Monday, November 21, 2022

Christ the King Sunday


Luke 23:33-43

Proper 29 / Year C

I’ve mentioned before the very first sermon I preached as a seminarian fell of Christ the King Sunday.  That year’s reading had Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.  This year we read of Jesus on the Cross.  The third year in the Lectionary cycle has Jesus being interrogated by Pilate.  None of these readings seem to reflect well on Christ as King.  If I was picking the lesson, I might choose Jesus ascending into heaven or perhaps giving the Sermon on the Mountain or calming a storm-ravaged sea.  That Sunday thirty-seven years ago I was so befuddled as I drove to church I had no idea what I was going to say in my sermon. 

Not much has changed for me over the years.  I expect to come to Christ the King Sunday and encounter something victorious like the Hallelujah chorus: “King of kings!  Lord of lords!” but find instead something more like a whimper and a sniffle.  Having lived the story of Christ over the course of an entire liturgical year, this hardly seems like a fitting conclusion. 

Still, the image of Jesus dying on the cross tells us something important about our King.  As he hangs on the cross battered and bloody, in agony, with his own flesh in taters, he has absorbed the very worst humanity can do to him.  And how does he respond?  Is he bitter?  Vindictive?  Broken?  No.  He remains true to his Godly character by showing mercy to another crucified human being and assuring him a place in paradise. 

Earlier this week in Morning Prayer we read this from the 105th Psalm:

God has always been mindful of his covenant,

the promise he made for a thousand generations.

It speaks of God’s eternal changelessness; what theologians call immutability.  Nothing we can say or do will alter God’s love for us and God’s faithfulness to us.  These are not things we earn, but realities we embrace.  They are every bit as unbreakable as the physical laws of the universe.  It is this quality which we see Jesus display in today’s reading.  He remains true to his nature and steadfast in his mission, even as he is being crucified.

The Collect of the Day tells us much about the intent of Christ the King Sunday.  It tells us God’s purpose in Christ is to restore all things through Christ.  We need restoration because the world is divided and enslaved by sin.  We are freed by Christ and united to one another under his most gracious rule.  We see all of this being played out in the brief conversation Jesus has with the penitent thief. 

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus’ response, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  The word here translated as paradise is the same word the Greek translation of the Old Testament uses for the Garden of Eden.  It provides a colorful image of restoration.  Jesus, being crucified at Golgotha, is about as far removed as possible from the idyllic setting of the God’s first garden.  But through his life, death, and resurrection he charts for us a path to paradise, a return to the garden.

Perhaps the most common way we use the word restoration is to describe work done on a run-down house or car.  It can be painstaking, but for those who undertake such a project it is also a labor of love.  And when the work is finished we say the house or car has been restored to its former glory.

And isn’t this what we celebrate about Christ’s reign in this world.  It is painstaking, as we see in today’s reading.  It is a labor of love.  And it is about restoring the glory we had before sin marred our lives and our world.  For the penitent man dying on the a cross the work is finished.  For us, it is on-going.  One of the reasons we walk through the church year is so we might better know God in Christ and more faithfully follow in the way Christ has shown us.  Today, the walks comes to an end.  Next Sunday it begins anew.