Rev. Jennifer Adams – November 20, 2016
Christ the King Sunday: Luke 23:33-43
Well the passage this morning from the gospel of Luke comes from one of the most difficult scenes in the whole gospel. We don’t really expect to hear it this time of the year and so it probably also comes as a bit of shock. As we move through the days of Holy Week leading up to Easter, we expect to hear the story of the crucifixion because this is the gospel of Good Friday. But this is November 20th, for heavens sakes! This is Christ the King Sunday and next week is actually the beginning of a new church year, the first Sunday of Advent.
And this doesn’t feel like the kind of story you tell on New Year’s Eve nor is it exactly the kind of image we’d typically ascribe to a King. This just isn’t the image of a human being, let alone a deity who has power or control or authority over any realm, like we’d assume a King to have.
Because at the point at which we entered the gospel story today, Jesus had been arrested and he’d been presented to the religious authorities who questioned him and then handed him on to Pilate with accusations saying that he was a criminal who deserved to die. The circumstances were obviously painful and incredibly unjust and the kinds of things being shouted weren’t about a new day coming. . . at least at first they weren’t.
The kinds of things being shouted were horribly mocking kinds of things: “He saved others, let him save himself!” they said. “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself!” they teased. “Are you not the Messiah, save yourself and us!” They weren’t celebrating a King at all. These weren’t the words of praise or even of prayer.
But who could blame them really? If they’d had even an ounce of hope that Jesus was the One who could bring salvation to their lives, to their people, to the world, that ounce was being poured out that very day right in front of their eyes. They were shouting because this wasn’t an image of salvation as far as they could tell and they had come to believe it would be. They were shouting because instead of their hopes being fulfilled in Christ, they were standing before one of the most unfulfilling, un-happiest endings of all. They were hurt and they were confused.
And if we’re honest we’d have to say that we get just as confused about what salvation looks like as they did. We know how endings should go and what setting the stage for new beginnings looks like. True confession – I carry a vision of how I think things should be – and that vision is shattered by reality on a regular basis. No matter how hard I fight it, I pretend to know how plot lines should progress, how stories should end, how protagonists (especially Kings!) should be cast. (Including but not limited to the story of salvation and the timeframes involved with that that entire process.) And while not always bad or at least, well intentioned, that tendency can get in my way as much as it got in the way of the people in the gospel story.
On Christ the King Sunday we’re reminded that salvation is up to God. Period. It’s in God’s hands as God’s work. Heear the good news in that. As we live through the confusion, division, frustrations of this world, salvation is up to God. Let that be good news and also a bit of a check to keep us in the place that is ours.
Now God chose redemption as the method of salvation which makes for a messier plot line than most of us are comfortable with. This means that often endings and beginnings get blurred rather than clarified and they often play out over longer periods of time rather than in any one instance; even the resurrection of God’s Son took three days by our clock. In the ways of God, plot lines that seem to be playing to our visions, often move into plot twists reminding us that while we are integral and vital participants in this story, the author of our salvation is not we ourselves.
Now as we close this year with a gospel story that from all accounts appeared to be the worst ending of all, remember that Jesus spoke some words it too. There were words of derision and mockery and frustration filling the air, but there was also a conversation happening from the cross. There was a conversation happening on the cross which, as someone pointed out to me this week, is remarkable in itself. While the criminals were arguing between themselves about salvation and innocence and guilt, while the people were shouting all around him, Jesus offered this: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And then into the mess of it all, he promised paradise.
And so as we close out one year and look to the next, we have one of the hardest stories of all to bridge us, but one in which forgiveness and paradise are offered, and I believe they’ve been offered to all. What a way to close out! What a way to begin. This is the kind of forgiveness that allows us to be us and God to be God, because this forgiveness is on a scale that none of us alone, none of us even collectively could begin to muster. To a world I which nobody can claim innocence as a means forward, God offers forgiveness instead. This is ending-and-new-beginning not as flashy, royal “grand finale”, but ending and beginning more like a powerfully offered, holy release. A release that actually commits God to the opening of an eternal paradise which surpasses all that we can ask for or imagine. This is forgiveness as grace, pure grace offered from a God mysterious enough to work out salvation in the most surprising and ultimately redeeming ways, being present as King through, of all things, a cross, offering himself in ways that mercifully shatters the plotlines of us all.
As we end this year and begin another, may our calls of confusion, our cries of frustration, our shouts of derision be transformed into the liberating song of a people forgiven, a people engaged in the hard yet blessed work of redemption. As we end this year and begin another may we be a people praying for, hoping for, working for a grace-filled paradise offered to all.