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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Reign of Christ, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
November 24, 2013

Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43

‘The Saviour enthroned’

We have a remarkable icon for this last Sunday of the church year. The icon is of Byzantine origin and dates from the seventh century or earlier. Our particular artwork is from an illuminated manuscript of the twelfth century. The subject derives from a variety of sources: Isaiah's vision of the Most High enthroned among seraphim (6:1-4); the vision of Ezekiel where the Most High is surrounded by the four creatures (1:4-28); and the vision of John in which a rainbow of light surrounds Christ on his throne (Rev. 4:2-9). The vision in Revelation includes "twenty-four other thrones, upon which were seated twenty-four elders" and, again, the "four living creatures". We are shown the reign of Christ as a relational and cosmic reality, something Paul expresses by way of an ancient Christian hymn: "All things hold together in Christ." Paul also says that we have been brought "into the reign of Jesus". Today's homily focuses on this relational and cosmic dimension of the Saviour enthroned. God be with you ...

The four creatures, according to Ezekiel and John of Patmos, are the human, the lion, the ox and the eagle. We might reflect on the ways that these four creatures bear witness to God and to God in Christ. [DIAGRAM #1]

Some scholars suggest that Ezekiel, exiled in Babylon in the sixth century BCE, was influenced by the cultures of Assyria and Babylon. The animals associated with the "tetramorph", the four creatures, symbolised the four fixed signs of the zodiac: the human or angel representing Aquarius; the lion representing Leo; the ox representing Taurus; and the eagle Scorpio. In Western astrology the four symbols are associated with the elements: Water, Fire, Earth and Air respectively. [DIAGRAM #2]

The early Christians adopted this symbolism and adapted it for the four Evangelists (the four Gospels), the tetramorph first appearing in Christian art in the fifth century. St Jerome is generally credited with assigning the tetramorph to the Evangelists.

The creatures, just like the four Gospels, represent four facets of Christ. Matthew is represented as the human or angel because his Gospel centres on the human nature and the life of Christ. Matthew's Gospel begins: "This is the family record of Jesus Christ, descendant of Bathsheba and David, descendant of Sarah and Abraham." Mark is represented as a lion because he proclaims the royal dignity of Christ, the lion being the king of beasts. In Mark's Gospel is heard the voice of a lion roaring in the desert: "Make ready the way of Our God, clear a straight path." Luke the Evangelist is represented as an ox or a calf. His Gospel dwells on the atonement and the loving sacrifice of Christ. Luke begins with the story of the priest Zechariah, and renews the notion of priesthood and sacrifice. John is represented as an eagle, as his Gospel describes the incarnation of the divine Logos. St Jerome writes: "The fourth [face signifies] John the Evangelist who, having taken eagle's wings and hastening toward higher matters, discusses the Word of God." [DIAGRAM #3]

Perhaps we can think of some other good reasons for relating Christ to the four creatures, the four elements, the four Gospels. Minimally, this is a way of keeping open our confessions and claims. The reign of God in Christ is no small matter. Our confessions and claims will need to take into account the best anthropology, the best ecology, the most faithful ecclesiology, the most universal spirituality, and so on.

Christ is enthroned in/upon four gospels. A common lectionary ensures that all four gospels are read every three years in the churches throughout the world.

Our pictures of the reign of Christ ought to be rich and complex. They will be cruciform, meaning they will resist all ideologies of violence, all violent ideology. Our Gospel reading for today expresses this powerfully by way of the penitent criminal, yet another last and lost figure in Luke's story, to whom Jesus says: "Today you'll be with me in paradise." Unbounded kindness. Forgiveness without bounds. In the midst of mockery, torture, hopelessness. Unbounded kindness. Forgiveness without bounds.

Our pictures of the reign of Christ will include figures other than Christ. They will include our own selves and lives. Recently I was reading a commentary on Shakespeare's play, Hamlet, and the commentator, Harold C. Goddard, mentioned four passions of Hamlet in the context of describing a most well-rounded and compelling character. The four passions cited were creativity (art and poetry), wonder, love and curiosity (or the pursuit of truth).

Even without exploring the various possibilities for connection between our feast day and a drama about a prince and a kingship denied, I suspect we can relate to the passions of Hamlet, the quintessentially modern human being suspended between desires for vengeance and justice; caught between the past and a present becoming. How might such passions in our own lives serve to confess that Christ is sovereign? Our passions, our convictions, bespeak a subjectivity - we are subjects of a certain sovereign.

What is it to be subject to God in Christ? What is it to be human - to share in the reign of Christ, in a heavenly kindom on earth?

Creativity. Wonder. Love. Curiosity/Truth. [DIAGRAM #4]

How might such passions in our own lives - lives lived deeply and fully - serve to confess that Christ is sovereign? Jesus Christ is sovereign, no other. Jesus Christ is sovereign, who or what then is to be feared? How is Christ enthroned in/upon our passions? Goddard mentions a fifth passion of Hamlet he regards an undergirding passion - in terms of our diagram we might write it as the cross itself, again understood as resistance to ideology and violence - the undergirding passion is freedom. [DIAGRAM #5]

The cross, the passion of Christ, the cross most passionately, is the resurrection - Christ alive in the Holy Spirit of freedom.

Let's complete the homily together. Creativity. Wonder. Love. Curiosity/Truth. Freedom. What are you passionate about? How does your passion serve to confess and to enthrone Christ as sovereign? ... Amen.

This was drawn on a whiteboard during the Homily. Click to download as a PDF file.