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On Colossians 1

Colossians 1, 15-20 - Karen Stallard

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Good Friday is the day when we remember how unjust our world can be. Good Friday is the day when we tell the story of a good man being imprisoned, tortured and hung high on a wooden stake until he died. And this man was not just a good man loved by his friends and family, he was famous, famous for his brilliant teaching and story telling, famous for his quick retorts and challenges to the academic and religious world, famous for his political insights, famous for his ability to heal people, famous for doing things which seemed to be impossible, famous for his kind words to the poor and lowly. This man it would seem had never drawn a sword or threatened another with violence yet he became subject to the most horrendous violence of humankind in what must be one of the most ludicrously unjust death sentences of all time.

How is it we can find peace through the blood shed of Jesus on the cross? How can it be that through such a cruel act of violence we could possibly be reconciled to the creator of all things, brought back into line with how we should be with the whole of creation? This is a big question which we need to think seriously about before we can begin to understand the words of scripture we have just read.

I believe that the crucifixion provides human beings with the opportunity to experience what now days we call restorative justice or reparative justice. it is through this process that peace and reconciliation is found. With restorative justice Victims take an active role in the process while offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, it involves both the victim (in our case Jesus) and the offender (us) and focuses on their personal needs. It fosters a dialogue between the victim and the offender and shows the highest rates of victim satisfaction and offender accountability.

With restorative justice the perpetrator is faced with a real victim, they hear the victim’s full version of the story, the victim has the opportunity to speak of their pain and the perpetrator is given the opportunity to speak also their story which is often also painful. Both victim and perpetrator then begin to form a relationship through action and dialogue, perhaps a thief may dig their victims garden for example and through this action and dialogue over a cup of tea a healing takes place for both parties, there is satisfaction on behalf of the victim and a sense of forgiveness and restoration on behalf of the offender. Instead of being enemies they become friends, trust is given and community is restored.

This is a very different model to our more familiar punitive punishment for wrongdoing and we in our theology we must be careful not to confuse our man made model of punitive justice with the justice of God. I don’t believe God requires punishment for the crimes of human kind in order to be satisfied, God is seeking a loving relationship not revenge, rather God requires a recognition of the crimes committed and a contrite heart in the offender, in order to bring about restoration. Sometimes we need to be faced with the harsh reality of what we have done in order to become contrite, Jesus presents us with that harsh reality. On Good Friday we are confronted with the wounded God, telling his story, revealing his pain, crying for justice not with words which say “they must be punished!” but with the words “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

But on Good Friday we are also confronted with the stories of the perpetrators and we of course carry our own stories as we listen. We hear the story of the disillusioned betrayer, the fearful controlling priest, the friend who abandons and disowns, the bemused people pleasing leader, the politician who diminishes his responsibility, the violent bloodthirsty guard, the greedy crowd seeking a thrilling spectacle, the mocker, the bully. The Easter story covers all the darkest moments of humanity and we can find ourselves in it if we dare to look and have the courage to admit to our own story which has lead us down paths of hatred and destruction, violence, war and broken relationship.

And so Good Friday gives us the opportunity to allow restorative justice to take place, as the story of the crucified Christ is told, and as we tell our own stories we are beginning that dialogue which leads to Justice being done, the victim being satisfied and the offender being changed so as not to offend again. And then we all can experience both victim and offender the joy of resurrection, new life.

I don't have to say much about the history of the church and how it has been the perpetrator of violence, hatred and intolerance in the past. The reality is that over the centuries we as Christians have stared at the cross every Sunday at church and yet have still harboured in our hearts that same murderous intent which hung Jesus on the cross on that Friday afternoon and sometimes, often without insight we have acted on that intent and people have been harmed, Justice has not been done, Christ is not resurrected and we are not transformed. You see we can choose to witness the violence of the crucifixion in a detached way not bringing ourselves into the picture and therefore bringing no satisfaction to Christ the victim or restoration to ourselves, unless we fully enter into the program of restorative justice where we fully engage with the victims story and allow our stories to also be told and heard we will not find peace and we will just go out there again and repeat our injust actions with no sense of responsibility.

It saddens me tremendously that today as churches we still sometimes fight amongst ourselves, despising those who are different, rejecting different ideas, creating a fuss over things which really don’t matter, we kill people with our words rather than swords, we are (often unintentionally) cruel and hurtful because we too are inflicted with the same disease as those who yelled crucify him on Good Friday, we too are the perpetrators in need of restorative justice.

The difference between the two criminals being crucified next to Jesus was that one saw a good man hanging unjustly on the cross, the other did not. If we are able to bear the pain of opening our eyes and seeing the Goodness of the man hanging on the cross, then i believe something in our hearts gets changed. We too become broken, weak and vulnerable at the sight of such an injustice, but then a miracle happens, we rise up from our brokenness as instruments of peace and reconciliation, we rise up as a people committed to working towards a world where the innocents are not killed, where the prophets are not despised, where the peacemakers are not tortured.

My friends, life is too short for us to not be restored, we are called as followers of Jesus to love our enemies, we can only do that if we have fully entered into God’s restorative justice programme; this requires our willingness to participate and engage with the story of the death of Jesus, recognise our own contribution to this crime, take responsibility and allow a relationship to be formed between the victim, Jesus and the perpetrators, ourselves to bring about restorative justice.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Thank Goodness that God has given us the Good Friday story to ponder on. Let me encourage you today to think upon the Goodness of the man hanging on the cross, watch his blood being shed and his body being broken, be appalled, be horrified, that one so good could possibly be treated in such an evil way, recognize your own potential for evil and the part you play in destroying that which is good. Gaze on the goodness which hangs on the cross, and allow yourself to become changed and committed to never again being a part of the humanity which can performs such atrocities. Allow yourself to become committed to helping yourself and humanity to find peace. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is as we look dismayed at the broken body of Jesus, seeing his goodness that we discover salvation for ourselves and become the people of peace we were created to be. The result of this kind of restorative justice is that the victim is given new life and the perpetrator is given a second chance!