Two Rivers Pastoral Charge
November 24, 2019
Scripture: Luke 23:33-43
Preacher: Kate Jones
So today is the last Sunday of the church year – a new year begins next Sunday with the start of Advent. And so feel free to wish each other a happy new year on the way out the door this morning!
There is a lovely flow or rhythm to the church year. We begin in Advent – a season of waiting, of preparing, of longing. And then at Christmas, when that focus of our waiting and our longing becomes real. God is born as a human, and our humanity can no longer be separated from God. The season of Christmas lasts for 12 days – almost two weeks of celebrating the fact that God has been born as this tiny baby; and Christmas flows into Epiphany – the day when we read about the Magi visiting the young Jesus and his parents. In the weeks that follow Epiphany, we read about how Jesus becomes known to the world – we have not only the story of the Magi, but we also read the story of Jesus’ baptism, how he calls his disciples, and stories of his very earliest miracles and sermons.
This season after Epiphany culminates with the story of the Transfiguration – that time when Jesus and 3 of his closest disciples went up to the top of a mountain, and Jesus’ physical body was transformed so that there was a bright light shining out of him, and his disciples hear God saying that Jesus is God’s beloved son.
This Transfiguration marks a turning point in the gospel stories, because it is after that that Jesus and his disciples begin their final journey from Galilee in the north to the city of Jerusalem; and in the church we mirror this journey with the season of Lent. Lent is 6 weeks when we journey with Jesus towards his death – it is a season of repentance and penitence and self-reflection.
The story speeds up when we get to Holy Week – on Palm Sunday we celebrate Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem in a parade; on Maundy Thursday we remember Jesus’ final meal with his friends, and we go out with him to the garden to wait; on Good Friday we remember Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution; and then at Easter we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over death itself with the resurrection.
The season of Christmas lasts for 12 days, but the season of Easter lasts for 50 days – we get 7 weeks of celebrating the resurrection each year after Easter Sunday. Easter is followed by Pentecost – the time when the Holy Spirit came to the early church in great force, and empowered the followers of Jesus to continue the work that Jesus began.
And then after Pentecost we get a great long season of what the church calls “Ordinary Time.” In this season, we remember the every-day work of Jesus, outside of the major festivals of Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost. We read stories of healing, stories of teaching; we tend to get a lot of parables of Jesus in this season as well.
And this season stretches on, from mid-May or mid-June right up to the end of November. But you may have noticed… in the last month or two of this season of Ordinary Time, the tone of our Sunday morning readings becomes more urgent, more intense. We get the most challenging parables in October and November each year; we get stories about the end of the world in this season. And all of that culminates with today, known as the Reign of Christ Sunday, or sometimes Christ the King Sunday.
Today, after a year of looking back to what Jesus did when he was alive and celebrating what the Risen Christ is doing in our world in the here and now; today we get to look to the future and we celebrate the time that is coming, the time that God has promised, when Jesus Christ reigns or rules or governs all of creation; a time when the brokenness of the world is over, and the whole world is living in peace and justice and love.
Now, if you were in charge of putting together the lectionary, this cycle of readings that we usually follow in the church, what readings might you consider choosing for today?
Maybe something with pomp and ceremony and celebration like our Palm Sunday reading with Jesus riding into Jerusalem accompanied by a crowd proclaiming him to be king? Or if we want pomp and ceremony, we could go back even further to the Old Testament descriptions of the temple with the gold and jewels and singing and dancing.
Or maybe you would pick something from towards the end of the book of Revelation that describes the kingdom of God using imagery of thrones and jewels and the city of gold and the water of life and the tree of life.
Or maybe you’d pick something describing the power of Jesus – maybe when he turned over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple, or when he walked on water, or when he brought Lazarus back to life.
Or what about the story of the resurrection – Jesus, who will one day rule the world, has defeated even death!
Any of these readings would fit with the idea of Christ the King, with God-in-Jesus ruling over all of creation. These readings would fit with the words of our opening hymn – “Jesus shall reign wherever the sun does its successive journeys run; his kingdom stretch from shore to shore, ’till moons shall wax and wane no more.” These readings would fit with our ideas of golden crowns and royal purple robes and a throne high above the heavens.
But look at the reading that the lectionary gives us instead! Instead of reading about a triumphant and powerful king, we have the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. Instead of a golden crown, this king wears a crown of thorns. Instead of sitting on a gold and jewel-encrusted throne high above the heavens, he is raised up on a cross. Instead of a purple robe, his clothing is stripped from him. Instead of being surrounded by courtiers, he is flanked by two other rebels.
God, who embraced vulnerability by being born as a tiny baby who was laid in a manger once again chooses vulnerability when God is nailed to a cross.
And this is the king that we worship – we worship Christ Crucified. This reign of Christ that we recognize and celebrate today is not one marked by authoritarian power and worldly authority and inaccessibility. The one whom we proclaim as our king is the one who chose the power of vulnerability, the one who chose to proclaim forgiveness and reconciliation with his dying breath, the one who throws open the doors of the kingdom of God and invites everyone in.
And so when we proclaim Christ as our king, this is the sort of world that we are putting our trust in. A world where the hungry are fed; a world where the outcasts are welcome; a world where a shepherd searches high and low for one lost sheep; a world where a stranger will help a person injured and stranded beside the road; a world where the last shall be first and the first shall be last.
And when we put our trust in this kingdom of Christ, then all of the struggles and scrambling in this world falls away. With Christ as our king, all of our earthly kings and leaders lose their power over us. With Christ as our king, the lure of wealth or fame or worldly power loses its allure. With Christ as our king, the only things that matter are these lessons from the cross – lessons of love, forgiveness, vulnerability, reconciliation.
And may this kingdom come soon! Amen.
This likely isn't what the Crucifixion looked like...
... and yet we worship the Crucified Christ as our king.
Image: Piero di Cosimo, "Crucifixion of Christ" (Public Domain)