Sermon: Reign of Christ Sunday
What kind of King is this? (Luke 22:33-43)
The Lord be with you.
On the church calendar, it is the last Sunday of the year, the Sunday on which we celebrate the Reign of Christ — his Kingship, his rulership over all of our lives, over all the world, over all creation.
What kind of ruler is Jesus? What is his throne like? How does he exercise his rule and dominion over all things?
Luke’s Gospel for today shatters all the images that we normally have in our minds about kingship and rulers and thrones.
“…they crucified Jesus,” the Gospel says.
The story begins with the king dying. Not a promising start.
And the death he dies is no ordinary death. He is being put to death by others, by the Empire that claims to rule the world, the Empire that sees this man as a threat.
Crucifixion is reserved for convicted traitors. This type of death is a warning that no one should test the power of the current regime. It is horrific and violent. It is a public display of humiliation, designed to terrorize others into obedience. It is a frightening display of the power of the Empire to crush the life out of anyone who opposes it.
This king is dying the death of the damned.
What kind of king is this?
“…they crucified him between two criminals,” the Gospel says.
This is his throne.
You won’t find it in a palace. You won’t find it luxuriously appointed. You won’t find it surrounded and attended by the wealthy and influential people of the day. It’s a cross, and it is located right out in public, on a hill, in plain sight, at the place the Empire chose to make a public spectacle of those who dare to oppose them.
This place, this ruler’s throne, is out there, right in the midst of the criminals, the outcasts, the powerless, the condemned.
What kind of ruler, what kind of throne, is this?
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing,” the Gospel says.
This ruler does not call for armies to rescue him, nor does he threaten revenge or retribution.
He prays for his enemies. He prays for those who are doing this to him. He prays that God will forgive them. He even gives them the benefit of the doubt. He prays that God will overlook their inability to grasp what they are doing.
He prays this, and all the while the soldiers cruelly mock him. He prays this while they rob him of his few possessions.
He prays this while people watch and do nothing to help him. He prays this while, over and over again, heartless bullies insult him and ridicule him.
He keeps praying and praying. Forgive them. Forgive them.
What kind of king is this?
“…this man has done nothing wrong,” the Gospel says of this man, this ruler.
Not only is this king suffering this death, he is suffering as an innocent man. He did nothing wrong. He does not deserve this. He has been wrongly accused and convicted. He is now being wrongly executed.
His death is a perversion of justice. Nothing about this is right.
He knows it, and others around him know it. Yet he does not protest. He does not defend himself. He does not accuse his accusers. He refuses to return insult for insult.
What kind of ruler is this?
“Truly I tell you — today you will be with me in Paradise,” the Gospel says.
One person recognizes this king. One person, one guilty condemned person.
This one person knows what kind of king this man is. And he asks him for a place in his kingdom.
And the king says yes.
That is the kind of king he is. That is the kind of ruler we see here.
The kind who forgives. The kind that refuses to condemn. The kind that welcomes those who are justly condemned into his life and rule.
The kind who promises a paradise where the power of Empire that rules over others with an iron fist will be no longer.
Instead, the power of acceptance. Instead, the power of welcome. Instead, the power of forgiveness. The power to make all things new.
This is our king. This is his throne. This is the kingdom into which he invites us today.
May the word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom. Amen.