Monday, November 21, 2016

Christ our King

"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." 
As we sit here today, we are at a turning point in our year. As we approach the end of our secular calendar year, we also have come to the end of our church calendar year. This is the last Sunday after Pentecost and next week we will celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, which begins a new church year. In our lectionary calendar, we have come to the end of our journey with the gospel of Luke, and so we hear today the climax of Luke's great story, the story of the crucifixion. This may seem like an odd gospel passage to hear on this Sunday, however there is good narrative sense in hearing this story today. Sometimes we may question what the lectionary committee was thinking when they put together the cycle of readings, but as a group of seasoned priests and lay people of the church, we can trust that they had a reason for this choice. In my own study and sitting with this passage this week, I have come to the understanding that this passage does two things for us today. First, it shows us a true view of what it means that Jesus is our King, and second, it assures us of the hope that we have in Jesus. At the end of the year, in the midst of venturing into the unknown, both of these things are very important for us to focus on.

"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." 
In many traditions, today is celebrated as Christ the King Sunday. The celebration of Christ the King Sunday started as a Catholic celebration, designed by Pope Pius in 1925 to help fight back against the encroaching problems of secularism and Protestantism. In some ways, the fact that the celebration of Christ the King Sunday has entered the Anglican, Episcopal, and Lutheran traditions is highly ironic. However, the idea behind the celebration is one of remembering that Jesus is our ultimate leader, which in my opinion is not a bad idea. As much as we as human beings have a long history of kings and monarchical leadership, we in America don't have much personal experience with kings. Of course, that doesn't stop us from being fascinated with the British Royal family, but we have a different model of leadership in our country. No matter how we end up with our leaders, every country around the globe has a human being in charge and the thing about humans is that none of us are perfect. Humans are susceptible to corruptions and emotional reactive words and deeds. Jesus, on the other hand, is nothing like that. In Jesus, we have a king, a leader, we can always follow. Jesus builds his leadership on his relationship with God in love and with compassion and forgiveness. We see these in the passage from Luke's gospel this morning. While Jesus is being crucified, he prays that God forgive the people who condemn him. He also acknowledges the faith of a man who is admittedly guilty and being crucified with him. We have seen this kind of leadership from Jesus throughout the last couple of months of gospel passages. Jesus focuses on his relationships people and God, looking first with compassion and forgiveness to those who acknowledge they aren't perfect. This is the kind of leadership style that gathers him followers everywhere he goes. These are the actions that gave the poor and downtrodden people of first century hope in the wandering prophet Jesus.

"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." 
I keep coming back to this verse of the passage because this is truly the hope that we have in Jesus. When we are able to acknowledge our own brokenness in the light of Jesus's wholeness, we are able to accept the forgiveness and love that Jesus offers us. Jesus offered this convicted criminal being hung on a cross at the same time as he a place in Paradise, in heaven, with him. This is not some platitude. Jesus offers a man who recognizes his own deficiency a place in his kingdom. In another show of irony, Pilate had Jesus crucified for being the King of the Jews, which despite no one believing, was the truth. Sometimes truth comes from unexpected places. Most of us certainly wouldn't expect Jesus to offer a person suffering the effects of capital punishment a place in Paradise. However, Jesus sees beyond what we can see. So, Jesus can also offer us a place in his kingdom, if we can recognize our own reality of deficiency, but not let that get in the way of recognizing him as someone who is different, who can help. Jesus can see beyond any messes we may have made in our lives.

"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." 
Our Christian hope is through Jesus. As we move towards the season of Advent, towards the season of expectantly waiting for the birth of Christ, we pause here at his Crucifixion, to recognize what we are looking for. We are looking for the Christ who leads unlike all the kings of the world. We are looking for the one in who shows us the assurance of our hope in God. The one who will lead us home. Amen.