11/20/2016 Christ the King Sunday The text is Luke 23:33-43.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Now that election day is behind us, we can get on with business as usual. Despite all the hype and advertising and nastiness that went into the campaign for president, our lives haven’t changed much and probably wouldn’t change much no matter who was elected. For even though the candidates and their parties would never admit it, one candidate is pretty much the same as the other, as no one has absolute power and authority. Sure, one candidate may be focused in one direction or another and each may make different promises, but we live in a society that has programmed most of the surprises out of our political life. We are stable, and life moves on no matter who is elected.
Despite how divisive this election season seemed to be and how the protests that followed the election may have taken us by surprise, our political life is tame compared to what happens elsewhere in the world. It’s even tame when compared to our own past, especially during the Revolutionary War era. Today, we don’t expect to experience revolutionary passion and drama, and we don’t expect to experience the devastation that comes from political upheaval. The most uncomfortable we have felt in recent times goes back to the chad controversy in Florida, Florida, Florida.
We are fortunate that we have no experience with tyrants and kings. In fact, there are so few monarchies left in the world, and most of them, like the one in Great Britain, are little more than ceremonial, that it’s hard for us to understand the power of a king, an absolute power to do whatever, with whomever, whenever desired. The kings of the past had the power of life and death in their hands. If a king declared you an enemy, you were an enemy. If a king said you should die, you would die. If a king declared war, then there was war. All too often, kings were rich tyrants who would stop at nothing to gain what they wanted. If there were checks and balances of a legislative branch, there were no elections. The people had no power. Power went from one king to another via birthright or through untimely death.
It is into this kind of setting, this kind of world, that Jesus is born. And on this day, despite little interest in royalty and a distant understanding of the power, authority and respect that kings had in the past, we celebrate the kingship of Christ our Lord.
In some ways, we have always known that God is king. He is king because he created everything. In God, we find the beginning of human life. In him we find the reason for our very existence, our daily direction and our eternal destiny. But unlike the usual image of royalty, God is not self-serving. God is loving, not mean. God is caring, even though he has absolute power. For, when God speaks, it happens.
This makes Jesus, the Son of the living God, a king. But, like God, the Father, Jesus is a different kind of king. He uses his absolute power of the good of all people. From early on, others see royal qualities in Jesus’ life as he heals the sick, cures disordered minds, forgives sins, seeks the lost, and raises the dead. But, it is as he gives his very own life and then defeats death, the last and final enemy, that Jesus takes his throne.
Jesus rules and bestows judgment upon people not through the spilling of the blood of his enemies, but through the spilling of his own blood. The only crown he ever wears is a crown of thorns as he hangs upon the cross. For it is here, on the cross, that he receives the symbols of his royal heritage. It is here, in the agony of death, that he is glorified.
Today’s gospel presents this crucial even in the life of Jesus – the cross. Luke paints the picture in some detail. As the people stand by watching the three men hanging on crosses, the rulers start the scoffing: “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen one!” Those under authority of these rules, the soldiers, are the next to chime in with taunts of contempt: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” Yet, Jesus chooses not to free himself. Instead, he chooses to free us.
What kind of king is this? What kind of king would allow himself to be stretched out naked upon the cross? What kind of king would endure mocking and beating and being spat upon by others? What kind of king would endure death for the sake of others and forgive his enemies? Only the king of kings whose love endures forever.
What an amazing king we have! How unlike our typical picture of a king who acts as a despot, keeping himself far removed from the common folk, far behind the “front lines” of battle, far above even the most desperate of his subject’s pleas. Here we have a king who comes to serve, a king who is willing to get down to our level so that we can see him face to face. Here we have a king who invites us to participate in his kingdom – to share in the good gifts of his reign and to share in its work, not as worthless slaves, but as brothers and sisters.
As brothers and sisters in Christ we are invited to his table to feast on the good things he gives. Today, our three First Communicants will do just that. They will join us and share in the Lord’s supper and receive his gifts of grace.
By sharing in his holy meal and by sharing the good news of Jesus, of his compassion, grace and forgiveness, we recognize his kingship and give honor to our Lord and our God. As people created, redeemed and protected by the most powerful and caring king of all times and places, we can take the risk of truly caring about others and loving our neighbors in gentle ways. There simply isn’t any room for resentment. We have been forgiven and loved by the greatest king of all…the King of kings and the Lord of all.
May your life in Christ be safe, without major upheaval and devastation, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.