This is Christ the King Sunday. The last Sunday in the church year. The Sunday in which we celebrate the triumph of the reign of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, king of all creation. The Sunday in which we read about Jesus, dying on a cross, hung between thieves. When the first words we hear him speak, the first commands our king makes are, “Father, forgive them.”
This paradox between business as usual in the world of Kings strikes us now and it struck Jesus’ world then. It startles us and takes us aback. Jesus is addressed as a king by a thief while being executed as an enemy of the state. He was not who they expected him to be. He was not who they wanted him to be. That was of course part of what ended him up on that cross!
So if this Christ, this unconventional, paradoxical, uncontained king, hung on a cross, dying with thieves, forgiving his tormenters and pardoning the sinner, is indeed our King, then that would make us his subjects. And subjects are to do as their king wishes are they not? So what does this mean for us in our lives? How are we to act?
It would seem that a lot of what we have heard these previous weeks in Luke has provided a clear clue for us. Jesus lfe, though it did not resemble anything kingly as would conventionally be expected, certainly provides a model for his subjects. Jesus has lived among the outcasts. Fed the poor. Healed the sick. Forgiven the sinner. He has preached a clear and consistent message. Love God. Love one another. He has prayed and continued to be faithful to his mission. No mater what the cost. Even to this most ignominious of deaths on a cross.
Next Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. The Christmas decorations are up in town and the holiday music is playing. It would be easy to miss the fact that there even is an advent. A waiting. A time between. Jesus the king is left on the cross, but not without a clear message to the subjects about just what kind of reign his to be. Jesus is dying on the cross and yet there is no despair. He calls us clearly to look with him to the future, to his future, the one he promises the thief…right on ahead into paradise today with Jesus with complete hope and faith and trust.
And yet for us in this temporal world, the light is not yet born again at Christmas. We have this time, this time is which we are left to ponder the life and death and mission of this unconventional king if we will, or to practice and demonstrate our loyalty to the king who loved us so much he was willing to die so we might live. This time we can use, if we wish, to live more fully into our role as subjects of Christ this paradoxical king.
Jesus ended his life as he lived it, joined in suffering among those who were least. In our culture to not be focused on having and getting ever more and more is to be countercultural, and this time of year that message is even more clear. With the economy in a slump, we are being urged to consume ever more stuff. Retailers are opening ever earlier for the so-called “Black Friday” (has it always been called that?) shopping blitz. And at the same time, as we know, those with less among us are suffering most. We already know that we at St. James are a generous bunch of folks, we have reached our MDG goal early, we are filling our pastoral care account. And I know that there are things everyone already does individually as well. But it always good to remember that in addition to this, there are alternatives to material gift giving. If someone asks you what you want for Christmas you could always tell them you’d like a goat, or some chickens, or, if they are really flush, a water buffalo…. to be donated in your name of course through an organization like Heifer, Int. Or you could have malaria nets for Christmas through ERD. Or make micro-loans through Kiva To make all that really easy, those URLs are on today’s bulletins so you can pass them along to your family and friends. Or give a gift to Heart to Heart, or Hospice or any one of so many other ways to remember those Jesus cared for especially.
Another strong theme practiced by our king is forgiveness. That might be a good Advent practice. Thinking about those people in lives that we need to forgive for old wounds and hurts. Maybe we need to let them know, and maybe it’s simply between us and God. Maybe we need to talk to someone else about it, need someone to help us let it go. If that’s the case, we need to do that. Maybe the person that needs forgiving is ourselves. Sometimes that is the hardest one. One of the things I love about our liturgy is that it provides us with consistent weekly opportunities to confess and be forgiven. But sometimes that is not enough, and we have some burden of guilt and pain that we have carried forever. Jesus our king commands that we forgive. It didn’t sound very unequivocal. I think we, ourselves are included. And again, sometimes it takes help. There is even a service of private confession for those who might find that helpful, or just talking to one of your clergy. Or maybe we need to simply practice living life as more forgive people day be day. Giving people the benefit of the doubt. Assuming the more often than not, things really aren’t personal, aren’t intended to be hurtful. And when then do bump and bruise us, forgiving them for being their clumsy, human bumbling selves. Because we are them, too. Forgiveness. Another practice for subjects of Christ our King
Prayer is another thing we can do as practicing subjects. Jesus certainly gave us examples in his life as well as in this last example. As did the thief. “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom” is perhaps one of the most beautiful examples of simple faith-filled trusting prayer that we have. And equally, the answer. "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
Martin Luther in the Heidelberg Disputation. In distinguishes between the Theology of Cross and the Theology of Glory. In the Theology of Glory, the tendency is to see God as the great gumball dispenser of goodness in the sky. This is the God who will answer our prayers, protect us from harm, be at our beck and call. In essence we have this desire, Luther said, to take God’s glory by force of will. Of course we are drawn to this God, and repelled by the Theology of the Cross, which proclaims that we have a relationship with God because we have “died with Christ.” While we as Episcopalians might have a slightly moderated understanding of that theology, it certainly bears thought on this Christ the King Sunday to think about how we do come to know God as Jesus and what this has to tell us about our own lives of prayer and faith.. Perhaps the practice of prayer in Advent might be less about attempting to plea-bargain God for our needs and more about asking how we might be part of God’s plan, how we might do God’s will trusting, faith-filled, knowing that Jesus does indeed remember us, but that also part of our lives as Christians is about a life of being engaged in doing the hard work that Jesus did on earth, and that it was about doing things that went against the grain, upsetting the status quo, questioning authority, and that ultimately, it led to the cross.
A celebration of Christ the King looks forward, beyond the cross. Jesus calls us from the other side of death to live a life of hope and freedom in the promise, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” But in return our king places a call on us. Jesus our king calls us to participate as co-creators in the in the creation of the kingdom that is to be on earth as in heaven. May it be so.