11.20.22 Christ the King Sunday The Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector
Imagine, if you will, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. This whimsically romantic tale is set in the days of medieval Lords and Ladies. But before, he was the king though…Arthur was just a boy of humble means. While his journey brought him to that round table… he was not what might have been initially expected when naming a king. No one expected this kid could literally pull a sword from a stone and take on the weight of wearing a crown. But all the same, he became an unlikely, unexpected, improbable king.
I was reminded of King Arthur’s humble beginnings this week as I thought about what it means to name Christ as King during his last and arguably most painful and worst moments. In our reading today, Christ is, while mockingly, named king and comes into the fullness of messiah in his literal breaking. This is not what we might have initially expected when naming OUR king. Certainly not the stylish royalty that we envision in our heads. I mean this is no regal royal wedding or coronation moment that I’m sure more than one of us has gotten up early to watch on TV. In fact, this moment is quite the opposite. It is a reversal of what and who we are taught to desire from the one we bow to.
So why… why do we walk with a king born humbly in a manger, who lived in radical love against the status quo, and was broken in ways that don’t reflect our typical understanding of what and who kings are? Could it perhaps be that in this final moment of his humanity, Jesus is turning us away from the status quo one more time?
Jesus is crucified with criminals on either side of him and he asks God to forgive the people, “for they do not know what they are doing”. From this place of shame and torture Jesus speaks to the wholeness of forgiveness by embodying God’s grace; another push on the status quo of the empire. Empire that punishes harshly and leaves little room for forgiveness and for people to reform. This invitation to consider forgiveness at this moment brings us back to the question: What do we, I, need to be forgiven for? What do we “not know we are doing”? It’s a hard question to answer… and yet… we know that in some ways in community, as individuals, a nation we need to pick up this invitation to move from the brokenness of the wrongs we commit in line with empire, to a deeper understanding of how to more authentically follow Jesus.
One of Luke’s favorite theological pastimes is reminding us that “salvation is the reversal of the status quo”. Typically, we see Jesus being punished so severely alongside criminals, all the while naming forgiveness, to point to Jesus’ innocents…Did he really deserve to be there alongside criminals? What does his presence alongside these other men mean to said reversal of the status quo?
We usually condemn this criminal who says, “Aren’t you the messiah? Save yourself and us”, for being well… a jerk at this moment. Yet, I wonder… could this mocking criminal join in the mocking out of sheer terror and pain. