St. John’s Church, Yonkers
Christ the King, Proper 29C
Are any of you puzzled by the gospel reading? This is Christ the King Sunday. Today we celebrate that Christ has the victory over sin and death. Today we celebrate that to him all things shall bow, on heaven and on earth, and acknowledge the glory of his name, the glory of the only son of God. Today we celebrate that all history, all the universe seeing his example of love, compassion and forgiveness acknowledges him as King of kings and Lord of Lords.
So why are we having a story about the crucifixion?
If this is puzzling to you, that is not surprising; yet it is important to heed this puzzle, because in it is one of the central mysteries of our faith.
Christ the king came to serve, not be served. The kingly authority of Christ comes from service, from love, from compassion, from forgiveness.
The opposing view is that physical strength and force, the ability to harm and destroy, is the source of authority. Another way to say this is that sometimes we have to be practical rather than do the right thing. This is often the view of earthly kings and powers. This was the view of the Roman Empire. And if one views the cross from this point of view, then on the Cross Christ was defeated, not victorious.
Yet Jesus shows his authority on the cross. When condemned unjustly to die he prays to God, “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing.” This is true power: the desire to show compassion even on those who do you ill.
Do we really believe this? I don’t mean do we say we believe this. I mean do we make this real in our lives day by day? Do we look at our life as successful if we have served others, if we have forgiven those who wrong us, if we make personal sacrifice because we love and care for others? If we are honest with ourselves do we lead our lives this way?
I sometimes wonder what was going on for the thief on the cross. I mean he is angry at the other thief who is mocking Jesus. At this final moment of his life he has a flash of clarity. He considers that his punishment is just because he is a thief. But he sees Jesus and sees injustice. When he sees Jesus he sees a man whose crime was healing people, winning theological discussions, pronouncing people forgiven, trusting God. I sometimes think the thief in his mind considered Jesus naïve, but in his goodness and simplicity beautiful. I sometimes imagine the thief is in a way humoring Jesus because he admires him. He chooses at this moment to go along with Jesus’ point of view even though it is not really his own. He says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”
The other thief mocks Jesus saying, “Call down heavenly forces and free us” The other thief is seeing the world from the point of view of this world where might makes right. But the thief who ask Jesus to remember him, whatever he thinks about the world really in the depth of his heart, sees the beauty, the goodness, the wonder of a man on a cross forgiving his enemies and trusting God even as he dies a torturous death. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And what does Jesus say, “Truly this day you will be with me in paradise.” In the face of a terrible death. In the middle of the most final moment Jesus continues to put his faith and hope in God, and gives that faith and that hope to this criminal.
On the cross, the faithful, the hopeful, the good, the compassionate, the forgiving, the loving Jesus has the victory. He exercises true power. He reigns supreme from the tree in this moment of glory. This is why, when Jesus told his disciples it was the time for him to go to Jerusalem to suffer death he called it “his hour to be glorified.”
It is Easter that shows this to be true. Christ rising from the dead, appearing to his disciples, appearing to 500 at one time, turning the lives of the apostles upside down with joy and amazement, it is Easter that is the crown Christ wears after he has sat on the cross, his throne.
Kings and governments may rule from palaces with armies to back them up. And I am not even saying that in this world where man hunts man that it is a bad thing. St. Paul says it is a necessary thing for there to be social order. But the truly important work is the work you and I do every day. It is the service we perform for one another.
Service such as the work Adam has done for us for 40 years here, keeping our plant ready for our worship and programs.
It is when we greet one another warmly, learn each other’s names; it is when we welcome the newcomer with a smile and learn about their lives, their joys and struggles; it is when we buy a toy for a child who has none, or help a neighbor by giving food or connecting them to someone with a job such as Mother Teresa did; it is when we invite someone to eat with us so that we can listen to the burdens of their heart; it is when we point out injustice to our civic leaders and demand change, such as Martin Luther King or Ghandi have done; it is when we care for our neighbor and do not judge them, as Pope Francis said “Who am I to judge”; It is when we learn to give sacrificially with joy for our neighbor’s aid; It is when we trust God with the future and the outcomes, simply putting our hearts and minds toward the doing of good today.
It is when we do these simple things that we are dwelling in Christ’s kingdom, the one true kingdom that will endure throughout eternity. It is when we stive to live this way, and always ask forgiveness when we fail, that we begin to see Christ’s kingdom. This is the kingdom that gives peace and joy. This is the kingdom where our souls can be satisfied. This is the paradise Jesus promises to the thief, ... and to us.
“Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”
In the name…