Today is known as ‘Christ the King Sunday’. It is the end of the Christian year and the month of November has us moving from All Saints day to this Sunday – the conclusion of our year of pilgrimage – before we embark on the whole roller coaster ride again with next Sunday being the start of the wonderful journey with the beginning of Advent and all that this particular season promises.
The November lectionary has taken us from an abbreviated version of the beatitudes in Luke to Jesus’ conversation with the criminals crucified alongside him in the reading we heard this morning.
Our two readings this morning were in stark contrast to each other. In the first reading we know that Jeremiah lived in a time of massive and far reaching times. There was turmoil in the middle-east; there still is – as factions vied and still do vie for power – it was and is a constantly moving and unstable environment.
However Jeremiah believed that the fall of Jerusalem was God’s retribution for Judah’s sin. Jeremiah also believed that through Jerusalem’s fall, God was testing and trying his people so that they should and would truly and completely turn to him.
Jeremiah is communicating God’s promise to His people that HE will give them good leaders instead of bad ones. Is this not also what we hope for in today’s world? We put our trust and hope in the people who are in positions of power and all too often we are let down.
How can we respond? Well – we can challenge ourselves to stir these people out of their complacency and to do something in the hope that the future will be better – even in the darkest of days, Jeremiah never lost hope in God’s purpose for them and their land.
Today as I have already said is what is traditionally known as Christ the King Sunday. It is the final Sunday of the Christian Year. We began with Advent, nearly twelve months ago; we have come through Epiphany, the Season of Lent, the rises and falls of Holy Week, the excitement of Easter, the Glory of the Ascension, the wonder of Pentecost, the depth of the Trinity …the whole kit and caboodle….
In that time with this congregation, we have become vacant and very frustrated at times with the minutiae of presbytery but through this we have, I hope, continued to have hope in the future – hope that when the time comes the Nominating Committee will be successful in the process of calling a new minister to our parish – we have built on the firm foundations of working together; we have become much more aware of new challenges and opportunities ahead.
As a people of God, we have shared in sorrow and joy, said farewell to people and welcomed new ones, prayed together, loved and learned from one another.
Through it all – the Christian Year, the life of a congregation, our own journey of life and faith – we have had the constant presence of Christ; we have walked in his way; we have felt him at our side; we have valued his attentiveness and love.
So it is right, at this time of transition from one year to another, at this ending and beginning, that we pause for a moment and reflect that we are, as we have always been, in the presence of Christ the King; to be in awe of that; and to give thanks for that.
This week has also been newsworthy – who can have failed not to have heard about the continuing struggle of those in the Philippines, or those who lost their lives in Riga this week when a supermarket roof caved in onunsuspecting shoppers; 50 years of Dr Who and not forgetting 50 years since Kennedy was shot. But did you also know that on the same day that Kennedy was shot, CS Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia, and Aldus Huxley, Brave New World, also died.
Their deaths would probably have been considered newsworthy and duly transmitted with a fitting tribute via radio and or TV if you had one -however this would have been understandably over shadowed by happenings in another continent. Kennedy was charismatic, vibrant and along with his wife Jackie they were like, for example in today’s world Posh and Becks or even the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; everyone appears to follow their every move.
So when disaster strikes like it did 50 years ago – the world appears to come to a standstill. I have to ask myself what would have been the impact if President Kennedy had not been fatally shot on that November day – he appear to promise and symbolise so much. Jeremiah’s God promised much. Jesus will, in our journey, promise much.
In the reading from Luke we read the story of the crucifixion – rather strange considering we are looking ahead to a period of expectancy and promise. So what is going on in this passage?
Jesus hangs on the cross. He’s been up there so tong that gravity has taken its toll. The wounds on his head and hands no longer freely bleed. The bloodstains on his face and palms have dried to a dark-wine crust. His shoulders creak with pain. The crowd, who had called for his execution, is watching silently now, but the soldiers and the leaders mock him. The sign on the cross mocks him: “Jesus, King of the Jews.” Even one of the criminals hanging beside him mocks him, daring him to save himself and the criminal, too. In their eyes, this is no king. This is just another broken troublemaker who got what he deserved.
But the criminal on Jesus’ other side sees something more in him than a loser, a failed religious leader. This criminal chastises the first one: “We are being justly punished, but this man doesn’t deserve this. He did nothing wrong.”
That would be remarkable enough coming from the mouth of a dying criminal, but the moment takes an even more surprising turn: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This is more than a personal request. It is an acknowledgment of Jesus as King of a kingdom not of this world.
Even in the pain of the moment, Jesus speaks words of comfort and of promise: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise.”
Jesus turns the eyes of the repentant criminal forward in hope, to a place of salvation.
All those people, watching and mocking, and there is only one who truly sees this broken man on the Cross for the King He is.
Do you remember, perhaps going on a journey – to visit family at Christmas or at any other time as a child or with your children and during the journey you asked or were asked the age old question ‘Are we there yet?’ It didn’t matter if the journey was long or short – it was and still is there -the question ‘Are we there yet?’ Adults develop tasks to defer the question -played ‘I spy’ or whatever silly game would distract a child. Although the questions and distractions help it is important to realise that the journey was every bit as important as the conclusion.
So as we hear this story on this Christ the King Sunday, before we enter the cold, pre-dawn winter hours of Advent and a new journey; in the dark, it may be easy to miss who we’re really seeing on the cross.
Jesus opens our eyes and hearts to see who He is, and how we might see Him in the most unlikely of places. The Christian year is journey that we travel through and one we are all willing to travel on.
The coming season ahead is once again the beginning of a new journey – the starting of Advent is a time of renewed hope and promise.