Celtic Spiritual Poetry (9)
Joyful after crossing death,
they shall see their joyful King;
with Him reigning, they shall reign,
with Him they shall all rejoice.
Then all grief and weariness,
and toil shall be done away,
the King of kings, the pure King,
the pure shall ever behold.
- Columbanus, “Poem on the World’s Impermanence” (ca. 700 AD)
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
- 1 John 3.2, 3
One of most prominent features of Celtic Christianity, the vision of Jesus, exalted in glory, seems to have motivated many of their labors. Celtic artists carved this vision on high crosses and painted it in illuminated manuscripts. Celtic poets and writers described it in glorious detail. Leaders nurtured this vision in themselves and taught it to those who served with them, for they understood the power of such vision to engender and sustain great undertakings for the Lord and His Kingdom.
In these two stanzas of his poem, “On the World’s Impermanence”, Columbanus describes Jesus as our “joyful King”. Jesus has now realized the “joy that was set before Him” (Heb. 12.2), and which He Himself focused on, even as He went to the cross. He ascended to His throne amid shouts and trumpets and exuberant hurrahs (Ps. 47). He was welcomed by His Father, from Whom He had known the unfathomable agony of separation on the cross (cf. Matt. 27.45, 46; Ps. 88), and was given the Name which is above every other name (Phil. 2.9), and power greater than all the combined powers of creation (Eph. 1.19-21). God the Father put all things under King Jesus’ feet (Eph. 1.22), gave Him the eternal Kingdom of David (Dan. 7.13, 14; Is. 9.6, 7), and announced to the world that His Son, Jesus Christ, was now King of kings and Lord of lords, and all the world should worship and serve Him (Ps. 2). God placed in the hands of King Jesus all His eternal decrees, that He might execute them in due season, going forth conquering and to conquer for His Kingdom and righteousness (Rev. 5.6, 7; 6.1, 2; cf. Ps. 45.1-6; Is. 9.6, 7).
And while all this is happening, angels, departed saints, and all creation sing the praises of Jesus, the joyful King (Rev. 5.8-14; Ps. 96.10-13). Joy and victory and celebration and shouting and singing and stomping and clapping of hands never cease, because Jesus is on His throne, and God is subduing all His enemies as He works through His Church to reconcile all of creation to the Father, and to make all things new (Ps. 110; 2 Cor. 5.17-21; Rev. 21.5).
No wonder He is the joyful King! By His incarnation, obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus has brought the eternal plan of God to time, history, and inevitable victory. He is filled with the joy of knowing that God the Father is filling all things with our joyful King, beginning with His Church, and flowing outward from them into every area of life and all of creation, confronting every soul, and calling all people to repent and believe the Good News of Christ and His Kingdom (Eph. 1.22, 23; 4.8-10; Jn. 7.37-39; Acts 17.30, 31).
And we who believe in Jesus have the great privilege of entering His joy, living in His joy, and serving as joy-bringers to the world; and realizing that privilege begins in nurturing the vision of our joyful and exalted King, looking down on us and strengthening us with might for our daily callings. This is what Columbanus sought for the people he served. He wanted them to see Jesus, to know the joy of Jesus, to take up the calling of Jesus in their Personal Mission Fields, and to bring the joy of Jesus to a sad and weary and toilsome world.
In Jesus, sadness and weariness are replaced by inexpressible joy; the toil of work becomes the joy of serving in the Lord’s field, sowing good Kingdom seed into every area of life, and nurturing into Kingdom growth every sprig and sprout that breaks through the hard soil of this world to begin growing in the Kingdom of joy.
A day is coming when we will see Jesus face to face. Then, we will be overwhelmed with joy, a joy that will never cease, and never be interrupted. But we can know that joy now, if only in measured form, by setting our minds on Christ, entering into the joy of our Lord, and living as joy-bringers to the world. We are the children of joy, privileged to know and called to embody and proclaim the joy of King Jesus to the people of our world, until the day comes when we see Him face to face, and then our joy will be complete.
Questions for Reflection
1. What’s the difference between the joy of Jesus and the happiness people seek?
2. How can believers help one another realize the joy of our joyful King more consistently?
Psalm 47.2-6 (Truro: Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns)
High is the Lord, O, fear His Name! He rules, a King o’er all the earth.
Nations and peoples He has tamed, the heritage of His holy worth.
God has ascended with a shout, the Lord with sound of trumpet bold!
Sing praise to Him, let praise ring out! Let praise through all the world be told!
Lord Jesus, bring me into Your joy, and send me forth today to…
Joy to Your World!
If you’re uncertain how to be the joy-bringer the Lord has called you to be, order a copy of our booklet, Joy to Your World! Better yet, order several copies, and read it together with some friends (click here).
See Jesus in Psalm 45
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
In this and subsequent quotations, I am in general following the translation in Sancti Columbani Opera, G. S. M. Walker, ed. (Dublin: The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1957, pp. 183-185), although I make adjustments to capture more faithfully the Latin structure of the poem.