says today, God was pleased to reconcile all things to God, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace through the blood of the cross. In dying and rising from the dead for love, God showed the true path to life for all things.
To see it, you need the eyes of our friend hanging on his own cross.
So many didn’t see Jesus as a ruler that day. Not Pilate, not the Jewish leaders, not the soldiers. Even one of the criminals mocked Jesus for not miraculously saving them. But our friend, with little time left to live, looked at Jesus and somehow saw a king.
He didn’t ask Jesus’ forgiveness. He didn’t ask Jesus to bring him to Paradise. He just asked to be remembered when Jesus entered his reign. He somehow saw the truth that in Jesus, this man dying next to him, God’s true reign was found.
The truth that only power that is let go can do anything good. That only love that is vulnerably given up for others can heal anything. That reconciliation comes by the setting aside of power and the giving away of love, by losing, not winning.
This man gave us a great gift: he gave us a chance to truly see Jesus and find the path to the reconciliation God wants so much.
Remember me, our friend said. And Jesus said, today I will bring you into my reign.
For this dying convict, that was a promise of life in the world to come. His life here was nearly done. But for us, who at least have today and maybe more time than that, Jesus promises the same for this life.
If we want Jesus to remember us in his reign, Jesus says, we can be in Paradise today. Because Jesus reigns right here, in this life, in this world. On earth as in heaven, he taught us to pray. This life, this world, can be the Paradise God envisioned at the creation, when all live in the reign of God.
When we love God with all we have and love our neighbors as ourselves. Living that every day, we’ll know the joy of reconciliation with each other and with God. Reconciliation with those people you don’t have it with right now. Reconciliation in our city and nation between all who hate and mistrust each other. The reconciliation of society, when justice comes for those who are oppressed and violated and marginalized. And this world will become what God always hoped it could be.
What do you see when you look at Jesus’ cross, and remember the empty tomb?
Do you see the fullness of God in Christ that Paul proclaims today, through which God is trying to bring about reconciliation between you and me, between all people, and between us and God? Not by power over, by division and destruction and control and winning. But by love willing to die to bring all creation back. By power willingly set aside in weakness to win us all over in peace. Do you dare to follow that same path, that same weakness and vulnerability, to live in God’s reign?
God can’t force reconciliation, but for those who seek God’s reign in Christ, the Spirit of God is always ready to change their hearts, shape their lives, and bring them into the life of reconciliation. Do you dare such life in the Spirit?
God grant you the eyes of our friend hanging next Jesus, so you can see God’s reign even now, and the trust of this same dying man, so you will live in this reign, with the help of the Spirit. Until all things are united under and in and through and with Christ.
In the name of Jesus. Amen