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Sunday, November 20, 2016

What Kind of King? What Kind of Kingdom?

Today’s Gospel reading (Luke 23: 33 – 43) seems dislocated in time – it seems strange to read from the Easter story, of Jesus’ death by crucifixion as our thoughts are turning towards Thanksgiving, and Advent, and Christmas. But it is a fitting reading, appropriate for today which is the Feast of Christ the King.

The Sunday before the beginning of the Advent season is marked, in the Christian liturgical calendar, as “the Feast of Christ the King,” or, more fully, the “The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” This festal day is a relatively recent addition to the Christian calendar, instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925.  Pope Pius XI established the Christ the King festival in response to the troubling growth in violent nationalism that led to World War One, the splintering of Europe, and increased polarization and divisiveness along arbitrarily drawn boundary lines and between differing cultural groups as a way to draw Christians together in unity under Christ the King. 

During our recently concluded and very bitter election, many people shared what were intended to be words of comfort, saying that, “no matter who wins the election, Christ will still be King.” And this is true. It does not matter who is president of the United States, Prime Minister of England, or King of Saudi Arabia; King Jesus still sits on the throne of the universe.

But, the question needs to be asked: What kind of King? And what kind of kingdom? There are a few answers that we can draw from today’s reading.

King Jesus offered no resistance or retaliation to the abuse and scorn he received. He was abused and tortured; he was jeered and mocked, but he did not resist. He did not strike back.  When they hurled insults at him, he did not hurl curses back. He did not call up his followers and disciples to rescue him or to avenge his death. He did not call down a legion of angels to destroy his enemies. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7 NIV)

“They crucified my Lord, and he never said a mumblin’ word.”

Instead he offered a prayer of forgiveness. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”  He offered “friendship instead of disgrace.” (“O Sacred King” – Matt Redman)

King Jesus offered grace and forgiveness. When the “good thief” (Luke doesn’t use the word “thief” he instead calls them, “wrongdoers”) rebuked his compatriot for his mockery, Jesus offered him grace. He didn’t earn it. He didn’t deserve it. But King Jesus gives it. It is an extravagant and gratuitous grace. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

King Jesus moves from death on the cross to resurrection from the grave; he is a king that moves from death to life – not from death to more deaths.

It is our human pattern, and the behavior of kings, and premiers, and presidents around the world – and through time, to respond to attack by attacking, to answer bombs with bombs, to return death for death. If our citizens are killed, we respond by killing the people of the offending nation. Our earthly prime ministers, and presidents move from death to death – and from death to death – and death to death in a never ending spiral of darkness and destruction.

But King Jesus moves from death to life. He moves from crucifixion at the place of the skull to resurrection in the garden of Paradise.

This is the kind of King that we serve, and this is the kind of kingdom over which he rules. So now – how will we, as servants of this High King of Heaven, live as citizens of that Kingdom? Will we live with grace and forgiveness, moving from death to life? Or will we accept the earthly pattern of revenge, and retribution, moving from death to death in a spiral towards hell?

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