When I first became a Christian I noticed that in contrast to my elation, more mature Christians had a less exuberantly overt faith. There was no triumphalist joy, but there was a tangible quiet joy – not to be mistaken for a sober religiosity.
There was something deep within them, something that was not shaken by events, good or bad. It was maturity.
Which brings to mind our celebration of Christ the King.
Paul says to the Colossians, 11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience. Is there a contradiction between these two things? What have strength and glorious power got to do with endurance and patience?
Patient endurance is a big deal in the Christian life. It is much underestimated, not simply as a characteristic of Christ to which we should aspire, but as a tool for both survival and effective ministry; because ministry is literally service and we are all called to serve.
The use of patient endurance (what in Galatians is described in the list of the Fruit of the Spirit as ‘longsuffering’) is part of what Jesus meant in those memorable words to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9a
Okay, so much for St Paul, but what about Jesus, whom we remember in the liturgical calendar today as Christ the King?
Well, let’s take a step back and start with the promise God gave the Jews after that traumatic experience of losing everything and being exiled to Babylon. Bad pastoring (and Ezekiel describes exactly the same thing – the opposite of patient endurance) resulted in the catastrophe of their defeat and Exile.
However God promises them Jesus. God looks ahead into the future to the Messiah, what Jeremiah calls a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely.
But we have to ask ourselves, when Jesus came, how did he get things done? Did he behave like a king who hauls out the troops and forces his will on the people? Or, did he simply travel around beaming pleasantly at people without presenting any challenges to them and the way they lived? The answer to both those questions is “Neither.”
Jesus came with a purpose, to establish the Kingdom of God, and that meant some pretty tough words on occasion. But he did it by patient endurance. He never hit back, he didn’t call legions of angels to his aid; his mantra was the first will be last and the last first.
He was strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power and he was prepared to endure everything with patience.
This was a different kind of kingship.
Yes we know that in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together …
We know all these things – Christ’s glorious power as the Second Person of the Trinity.
But at the very culmination of his ministry, the very zenith of his life, Jesus finds himself suspended from a gallows: the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’
Nonetheless, at the same time 38There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
Jesus was undoubtedly king but his manner of exercising that kingship spoke of a different kind of kingship. He was a Servant-King who patiently endured.
And God’s motivation, seen in Jesus is always pastoral. I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply he says through Jeremiah.
But it is king Jesus’ love in action, always loving the unlovely, always on the lookout to carry out the will of his Father, that strikes me this morning in our Gospel reading.
As Jesus hangs on the cross, that cruel instrument of torture-leading-to-death, he turns to the thief crucified alongside him and shows him nothing but compassion and inclusion. In the very act of winning our salvation he is thinking, not of himself, but of the other man.
19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and 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.
As Jesus is in the very act of shedding his blood for the thief, we read, 42Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
In that instant, the man is, in the words of St Paul in our epistle reading this morning, rescued (us) from the power of darkness and transferred (us) into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we too have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
If you and I want to be effective as Christians, there is only one approach: patient endurance.
It involves humility, it involves constantly putting God first, it involves (in short) living out the burial side of baptism, because it is only when you die to self-centredness that the resurrection life of Christ has room to establish itself within you and flow out to others.
Jesus has used someone to reach you. He wants to use you to reach someone else. And there is only one way to do that. It is to be yoked together with King Jesus in patient endurance.