November 24, 2013 – Christ the King Sunday

Christ the King Sunday  November 24, 2013 Luke 1:68-79, Jeremiah 23:1-6, Colossians 1:9-20;  Luke 23:33-43    What kind of King?

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[sing Jesus, Remember Me – #488 ]

I’m guessing most of us don’t get a whole lot of Christ the King greeting cards. And I’ve yet to hear of anyone decorating church or home for Christ the King Sunday. And I think it’s probably safe to say, Christ the King Sunday is one of our more obscure days in the church calendar.

Maybe we’ve got some kind of an image problem here?  I’ve heard it suggested that Christ the King is an under-appreciated day in the church year because of our alleged mistrust of all-things-related-to-kings here in America. This theory has it that ever since our hard-won independence long ago from Not-so-Great Britain, kings and kingdoms just aren’t generally topics we Americans like to spend much time with – unless we’re talking history, mythology, or Elvis.

Against this theory, however, we have ample evidence indicating many Americans do still like to obsess a little about royalty. I remember more than a few parishioners up in far Northern Vermont, independent yankees for sure, yet saying in church the next morning after that last Big Royal Wedding across the Atlantic (broadcast on tv, even in Vermont) that they had stayed up half-the-night watching. And whether it’s serious stuff like The King’s Speech or lighter fare like The Princess Diaries, royalty still sells a lot of books and movies… We’ve still got clear images of how kingly life’s supposed to be – with castles and crowns, banquets and power-trips. We know quite a bit about how royal-life is supposed to be…

So listen to our gospel reading for Christ the King Sunday:

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[read Luke 23:33-43 ]

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

[The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.]

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Here’s our coronation text for King Jesus. No string orchestras playing royal symphonies. No cathedral full of loyal subjects. No banquet halls and ballrooms packed with honorable guests in fine clothing, celebrating in style – like we expect even with presidential inaugurations in our democratic republic.

Instead of a crown of gold and a retinue of attendants – here’s King Jesus, stripped, beaten, tortured, wearing a crown of thorns, crucified – dying on a cross between a pair of criminals. Mocked, scorned, ridiculed. Soldiers gambling for his clothing. Even one of the dying criminals joins in heaping scorn on Jesus. Instead of a grand regal menu of rich foods and fine wines – just a last bitter cup of sour wine – and the sign above him saying in mocking irony, “This Is The King of the Jews” – the Empire’s way of letting us know what happens to those who look threatening to The Empire.

Christ our King in agony on the cross.  And it’s hard for me to see his kingdom happening here.

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It’s often hard to see the kingdom of God – especially if we’re not remembering all the ways Jesus teaches and talks about his kingdom…during his ministry on earth…

It’s very hard to make sense of the pain and agony and suffering of Jesus’ death… if we don’t remember all the poor and hurting people he hung out with while on earth… if we don’t remember all the ways Jesus challenged the status quo, insisting that the last will be first and the first will be last, and life as we know it will be turned thoroughly upside down in his kingdom…

Yet even if we understand why Jesus’ death on a cross was inevitable, this doesn’t make it easier to accept. Dealing with Jesus’ death on the cross was very hard for all his first disciples. It should be hard for us too. Whenever we’re intimately involved with someone who suffers, there’s probably really no good way to make sense of human suffering… at least not at the time…

A lot depends on our angle of vision. Long-range, wide-range vision doesn’t make everything better either – but sometimes being able to see from a greater distance does help…

If we could see it all from the viewpoint of the heavens, we would probably actually see the crucifixion of Jesus as a pivotal part of God’s plan unfolding. (Scripture actually assures us of this, many times, many ways…)

But it’s still awfully hard for me to see anything good in the cruel death of Jesus, the most totally innocent person ever born, in the pain of the immediate moment of the cross.

Another angle of view is necessary.

