Sunday, November 21, 2010

Christ the King Yr C

The past week has been a good one for royalists.
On Sunday we gathered here in our church, to remember those who died “for Queen and Country” ….
Then on Tuesday came the news of a royal engagement....and even those who have reservations about the monarchy seemed disposed to celebrate. Suddenly the media was full of the trappings of a state occasions, inviting us to dream of pomp and circumstance, the gold State Coach, and an engagement ring with a painful history. They invite us to invest in the fairy tale, even as we recognise that it is at best a diversion from the painful reality of a country struggling for economic survival.

Now, today, the Church too invites us to consider kingship...but with the kind of twist that we should be used to by now.

At first glance it may seem strange that at this culmination of the church year we find ourselves back in the events of Passion-tide. Already, encouraged by the pressures of the world outside, we are straining forward to glimpse the baby in the manger, yet today we find ourselves taken back to Golgotha, the place of the skull.
We're asked to salute the kingship of Christ, but we look at the gospel and see not a coronation procession but a ride to the scaffold...

Today Jesus holds centre stage, but he takes that position in complete vulnerability, for it is hard to imagine greater powerlessness than that of a man fixed to a cross with nails through hands and feet...There are a lot of people talking about kings and kingship in this story of the death of Christ, but most of them are speaking only in mockery.
Above his head the sign reads “This is the King of the Jews”, sentence and proclamation in one.
The irony is intentional.
There’s no kingly glory here, no jewels or gold, just a squalid painful death.
Some king, some leader...with not a follower to his name.
Leaders are called to be strong, commanding...worlds away from the helpless man who has no option but to listen to the taunts of the soldiers, their raucous invitation
If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself”

We know, with the benefit of 2000 years of Christian teaching, that saving himself is not part of Jesus' agenda.....though salvation is indeed being won as the crowds gawp and mock.

If we were there, I wonder what part we would play in the drama...

On the whole, we might rationally prefer to ignore the crucifixion.

Even our epistle could tempt us to do so, with its lyrical celebration of Christ's divinity
He is the image of the invisible him all things in heaven and on earth were him all things hold together...”
Here we are celebrating the cosmic Christ...the one whose rule is obvious, non negotiable...It seems incredible, as we listen to Paul, that anyone anywhere could fail to submit to his rule...It is transcendent...written into the fabric of creation from the very beginning.......but the route to reconciliation is hard won...
By making peace through the blood of his cross”.

A costly kingdom founded on paradox...peace through life through a terrible, bloody death.

Do we truly want to be part of it?
There's huge pressure to join the crowd – there always is! And here common sense as well as self preservation might well encourage us to do so...It certainly persuades one of the two who hang beside Jesus.
I guess the thieves feel they have nothing left to the first criminal takes some small vicious pleasure in joining in with his own executioners as they deride the man who hangs beside him. Perhaps he has been a lifelong bully..perhaps he has always tried to ally himself with the powerful, if the opportunity presents itself.
Certainly he can see nothing to be gained by supporting Jesus.

In extremis, though, there can be a clarity of vision...Inessentials are stripped away as our time runs its course – and there is space to see things as they really are. As the saying goes, there are no atheists in fox holes, - and not that many on crosses.
Thus the second criminal recognises and articulates something wonderfully true.
Despite all the ironic mockery, despite the weakness and humiliation, the man beside him is indeed a king, so he turns to him in supplication
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”

There is no coercian. There never has been.
Jesus hasn’t used his power to dominate and manipulate during his ministry, and he isn’t going to start now. His way has been one which set people free, giving them their own status and dignity. He has formed them into a new community where they are each responsible for each other, commanded to love, not to lord it over one another.
This is the king who kneels to wash his servants' feet before they feast...the king who chooses not a war horse but a workaday donkey to carry him into his citadel, the king who constantly gives away power in order to empower others.

It is the kingdom and its values that matter to Jesus - not his status as the king...
His rule is founded on peace, justice and transformation...on making the broken whole...and so it is peace and wholeness that he promises to the repentant thief.
Today you will be with me in Paradise”

There on that hillside, the drama of salvation is played out...the three crosses representing the daily choice that confronts us all.
Love stronger than death holds Jesus there...the man in the middle, with a dying sinner on either side, trying to decide what his message, what his kingdom, means for them.

We have to decide as well.
There's a chorus, popular at confirmations, that asks
Will you ride, ride, ride with the king of kings
will you follow our leader true
Will you shout hosanna to the lowly Son of God
Who died for me and you?”

We can only celebrate today if our answer to that is a resounding “Yes”...expressed not just with our mouths but with lives truly subject to the rules of his Kingdom.
May we all crown him King of our lives and hearts, now and always.

1 comment:

Crimson Rambler said...

lovely lovely words -- thank you!