Christ the King Sunday
November 20, 2016
Luke 23: 33-43 You can click on this link to read the text in Oremus Bible Browser.
“The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” We were reading Matthew’s Gospel on Wednesday morning, when someone said, “I just don’t get that. What does that mean, the last shall be first.?” Or rather, what do we mean by celebrating “Christ the King” by reading the story of the crucifixion? It’s a long story; one that begins for us in a stable.
Just stop and think about what it means that our “King” was born to a couple who were required to travel far to get on the tax rolls of the Roman overlords of Palestine. At the end of her pregnancy, Mary walked or rode several days to Bethlehem. No one bothered to care for them, they were on their own, and found shelter in a barn where their son was born. It was not a beautiful sanitary occasion, rather it was typically painful and messy. Not only were they without a home when he was born, but shortly after had to leave Palestine altogether when Herod was threatened by the rumors of a new king being born.
So instead of God coming to be with God’s people as a royal with all pomp and comfort that usually goes with Kingship, God came to be with us as the least – homeless and a refugee. Rather than being trained by the leading academic and religious scholars of his day, Jesus became a wandering preacher, gathering fishermen and tax collectors as his followers. His healing and teaching were astonishing as no one expected such power from such an ordinary, run-down person.
He never fit in with the religious authorities of his day, he spent his time with ordinary people. He broke the purity laws often by touching lepers and bleeding women and dead bodies, and taking care of people on the Sabbath.
He accepted dinner invitations to the homes of disreputable people, and those with sick kids. He told the religious authorities that they made life too hard for people. He even told them that they were corrupting the story of God’s love and not talking about forgiveness and mercy often enough. His disregard for the status quo got him in trouble regularly.
He encouraged people who were oppressed by their church and by their government often enough that they plotted to kill him. The church leaders propositioned one of his own followers and paid him off to set Jesus us for capture away from the crowds that would have fought for him. And so we have the story of Jesus’ death between two criminals. What kind of king is that?
You realize that he could have just zapped anyone who stood in his way, and brought in the Reign of God whenever he pleased Instead, he confronted human greed and ego and power trips by submitting to them. In his innocent death, he highlighted all the evil of which humans are capable. What kind of a King is that? The first shall be last and the last shall be first.
His victory came in his resurrection; the triumph of God’s power over death vindicated Jesus’ submission to all that humans are ever required to suffer. This is where we see his Kingship. His resurrection tells us that the power of God’s love is stronger than death for us too. I’d rather call this Sunday, “Reign of Christ” Sunday, because in Jesus’ resurrection, he began a whole new world in which the lowly are raised and the powerful put down. God has already overcome the evil that killed Jesus. In Revelation we hear of the time when God comes to dwell with humans again. No more mourning or crying, no cancer or Parkinson’s disease, no child dying too soon, no famine or poverty. We already live in that new age. But it comes to us while we continue to live in the age in which evil is still at work. In this age might makes right and people strive to be richer, smarter, more powerful than their neighbors. The strongest shall be first and the weak shall be last. The Reign of Christ is good news for those who struggle and are treated unjustly. It is not such good news for people of comfort and privilege.
So God still chooses not to zap people into conformance with the way God wants the world to be. God works by invitation. God invites us to be part of making that new Reign apparent in our ordinary lives. Justice in the Reign of Christ means that everyone will be accepted in the same way we expect to be accepted, that everyone will have the same access to health and life’s essentials that we have, that everyone will have the dignity of providing for his or her family in the same way we expect. Jesus wants us to fight for the new world he has created, the same way he fought for it; by doing justice, by loving the unlovable, by sharing our bounty. It’s a good thing that God is loving and forgiving, as we so often fail to be the people that Jesus saved us to be. Living in the Reign of Christ means that we are lifted from our failure, forgiven, and sent out to live the love that has included us in God’s vision of the future. The Reign of Christ calls us forward in God’s love toward the time of the healing of the nations, when the lion lies down with the lamb, when we will finally be free to be all we have been invited to be.