So, I am suppose to be thinking about “Christ’s defeat of the Powers” but other things are more sharply in focus: Doug, and the kids and I are just about to leave our neighborhood and get onto the Gardiner expressway…. On the on-ramp a young man sits. He is holding a tattered and wet cardboard sign…. I jump out of the van to hand him a bag of pretzels and some juice boxes—he jumps—“you scared me” “you almost gave me a heart attack” and although he is young—younger than Doug and I, I believe him. I notice first his mouth of broken teeth and a second later, when he mentions it—his missing finger. It is “healed” but from the looks of it only very recently and clearly not with consistent medical attention… it has healed twisted and gnarled The cars behind us honk—once again causing him to jump—and I return to our car and we proceed to the Gardiner.
There is another man whom we see with great frequency wandering around Parkdale. No shirt, his pants tied up with a piece of rope, his hair and beard long and brown. Very dirty He is also, not much older than I. I noticed him first at our milk store. He came in and stole a can of hash. The shopkeeper “yelled at him” “No! No! Don’t steal from my store! I told you before! and then his voice softens a bit “just ask.” I see him tonight banging his back against the white brick wall of the milk store looking precisely as I have always imagined the demoniac that Jesus meets in the tombs.
The kids and I often go on street walks with Doug for Lazarus Rising. On the whole we see very many hopeful things. Camaraderie, and teasing, hopefulness, and even at time a real reciprocity of care—like the very cold night that I offered a women a pair of nice donated gloves from my backpack and she suggested that I should wear them instead—my gloves looking to her to be inadequate for the bitter night.
Yet, there are times, and particularly for me around Parkdale, where we see people in palpable bondage.
At these times I do not know what to do with the triumphal language of Colossians—that Jesus Christ disarmed the powers and made public examples of them triumphing over them on the cross.
Better for such times are the words of Paul in Romans that all creation is groaning, crying out for its coming redemption. Such language of waiting, and longing, and present disappointment makes better sense of people with broken teeth stranded without love..
Indeed, much of the New Testament speaks of a Christ who wins the war only after losing every battle… Of a church who still has many strategic losses to suffer. ….In other places Paul speaks of victory behind and before, but in the now, in the current moment, the fragility of goodness is all too clear.
But, in our text today we get only a hint of present strife in Paul’s enigmatic statement that he is going to complete the sufferings of Christ in his own body.
Most of the text today is quite triumphant.
Jesus Christ is….
Before all things
Sustains all things
The first fruits of creation
All things come to fruition in him,
In all thing he is preeminent
And he is above all power and all authority.
He has delivered us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved son!
Indeed, he has not only defeated the powers—he has flouted them, he has made a public spectacle of them. Public Spectacle. My mind returns to the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes or of the elaborate victory parades of ancient empires. Where the leading citizens of the losing nations are paraded before the crowds of “victors’ so that they can be laughed at, scorned, spit upon, and mocked.
Paul claims in our text for today that what had looked like Jesus’ public flogging, mockery and death had not served to show the fragility of Jesus, his nakedness, or his mortality…. Instead it had shown the nakedness, and fragility, and mortality of the power…. Jesus disarmed the powers and made a public mockery of them, triumphing over them on the cross. The torture chamber became an arch of triumph.
Paul’s text in Colossians is a source for one of the oldest bits of theological reflection on the meaning of the cross. This way of telling the meaning of the cross, or atonement, has been given the short hand of the Christus Victor model. One of the more famous examples of this way of telling the story of the atonment is found in C.S. Lewis’ familiar children story, “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.” In Lewis’s telling the white witch has legitimate authority over all law breakers. She has a completely justified claim over young Edmund’s life. When Aslan agrees to take his place. To take responsibility for Edmund crimes and to die in his place, the witch can’t believe her luck…. But, it is a trap. Aslan tricks the witch. She has no legitimate authority over someone that is blameless and because she has overstepped her authority she loses her rightful proprietary claim over the sinner.