Christmas Eve forty five years ago, Astronaut William Anders took the first wide-angle picture of earth from space from the window of the Apollo 8 spacecraft – a picture reproduced in countless newspapers and magazines, a photo-image that soon became known as “Earth Rise.”  Environmental groups have credited the picture as inspiring the first Earth Day… Later, Apollo 8 Commander Frank Borman said the Earth Rise picture was

“the most beautiful, heart-catching sight of my life, one that sent a torrent of nostalgia, of sheer homesickness, surging through me. It was the only thing in space that had any color to it. Everything else was simply black or white. But not the Earth.”

(And while nothing really compares – and so at the risk of sounding perhaps ridiculous – ) Jesus on the cross is a bit like that first view of our home planet from outer space. (Though of course much more so.)

This new view of reality is more than we can immediately absorb – much more than we can possibly take-in in just one viewing.

Yet as what we see registers and starts to sink in – our view of life is forever transformed.

If we could somehow hear all the bible’s verses simultaneously, like millions of distinct songs, sung together in divine harmony, all forming one seamless symphony of color and light and tone, word and image – sound and silence –

If we could see all the world – all its seasons, climates, creatures, peoples, cultures, all at once –

Maybe we could also absorb the meaning of Jesus, Christ our King, on the cross – in one viewing.

For me (and I’m guessing for most of us) – it can be a lot just to remember a little in each glimpse of Jesus.

Some days all I really remember is, “Father forgive, they know not what they do.”

Other days all I take away is, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”

On a really good day – it begins to sink in – that (oh, my Lord!) – I’m actually, really, fully included… in the promise and the love of God revealed in Jesus – especially in his last words from the cross –

On a good day I realize –  “Father forgive” includes me – Alleluia!

On a very good day I actually kinda-sorta get it – that “today you will be with me in Paradise” is a true word from Jesus – not just for that criminal on the cross long ago – but also for me… even me.

And whenever I’m getting it… I try to pray from deeper in the heart – “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” (Jesus, remember me – when you come into your kingdom…)

Today you will be with me in Paradise” Jesus says – and I may be unpacking just the word “Today” in Jesus’ reply…as long as I’m alive on this earth. (Trying to get my head around the miracle of now and eternity – intersecting – here and now. )

I don’t even know how to begin with understanding “paradise” – except to notice the word links linguistically closely with the Garden of Eden in Genesis – and to notice also this paradise is not light years away…

And who, again, is it who receives this outrageously generous promise from Jesus?  The kindest, gentlest, most morally-upright person of faith on earth?

Or a criminal condemned to die by crucifixion – the Empire’s means of execution reserved for insurrectionists and other serious threats to good order. A criminal who admits his own guilt and simply asks to be remembered. And yes  – recognizes Jesus as King – even dying on the cross.

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Recognizing Jesus as our King often does seem to be about getting a better view. Sometimes a longer view… Sometimes an up-close view… from another angle.

Most of all, recognizing from all of scripture and experience –

What kind of King…Jesus is.

Again it helps to remember everything Jesus says about God’s kingdom….

Again it helps to remember all the ways we see Jesus, alive among us… here and now…

Last year at Thanksgiving, I’ve been remembering, how we had as many people eager to serve as we had eager to eat… (A miracle right there…) Everyday people of faith, doing everyday things we know how to do – chopping vegetables, slicing bread, baking and cooking… turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, vegetables… pumpkin pies…

Welcoming everyone personally…

Chatting, getting to know new-to-us neighbors…Catching up with neighbors we don’t see often as we’d like…

Working together, neighbors and friends; eating together, friends and neighbors… serving and eating and fellow-shipping…

Giving thanks thankfully, as we do things Jesus taught us to do…

Enjoying rich fellowship and the rich diet of a thanksgiving feast…

Made rich beyond comparison…

Because of Jesus – King Jesus – with us… Cooking and serving and eating with us… Reminding us of the kind of King… he is.

Inviting us to remember him, and be thankful… ever thankful…

Even as he always remembers us… Remembers us into newness of life…

Life together, forever, in the fullness of thanksgiving grace… grace upon grace…

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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[let’s sing – Jesus, Remember Me, #488 – then Crown Him with Many Crowns, #327]