Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Christ the King! He is King! Hallelujah! The finale of the liturgical year celebrates that Christ is King. Next year we begin our liturgical journey again, with the first Sunday of Advent. The beginning of the process looking to the birth of Christ. But today. Today is the crown of the liturgical year. The culmination of the ministry of Jesus. His birth amongst animals, his ministry amongst some of the poorest and richest of people, his death upon the cross – a demeaning way to die and one of the worst that the Romans could come up with. We’ve celebrated his ascension into heaven and today we celebrate him, as Christ the King.
In the Eucharistic Prayer, we find the theology of what happened in the life of the Christ. ‘He made his home among us that we might forever dwell in you.’ And ‘by dying upon the Cross, being raised from the dead, broke the bonds of evil and set your people free.’ He offered himself for us on that altar of the Cross. Each and every single one of us, with all our foibles, and guilts and hurts. This, this altar that we come to each week, where we celebrate the Eucharist. This is where we bring our hurts, and chips on the shoulder. This represents the Cross.
The Christ redeemed humanity by being the ultimate sacrifice. A sacrifice of peace. What we, surely do, each time we share the peace. There may be those with whom we have grumps and perhaps they have germs too. But we share the peace with each other, not because we should be seen to do so, or because we’re grownups or children, but because we are called to do so as Christians. Yes, there may be times that people don’t wish to shake hands for medical or other reasons, but there should never be offence felt by either the giver or the receiver. The grace that God gives us is sufficient to cover all this. We are redeemed. We are freed. Released. We were slaves in captivity but the Christ’s sacrifice freed us. Surely then, when I shout ‘Christ is King!’ it is a poignant moment for celebration?
He brings in a kingdom of truth and life. Not one of half-lies or half-truths. Not one of manipulation or blackmail. One of freedom, where the church can grow, without being held back because of fears. A kingdom of life. Each of us, who have accepted the Christ into our lives has that life, that kingdom, within us. We are in that kingdom, where the Christ is king!
On this altar, we do not just have the transformation of bread and wine, but we also have the transformation of whatever we bring to that altar. Our suffering, our joy, our lives. All this is incorporated into the body of Christ. This is the beginning of our journey with Christ, and it is also the end. But we can’t stop here, because by inviting Him into our lives, through the bread and the wine, we are drawn into a deeper relationship with Him. Through worship and discipleship. Worship, btw, isn’t just the liturgy, or the singing. It doesn’t just happen within these four walls – but it is incorporated into every single aspect of your life. Worship of Christ the King should dictate your every move. Through all this, we are incorporated into the Body of Christ.
In the gospel passage, we don’t just have the main players. Jesus, Mary, the soldiers, the two criminals. We have hundreds of others on the hillsides. Some who have come to jest and some who have come to mourn. I wonder… if the Christ was hanging there, on that altar, who would you be, in that crowd? We, too, can be tempted to keep our distance like many of the disciples, or other members of the crowd. We too can choose not to accept the scandal of what Jesus did for us – dying humbly with utmost love, which is, at the same time, unsettling and disturbing. Then there are those who mock him and tell him to save himself. Isn’t that the human response? The suggestion that superiority should show itself through force. I’m so glad that Jesus showed us a different way. One that uses non-aggressive strategy. Lastly, there is the response of the second criminal, who recognises in Jesus, something that is terrifying to acknowledge, a different kind of victory to any that he might have seen before. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
That criminal was amongst the first to enter this new kingdom. Christ’s kingdom. A reign of mercy that brings us all together to worship Christ! The King! That should tell you something about who enters the kingdom of heaven. Look around you. This is an incredibly white, heterosexual, middle-class church. I wonder where the homeless go? I wonder where anyone of any other nationality goes? I wonder how inclusive this church, St Peter’s is to everyone else who does not fit into the white, heterosexual middle-class stereotype? I wonder… do you care?
As we come to the altar – the Lord’s table, we jostle together with our sisters and brothers. Knowing that the first will be the last, and the last will be the first. We come together, shoulder to shoulder, with our hurts, and aches, and germs. We lay all of this on the Lord’s table. Through the Eucharist, we are transformed through the Holy Spirit into one people – the people of God. The Eucharist is not just about eating the bread and drinking the wine and toddling off to our seats to wait for the end of the service. Every part of our gathering today – enacting the liturgy and praying the prayer of consecration remakes us as part of the church triumphant – if only we allow it. Christ is either king in your life, or he is not.
In Jeremiah, we are warned about the false shepherds. “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord.” People, who have not followed the Lord, who have tried to lead the sheep astray. What could drive one astray, you ask? Money. The love of money. The love of making oneself feel good. The idea of being powerful in the church. The art of manipulation. Bettering oneself above others. Self-serving leadership usually ends up falling from a great height. Better I think, to never extend oneself to the dizzy heights in the first place. Christ is either king in your life, or he is not.
The letter to the Colossians was written to tell them that they have been rescued from ‘the power of darkness.’ Christ was King in their lives as He is now. We, through the Eucharist, are transferred into the kingdom of the Christ – in whom we have the forgiveness of sins. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him, God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. He himself is before all things, and in him, all things hold together.
On this feast day, as at every Eucharist, we proclaim his paschal triumph. The victory through which he became our ‘righteousness,’ that ended the reign of superiority through death and drew us into the kingdom of the Christ. Let us remember that today, as we go into the rest of the service. Christ is King! Hallelujah!