Lectionary: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Canticle 16; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, as supply at St. Francis Episcopal Church, Rutherfordton, NC.
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En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.
Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, sometimes called the Reign of Christ. This date stands between the long, green season after Pentecost and Advent. On this day we stop to consider what it means when we say that Jesus is our King.
But kings are human, and Jeremiah acknowledges some of the kings weren’t very good. There was bad leadership and it had consequences. But Jeremiah promises that the redeeming love of God is greater than all of that and is a certainty; and he says all we have to do is remain faithful and God will restore the king, and us, and everything else to right relationship. That’s what righteousness is.
Then there is that beautiful Canticle, #16, the song of Zechariah, and it’s a song of praise about God who sends a Savior to set the people free , to worship without fear, in holiness and righteousness, all the days of their lives. The letter to the church at Colossae clarifies that this savior, the one promised, is Jesus, the Son of God, the head of the church, the fullness of God (fully human, fully divine), who reconciled all things to himself, in heaven and on earth. So it might make a little more sense now, that our gospel for this day comes from the passion – the crucifixion - because this is where the very notion of kingship is transformed.
Great kings in our salvation history, like David, brought peace and harmony, but none has brought eternal redemption except for Jesus, our King; and he did it in a way that no one saw coming. It wasn’t by being a great ruler, or a great warrior, but by the forgiveness of sin.
I want to pause for a moment to discuss what “sin” is and what sin isn’t. Most of us talk about sin as those things we do that are wrong or harmful. That’s partly right. Theologian Karl Barth talks about sin as a state of separation – separation from God, separation from one another. In that state of separation we do things that are wrong and harmful.
So, it’s kind of like the disease versus the symptoms. We know there is a disease by the presence of its symptoms. We can treat the symptoms, but unless we cure the disease, we aren’t healed.
That’s why Jesus brought us redemption by the forgiveness of sin, by bringing down all barriers that separate us from God and one another. And he demonstrated this over and over in his ministry, and also, on the cross. Remember the story of the healing of the man born blind? Remember the people asked Jesus, ‘Who sinned, they asked, this man or his parents?” Think of how they thought about sin. Or the woman caught in adultery… Everyone was ready to stone her and Jesus says, ‘the one who is without sin can cast the first stone,’ and they all walked away.
Jesus didn’t just treat the symptoms, he cured the disease. This is our King. In his most miserable, painful, humiliating moment as a human, Jesus prayed, and his prayer takes our breath away: “Father, forgive them…”
At our most miserable moments, when we are being unfairly treated, when those with power over us are acting corruptly, is this our prayer?
When I was studying for my doctorate, I went to England and studied over there for a while. I went to a place called the Cathedral at Coventry. Coventry England is a place that was bombed during WWII because it held arsenal. The cathedral was destroyed in an attack. When you go to the cathedral now, you see that they didn’t clear away the rubble, the shell of the original cathedral; they simply built the new cathedral and attached them with a walkway. So it’s one cathedral: the bombed out shell and the new place of worship; and every day at noon they hold a prayer service in the bombed out shell. It’s a very powerful experience.
When you walk into the new cathedral, the very first thing you see, built into the tile on the floor, are these words: “Father forgive.” I can still feel in my body the power of the first moment I saw that.
Anyone who’s been awake or watching the news the last few weeks, might have noticed that our beloved human family is sorely “divided and enslaved by sin.” I don’t just mean our election, I mean the whole world. Look at the news.
In our effort to address this discomfort, we often react like the soldiers and the criminal who call upon Jesus to save himself. Make this pain go away. Take a pill. Kill an enemy. Eat chocolate. Do whatever it takes – just make it stop… And sometimes we can… for a while, but we’ve only addressed the symptom. The disease remains.
More importantly, we’ve reacted to ourselves. Our attention is focused on us – our discomfort, our vision of how things are supposed to be.
Ironically, Jesus’ attention was on us too. As Jesus was dying on that cross, he certainly had the power to make it stop, to make it go away, but his attention wasn’t on himself. It was on us – all of us – humanity… then, now and forever more.
As he hung on that cross, the soldiers mocked him. The religious leaders scoffed at him – his own church family scoffed at him. Even one of the criminals derided him. Yet, Jesus forgave them, freely giving them the same freedom from the sin he gave all of us.
This is what Christ our King does. He forgives, and by doing so, he has “set us on a course that will bring all of us together again under God’s gracious rule.” (Collect of the Day)
Unity in the wholeness of God. That is our cure, and our King has already given it to us. Now it’s up to us to live as if that’s true.
It isn’t easy, given that we live in what we church-folk call the “already but not yet.” Christ has already come, forgiveness is already ours, but the reconciliation of the whole world to God is not yet complete.
Oscar Cullmann said it like this, “Christ's Incarnation was like the Normandy invasion that set in motion forces that would lead to victory more than a year later. In the interim many battles would be fought and many soldiers would die. We, like the soldiers who lived in that interim, are living in the interim between the cross and Jesus' final victory. We should not expect life to be easy (Source).”
Well that’s true, but I also hope we also don’t forget to follow the example of our King. Are we not followers of Christ? Think about Jesus’ whole life. He partied hearty with his friends. Even as he tended to the symptoms of the disease around him , he played, he visited friends, he made wine like crazy! Any he showed us how to live our lives by doing that.
Granted, we have lots of work to do attending to the symptoms around us while we wait faithfully for God to work the whole cure. We must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely, and set free those who are imprisoned - by anything: addictions, oppression, self-hate, poverty, powerlessness… whatever imprisons someone.
We must raise up the lowly and invite into the kingdom of God those whom the world exclude. But we must also cherish our family and spend time with our friends. We must learn to remember to play with our dogs and let the gentle purring of our cats sooth our weary souls.
We must listen to the stories of our elders, and receive the wisdom that comes from the innocence of our children. We must stop to notice the super moon and let the artistry of a sunrise awaken our soul.
As we navigate these next weeks, months, and years, we must refuse to let ideology, politics, or any other thing , separate us any further from one another and from our faith in the redeeming love of God.
We are not put on this earth to save ourselves. That’s been done – Jesus did it!
Our Baptism calls us, instead, to continue the reconciling work of Jesus our King until the whole world recognizes its citizenship in the kingdom of God and lives as one body, one spirit in Christ.
It’s the kind of work that will take a village – or as we call it, a church. We need one another, and we need to share the nourishment of Word and Sacrament regularly together because that what strengthens us and unite us. We need to eat together and pray together, and play together. We even need to disagree together. Church is where we learn and practice forgiveness so that we can take it out into the world, beyond these walls, because as you know, our world remains divided and enslaved by sin.
As poet Mary Oliver said, “I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.”