The witch thus pays dearly for overstepping her legitimate realm of power and authority.
John Howard Yoder in the Politics of Jesus also employs a Christus Victor model of the atonement. However, it is much simpler and perhaps more profound than Lewis’. For Yoder the powers include the state, politics, class, national interest, accepted morality, democracy, decency, place of clan or tribe, respect for ancestors and family, the justice system, race, ideology, and morality.
These power were created good in order to preserve and order our lives together on this earth. However, these Powers are fallen. They are fallen, they are personal, and they have arrogated themselves. While the egotism of the Powers is constituted in part by all the “little egotist” which belong to these Powers—be they states, or families, or religion—the depravity of the Powers is much more than the sum of its parts. Moreover, the powers include many things like morality, nationalism, racism and ideology that have no centre and take no members. The powers have claimed for themselves an absoluteness that does not rightly belong to them.
. Instead, Jesus lived a life that was politically (and soteriologically) powerful insofar as He completely rejected the Powers claims to sovereignty. Yoder’s theory of atonement, then, is a form of the Christus Victor argument. Jesus (just like in Lewis’ story) traps the Powers into publicly overstepping their rightful legitimacy.
The Lord of the world---who was before all things, by whom all things were made, in whom all thing have their end and their meaning has entered into the world. And he makes a public spectacle of the Powers’ self-arrogation and claims of ultimate sovereignty.
Religious leadership forsakes the holiness of their Sabbath and the Romans forsake law and justice, in order to combat a lordship that they cannot possess. Jesus is killed by the powers that have claimed for themselves an ultimacy not rightly theirs … and through the resurrection they are trapped into revealing the real truth… They are NOT sovereign. Do we still live as if they are?
Colossians 2 takes its audience to task. They have crossed a divide, but are still living as if they are on the other side. The rulers and authorities of this world have been shown to be farces. Yet some in the church are still tarrying at the crossroads. With Christ we have been made dead to the elementary spirits of this world, yet we still so often live as if we belong to the world. Just as with Jesus himself, the call to live as if we do not belong to the world is not a call for withdrawal or disengagement. It is rather a call to be fully engaged; to live today boldly because death has been conquered. We have been raised with Jesus and should live in such a way that the principalities and powers of our age find themselves unmasked, embarrassed, and mocked.
So I am walking down Bay street to King street with Doug and another volunteer and I suddenly a vision overcomes me. I look to the stock exchange, and the RBC and CIBC and for a moment these building with all their power and pomp seem mightily belittled by the men and women sleeping on the grates beneath them…
It is a scandal. A public embarrassment. Made all the more shocking because these bank buildings are as temporal and finite and effervescent as all the moneyed transaction that buzz along inside them. Someday those buildings are going to fall to dust and yet those people homeless on those grates are eternal. The pinnacle of God’s creation. Theirs is the kingdom of God. And when everything shakeable has been shaken and everything finite falls away they will remain.
And then this vision is lost, gone as fast as it has come and I begin to think about a cup of coffee and the movie Doug and I are planning to see… and suddenly the buildings before me seem immense and solid and the people below them frail and failing.
God came into the world and none of the rulers of this world recognized him….
And all around us are broken images of God; are we able to recognize them!?
See to it that no on takes you captive through the philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ…. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?
Our text speaks about the need to have one’s thinking fundamentally reordered to be “renewed in knowledge according to the image of the creator” He is calling on the community in Colosse to be the kind of place where that renewal can occur. The sort of place that is rooted and established in such a way that a fundamental reordering of one’s thinking can occur. This reordering of thinking would lead us to be able to recognize the image of God when we see it? And to recognize idols when we see them? It is the fundamental reordering of thought that could sustain the vision that I held for just a moment on King street into the activity of one’s life. To begin the process of allowing those thing which are finite to be shaken and to allow those things which are eternal to remain. So that when Christ who is our life is revealed, we will be able to recognize him and ourselves in him…. Because we have made a day-to-day practice of deep, costly love for the images of God that surround us.