Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, November 20, 2022

YEAR C 2022 christ the king

Christ the King, 2022
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, this is the last Sunday before Advent starts.  No more green!  It’s the end of our year spent hearing from the Gospel of Luke.  We call this day Christ the King Sunday, and it signals the close of the church year.  And knowing that it’s Christ the King Sunday might lead you to ask the obvious question:  Why is Jesus the king on a cross?  Why don’t we hear instead about Jesus’ resurrection?  Or, you know, some part of the story that looks a little more like reigning victorious rather than dying beside a couple two-bit thieves?

Well, since we’re right on the verge of Advent, it will probably help to start with how God arrives on the scene in the beginning.  As you know, the Jewish people were waiting forever for the Messiah, the anointed one.  They wanted and expected God to send someone to knock the Romans off their perch and throw off the yoke of oppression.  You know, someone riding in on a white horse with a blazing sword who could set things right.  A king of restoration, when it comes right down to it.  

But let’s take our minds back to what we vaguely remember from the Hebrew scriptures.  God told Moses, if the people would serve God as King, they would have no need for kings. They needed a leader, yes, but not a king.  (And Moses, you’ll remember, was a shepherd, not a king.)  So God says, I the Lord shall be your king.  And Israel was led by prophets and judges for generations.  (I’m paraphrasing whole books here, so bear with me.)

After 400 years of being led by prophets and judges, the people approached the Prophet Samuel, clamoring for a king “like all the other nations.”  This desire to be like other nations is the root of the problem for them.  God did not want them to be like other nations; God’s ways were not their ways.  And having a king (as they would soon find out) would lead them right down that same path.  Then we get Saul, and David, and a whole list of kings who do what is evil in God’s sight.  The kingdom splits in two:  Judah and Israel.  The people are taken away to foreign lands in captivity, and the Jewish people start coming back five hundred years before the birth of Jesus.

(Almost done.)  Then Alexander the Great takes over Palestine in 331 BC; then the Jewish people revolt and take it back (which you’ll find in the books of Maccabees); then the Romans take over, the Parthians invade, and Herod gets the Romans to support him in taking it all back.  Herod dies, and his three sons take over (two of whom also named Herod, because of his creative child-naming skills), and this leads us right up to what we could call year zero.  Or, maybe more accurately, 4 AD, but who’s counting?

After all this violence and oppression, God’s chosen people again want a mighty warrior king who will overthrow the Romans and restore them to their land and heritage as a free people.  And what do we get?  A baby.  Born to an unwed mother.  In a feeding trough, behind a sold-out hotel.  This Jesus cannot possibly be the Messiah they’ve been waiting for.  He’s a defenseless baby.  He is no king.

Now . . . fast forward 2,000 years and here we are.  Gathered on a Sunday morning, and looking for a king.  It’s Christ the King Sunday, so we’re expecting to see our Savior in the most elevated position possible, right?  Jesus our King, lifted high in glory, having defeated all his enemies and ours.  A king who will overthrow the evil forces all around us and restore us to our heritage as free people.  And what do we get?  Not a king lifted up in glory, but a man on the verge of death, hung between two thieves.  One who is beaten and mocked and disgraced.  God’s people wanted a king, and instead they got a baby.  Now we want a king, and instead we get a man about to die.

You know what we have in common with God’s people across the ages?  We don’t understand kingship the way God shows kingship.  We associate being kingly with being powerful and getting our way.  We expect a ruler to force their will on others, for better or worse.  In fact, we have come to expect a ruler to act like the people all around Jesus in this gospel reading.  Mocking, taunting, humiliating, full of arrogance and spite.  We expect the king to be the one who sentences someone to death.  You know, like your Pontius Pilate, or your Herod, son of Herod, brother of Herod.

But, turns out, the King is the one on the cross.  The King is the one who is willing to suffer, and willing to lay down his life for others.  Not what we would expect.  And that leads us to the disconnect in this gospel we just heard.  

Notice how everyone is setting up these if/then scenarios for him.  
The people say, If he is the Messiah of God, let him save himself.  The soldiers say, If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.  One of the criminals says, Are you not the Messiah? Then save yourself and us.  And we might say, if you are a king, come and save us as well!  Come and make things better.  Come and save us from the senseless violence and creeping despair.  Come and save us from the pain and darkness in our world.  If you are the Messiah, come and save your people!

You see where that puts us, of course.  If we are expecting that Jesus, the Christ the King who will squash our enemies and stamp out evil . . . well . . . we kind of end up sounding like the people mocking Jesus, don’t we?  Jesus has to prove himself to us through his mighty deeds.  And we end up speaking the words of the angry crowd, the mocking soldiers, the taunting thief on the cross.  And that’s the natural reaction to this scene, isn’t it?  Jesus never claimed to be a king.  But the people wanted a king, like the Israelites wanted a king, and so they made him a king.  And when the king can’t defend even himself . . . well, what kind of king is that?  Off with his head!

But today we see God offering us a different way.  We see that victory is through surrender.  We see that serving is winning.  If our way of life requires others losing, others dying, others suffering, then it is not the way of God.  Because here we see that God loses, God suffers, God dies.  God sacrifices for us.  This is kingship.  This is royalty.  Christianity turns everything on its head, every time, and God’s ways are not our ways.

And this is the point where you say, okay Father Preacher man, that’s all well and good.  But it sure doesn’t sound like . . . you know . . . good news.  We get that Jesus came to serve, and we get that Jesus is willing to lay down his life, but . . . well . . . so what?  But maybe we ask those questions because we’re still thinking like the crowd, and the soldiers, and the mocking thief.  So let’s look at the other person in this story.

Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  Jesus replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

When we set aside our natural drive to get Jesus to prove himself, when we set aside our quid pro quo of “if you really are who I say you are,” when we step back and focus on what we really need from a savior rather than from a king, then we can say to Jesus what we really need to say.  And it is just this:  Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

That’s the one request that matters.  That is the true sign of faith in the midst of turmoil and despair.  If we ask one thing of Jesus, it should be this:  Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

And it is interesting, to me, that this other thief on the cross should word it this way.  The others are saying, if you are a king, then save yourself.  And if you are a king, then save us.  But the thief on the cross is saying, when you are a king.  When you come into your kingdom.  When you come into your kingdom, remember me.  When you are seated at the right hand of God, remember me.  When the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven forever sing this hymn . . . remember me.

Which brings us to this Altar.  That hymn, that song, is going on at this very moment.  You and I are remembered in that kingdom, a kingdom that is not of this world.  And in a few minutes, you and I will once again join in the timeless stream of that eternal hymn.  It is not a song sung to some ruler on earth, as though we were just paying homage to some temporary ruler.  No, it is a song that goes on forever, to a Savior who rules our hearts forever.  It is a song that unites us with people of every time and every place.  A song of praise to the King of heaven, and the Savior of the world.  Christ the King, who rules this Sunday, and all the days to come.  Lord Jesus, ruler of our hearts, remember us in your kingdom.  Remember all of us in your kingdom.


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