christ the king sunday: November 24, 2019
Year C, Proper 28: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Canticle 4; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
At the time of posting, there was no audio recording of this sermon.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”.
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. A criminal understood, a criminal knew who Jesus was even when the soldiers and the high priests, and the Sadducees, and even some of the disciples, perhaps, did not.
Today is the last Sunday of the church year. Next Sunday we will enter the season of Advent, the time of waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ as a newborn. If you look in your prayer book, or at an Episcopal Church Year Guide, which we use to help guide us in setting the altar, you’ll see a number of names for this Sunday. The Last Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 29. Christ the King.
The first two we understand. We see that sort of a reference regularly. Why aren’t we celebrating Proper 29 or the Last Sunday after Pentecost, which if you look at the church year calendar that hangs in the sacristy you will find as names for this day? In fact, they’re what are listed in the lectionary insert for today’s bulletin, which has green and we’re using white.
But having a special name like Christ the King Sunday signifies that there is something different about this Sunday. And lest we think children aren’t aware of what happens one asked me why I was wearing white today instead of green. I told her that white is the sign of a festival celebration.
Christ the King is a relatively recent addition to the liturgical calendar of The Episcopal Church. 2020 will mark its 50th year on our calendar, having begun in The Episcopal Church only in 1970.
Christ the King celebrates Christ’s messianic kingship and sovereign rule over all creation. It sounds like a wonderful old celebration doesn’t it? Given its name, and the fact that it is celebrated in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches, you might think that Christ the King Sunday goes back hundreds if not more than a thousand years in the church calendar. It seems a logical conclusion given the context of today’s readings, which are full of references to kings and kingdoms, dominions and principalities. And just because The Episcopal Church didn’t adopt it until 1970 doesn’t mean it wasn’t celebrated before that. But this celebration will turn only 95 years old, which in church parlance means it’s virtually in infancy. Marty’s father turned 100 last month, so he is older than this church feast.
Here’s some background. Christ the King was declared by Pope Pius XI in 1925. It was to mark the sixteenth centenary of the Council of Nicaea held in 325, which defended the divinity of Christ. It was the church council that gave us our statement of faith, The Nicene Creed.
But perhaps, more importantly, Christ the King Sunday was viewed as a response to the turmoil in Europe after the First World War and the rise of various -ism’s – nationalism, secularism, fascism, and communism. In 1922, the fascist black shirts of Benito Mussolini marched on Rome. Just a year earlier, Adolf Hitler and his followers failed in their attempt to take over the government of Bavaria. Following the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924, Joseph Stalin began to consolidate his power and he would soon completely control the Soviet Union.
Many had lost their faith in the church and God. The establishment was viewed as inept and self-serving. People were looking for alternatives, likeminded communities in which to express their fears, their anger and to create acceptable scapegoats for perceived or real injustices. “We are in this situation because… (add whatever sounds right to you here).
It was within these contexts that Christ the King Sunday was established to remind people that regardless of who they aligned themselves with on earth, ultimately there was only one loyalty, one ruler, one King worthy of their devotion who could actually offer the security they craved. And that King was Jesus Christ.
Today, our world is still battling “-ism’s”; we all belong to groups of one sort or another. We see these -ism’s in ourselves and around the world – in people who correctly, or more likely incorrectly, see themselves as morally, intellectually and culturally superior to others.
We see this at work 2,000 years ago in the events leading up to today’s gospel reading. The religious elite manufactured charges against Jesus because he was a perceived threat to the security of their earthly kingdom. The Roman rulers who mocked Jesus, and I might add his accusers, with the sign: “This is the King of the Jews” – as he hung seemingly helpless and powerless, the very antithesis of a king. A victim of their ‘ism’s: their allegiances, prejudices, and fears which has been shaped by their various religious, cultural and political tribes.
All this leads to a stark, desperate scene – three men hanging on three crosses. One in fear, pain, and anger, mocks Jesus – “save us”, he cries, but doesn’t believe it is possible, not for a minute. He sees a weak, humiliated man who forgives his enemies (is forgiveness really a thing when you’re hanging on the cross – it is (if you are Jesus). How can this be a strong savior?
Only one sees what is happening more clearly than the others. He alone sees the outrageousness of this situation – “this man has done nothing wrong.” In dire circumstances this criminal, this convict is able to look beyond himself to another person, to another reality, the reality that Jesus is innocent. This man is able to discern goodness and truth. He is able to recognize the full nature of who Jesus is. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he says. This is the only one who seems to get the hint of what Jesus has meant by a new definition of God’s reign.
If ever there was Holy Spirit moment, this was it. A moment infused with God-given grace, clarity, faith, and hope at the most desperate of times. And Jesus responds to this revelation: Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus is saying that this man will not simply move from life to death, but to another kingdom.
How does this death scene take us into the upcoming birth stories that we will hear in the coming weeks?
Think of the two seminal moments in Jesus’ life. He was born in a manger, some say it was a cowshed, and he died on a cross. These are unlikely places to find a king.
What they reveal is a king who defies expectations of who and what a king is. They reveal a king who lives a simple, ordinary life. A king who allows himself to be vulnerable to others and for others, using his power to benefit others. A king who preaches justice and peace. A king who will forgive, will love. and will die even for those who mock him, deny him and kill him. And a king who is the one true king, who ultimately and eternally has all power and authority.
This is what Christ the King Sunday reminds us of. The one who is truly worthy of our loyalty and allegiance.
This Sunday is our gateway to our Advent anticipation of the birth of Christ. Next week we start to think about Jesus coming to us.
When does Jesus come to us? Each time we gather at this altar, Jesus comes. Each time we proclaim Jesus the Christ, and not any world power or world leader, or principality as our ruler, Jesus comes. Jesus comes in the bread and wine of Eucharist and the love and joy of the Gospel that we proclaim.
Some people think that Christ the King is anachronistic, perhaps even a bit misogynistic. I say whatever term you prefer – Christ the King, the Reign of God, the Kingdom of God – it adds up to the peaceable realm we all need. Never lose sight of who deserves our ultimate loyalty. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
 Luke 23:42, New Revised Standard Version
 Think of how this sentence can be pronounced – This is the King of the Jews? This is the King of the Jews.
 Cf. Luke 23:39, NRSV (The verse reads “Save yourself, and us”.)
 Luke 23:42, bold and underline added
 Luke 23:43
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