Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
The Feast of the Reign of Christ
“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
If we are at a loss as to what happens to us in relationship to Jesus when he dies, the writer of the Letter to the Colossians makes it clear that through the cross we are literally transferred from being ruled by the powers of darkness, specifically sin and death, to the rule and reign of Christ. It is this message of reconciliation and forgiveness that we celebrate on this feast day, the end of our church year. It is the death of Christ on the cross and his resurrection that gives Christ first place in everything in this world.
I suspect that most of us who awakened on the morning of November 9, 2016 did not feel as though we had awakened amid the rule of Christ, or Christ in all and all. If ever there was a moment in which I awakened knowing that I am, and that we are, accountable to Christ alone it was that day. I awakened knowing that all these years my faith has been all about fitting Jesus into my world view or the world view of a liberal democracy or benign capitalism. This reality was done. I was deported completely and utterly from one kingdom and its world view into one in which if I am to have faith and hope and exercise true reconciling love, then it is Jesus Christ alone who can shape my worldview, our world view. This doesn’t come without struggle.
The failure of faith takes many forms, it can be as simple as engaging only in the rituals and not enacting them in discipleship. It is thinking that simple benevolence will challenge and change the world that denies justice and freedom as a daily exercise of power and dominion. It is seeking our place among the strongest rather than the weakest. It is choosing the convenience of denying our commitments rather than living up to them. It is refusal to take responsibility for doing the work of justice and peace as partners with God in the work of redemption and reconciliation. Yet, the smallest and the greatest failures do not remove us from this gift of Christ’s salvation. To receive this forgiveness, we must be brought to the end of our possibilities.
Extreme emotions put us front and center in this gospel that tells us about Jesus our king. People are tormented by decisions, distress—both those who lost him and those who wanted him put to death—the core of that distress was the fitness of Jesus to be king. We want to look down on those who killed Jesus as embodied by an executed thief who lashes out in anger. Jesus does not do this. He asks for forgiveness for those who executed him. To the thief who asks for mercy Jesus promises paradise today. This is the Jesus to whom we confess, “yours is the power, and the kingdom and the glory”.
This picture of Jesus Christ as king shows us that self-emptying is not self-destruction. Jesus shows us that it is an active readiness to serve God’s purposes. Jesus shows us that God’s peace is won not by weapons and force, but by conversion and transformation, by the utterly faithful acceptance of the most radical rejection we can offer. Today we meet the world as Jesus does. It is a world too full of unreconciled pain and exhausted compassion that can only be addressed by this terrible death, and we know the resurrection that follows. Our contrition, our repentance may take the form of tears, or stilling those impulses to betray, deny or be swayed by the crowds. Like the thief we are to participate in a life-giving world in which we are sent from the cross to be healers who do not flinch in the face of suffering. We must enter our public and private Jerusalem with the mind of Christ who died in solidarity with us at our worst and with a hope that had no assurance of vindication. God had the courage to trust this empty moment, so must we.
Today you will be with me in paradise, promises Jesus. This is not simply a promise of the future. It is the promise of this moment. This means if you are lost, today you are found. If you are on the outside of the wealth and power of this world, you are here at God’s table and worthy of God’s feast. If you have squandered all grace, hope, mercy and love, today your return is celebrated. Today we are invited to be full participants in upholding God’s restorative justice. This means holding the rulers of this age at arms’ length or the width of the cross. This means upsetting the apple cart to empower all people to know themselves as God’s children. This means always living from a place of love and not fear, respecting the dignity of those with whom we agree and disagree, for “what we focus on will become our reality.” This means forgiving those unworthy of our mercy because God loves them too, like thieves on the cross and those who would put Jesus to death. It is always remembering that as followers of Christ our true roots are in and among the people who matter the least to the world, the poor and the oppressed and upholding God’s justice for them. For these are our deepest values. This is our common ground as followers of Jesus Christ the King.
We are so weak, and God is so strong. And God’s love and grace are sufficient for all. Thank God that God gives grace and I do not. God give us the courage to take up the cross and follow Jesus.