- Jeremiah 23:1-6
- Psalm 46
- Colossians 1:11-20
- Luke 23:33-43
You can find all the readings, in CEB and NRSV here.
Today is an interesting day.
Interesting for a few reasons, really.
The first is because it is Christ the King Sunday, and that, in and of itself, seems to be rather confusing for a number of people – including preachers.
How do you preach about the end of the liturgical calendar year? How do you explain that this day is a deep look at the culmination of Christ’s time on earth? That last week we contemplated the absolute end of the world and discovered that God will be there, which leads us into this day where we discover Christ at the head.
More specifically, he is the Word of God, the Light that shines into the world’s darkness. This powerful one who arrives as a child at a time of incredible danger, and into one of the humblest of settings. That infant is Jesus, who is Son of Man and Son of God, and came into the world like any other baby: cold, hungry, crying. He grows up as the son of a backwater country bumpkin village carpenter, during a time of occupation and incredible persecution.
And we know that there is more to the story than that – for he is also a King! Doing kingship and leadership in a way that is far beyond anything we have ever seen in any kind of ruler, let alone a king. Teaching us that we all carry a portion of that God-Light within our very being.
It’s all really quite a bit to wrap your head around.
So, I decided to look through some of my old sermons for inspiration and I made a happy discovery.
Do you know that three years ago, on November 24th, I was standing, for the first time, in the pulpit of a church I had never been in? I came as a supply preacher to St John Lutheran Church in Strasbourg, Saskatchewan.
To be honest, it was the first time even setting foot in the town. And, I was nervous to meet a new set of parishioners and lead worship in an unfamiliar place. Oh, how I hate to fail. My brain itemized the Litany of my failures:
What if I was too funny for your liking?
What if I wasn’t funny enough?
What if the sermon was crap?
What if it doesn’t make any sense to anyone?
What if supply work is all I will ever know?
What if I am not called to be a pastor?
Who knew that three years later, we’d be into our second year of First Call together. It’s delightful to see that God works incredible things out of places of fear, shame, and failure. God works incredible things out of suffering of all kinds.
Today’s Gospel text puts us right in the middle of this hotly debated idea – that the head of Christianity, that God, would hang from a cross, as a criminal, like a failure, for the benefit all people, including the very people who were killing him, taunting him, and vilifying him. Those responsible for crucifying Christ thought the notion of his leadership and kingship so incredibly ridiculous that they mocked him and placed a sign above his head that would continue to mock him when they had all left the place.
For the unknowing, Christ’s death was nothing unusual – false prophets, false messiahs, false leaders died mocked, taunted, ignored, and vilified alongside all the other representatives of society’s failures. We know the political reasons for this death: it was done according to the rules, order, and expectations of the world in which Jesus lived.
But for the knowing, one of the hardest parts for us to hear and to try and understand is that through his crucifixion and death, Jesus announces the advent of an entirely different way of being in relationship within the kingdom of God, with God, and also with each other. And, Jesus’ reign as king and ruler of all is SO very different from how we have grown as people, as countries, and as a church, into what is socially and culturally defined as leadership. What Jesus does and how Jesus acts is so counter to this established human way of leading, ruling, or doing things.
Jesus lives out of a presence with and in our suffering.
While on the cross, while he is dying, Jesus does a few incredible things. First, he seeks forgiveness for those who are mocking and killing him. “Father, forgive them…” The second thing that he does is to declare that the criminal beside him is saved. And if that weren’t enough, Jesus tells that condemned-to-death guy that this salvation means that he will go into paradise with Jesus. Jesus’ final acts are kingly gifts to a world full of failure, condemnation, mockery, and pain: a gift of Forgiveness and a promise of Salvation. Light and Life in the very depth of darkness.
This kingly presence of light and life with and in our suffering doesn’t seem to be this one-time event that occurs at the place of Jesus’ death, beneath this epic cross of Christ. It is a presence that meant that this unknown criminal died knowing that someone was really with him in his time of suffering. That presence saw his pain, spoke to his oppression, and spoke up against his suffering at the hands of human political rulers and religious leaders, empires, and evil.
Jesus birth, life, death, and resurrection all point to this way of light and life eternal that proclaims that the kingdom of God is about interconnection and relationships. God’s relationship with each of us also dwells in our relationships with each other, and our relationships with the world. The relationships that endure, survive and persist through all circumstances are the ones that live out a commitment of presence with and in each others suffering. It is not at all easy, and there is a real challenge for those of us who identify as members of the embodied church. Because the church’s head will always this ‘Word of God/Light into the Darkness’ presence that seeks to be with and in the suffering of all.
I truly believe that in order for us to continue to call ourselves members of the body of Christ – in order for us to continue to be the church, we need to tell the truth about ourselves. We need to apologize for not standing up for the very persons Jesus sought out to save. To make the hard choice to be the persons who see pain, and speak out against oppression, and speak up against suffering at the hands of human political rulers and religious leaders, empires, and evil. To forgive those who have made it their life to try to silence the voices of love, and to keep on being a voice of love and a source of light in the world’s darkness.
We need to be courageous in naming our failures, and be bold in moving forward. When we do so, God works incredible things out of those places of fear, shame, and failure. Our Lord, King, and Saviour is a presence with and in suffering of all kinds, announcing the advent of the kingdom of God. Which is both here and still to come with the fullness of time.
So, with the words of Karoline Lewis, I encourage you to be brave. Be “the light of Christ. The light that sheds light on that which justifies and validates hatred and violence so as to expose it for what it is. The light that sheds light on those who have been ignored, overlooked, and silenced so as to disavow ignorance for good. The desperately needed ray of light that shines as a glimmer of hope for all and especially for now.” Be the ones who continue in announcing and celebrating the advent of the kingdom of a God who continues to do incredible things with us and around us. Amen.
This week’s image is entitled: “The Three Crosses.” It was created in 1653 by Rembrandt van Rijn. You can find out about the artwork here, and about the artist here. This image is public domain and borrowed from Wikimedia commons for the purpose of this blog.