The Roots of Christian Spirituality

It has become customary to celebrate the feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday in the church year. Our main guide during this past year has been Luke, a master of Christian spirituality. We have covered many topics pertaining to Christian spirituality and placed them in the context of Lukes narrative about Jesus. Todays celebration of Christ the King can help to solidify the framework of our spirituality: the Old Testament, the mystery of the cross and the saving significance of Jesus life, death and resurrection.

Christian spirituality is rooted in Gods promises to Israel as his special people. Todays passage from 2 Samuel 5 describes how David, the ancestor of Jesus, became king in ancient Israel. In the New Testament Jesus is often identified as the Son of David, the Messiah and the Shepherd of Gods people. What we call the Old Testament provides the language and conceptuality for understanding Jesus. Our spirituality is based on Gods election of Israel and on Jesus role as the fulfillment of Gods promises.

Christian spirituality is rooted in the mystery of the cross. With his characteristic simplicity and subtlety, Luke throughout his Gospel illustrates many times over the wisdom of Jesus and the good example that he gave. In todays reading Luke has us confront the mystery of the cross.


The inscription on the cross reads, This is the King of the Jews, a title reflecting popular Jewish speculations about Jesus possible identity as the Messiah of Israel. It was surely intended by the Romans to be ironic. To them Jesus was just another Jewish religious troublemaker, who had to be dealt with quickly and brutally. The double irony, of course, is that to Luke and other early Christians that title was correct, since the kingship of Jesus was made manifest most perfectly in his suffering and death on the cross. That means that Christian spirituality cannot ignore the realities of suffering and death. Moreover, even on the cross Jesus continues his ministry of reaching out to marginal persons when he promises the good thief a place in Gods kingdom. That means that Christian spirituality must have a social dimension and be open to all kinds of persons.

Christian spirituality is rooted in the saving significance of Jesus life, death and resurrection (the paschal mystery). This point is well expressed in the early Christian hymn preserved in Col 1:15-20. That hymn celebrates Jesus as the Wisdom of God, as the first in the orders of creation and redemption and as the one who has reconciled all things to God by the blood of his cross.

The first part of the Colossians hymn presents Christ as the firstborn in the order of creation. It portrays Christ as present at creation and as the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. The personification of Wisdom is a prominent motif in various Old Testament writings (Proverbs 8, Sirach 24, Wisdom 7), and there are many speculations in them about who or what Wisdom is and where Wisdom dwells. As Colossians 1 shows, early Christians identified Jesus as Wisdom personified and located Wisdom in the body of Christ. As the Wisdom of God, Christ is not only Gods agent or helper at creation; he is also the one who holds all things together: all things were created through him and in him all things hold together.

The second part of the hymn describes Christ as the firstborn in the order of redemption. As the Wisdom of God, Christ has been pivotal in Gods design for bringing humankind back into right relationship with God. The hymn calls Christ the firstborn of the dead, an obvious reference to his resurrection. It says that in Christ the fullness of divinity was pleased to dwell and that through Christ God has brought about reconciliation on a cosmic scale. The reconciliation that he has effected involves not only humankind but even the whole of creation.

Christ the King invites us to share in his kingdom. The introduction to the hymn in Col 1:12-14 may well reflect the baptismal context in which the hymn was first used. It is a call to give thanks to God because God has transferred us from darkness to light and so to the kingdom of his beloved Son. That transfer took place at our baptism into Christs death and resurrection. Through baptism we have become part of Christs kingdom, and we now belong to Christ the King.

Christ is no ordinary king. His kingship reaches back to and carries on the kingship of his ancestor David. His kingship is manifest especially in the mystery of the cross. His kingship extends over all creation and lasts forever. His kingship should give us confidence in the present and hope for the future.

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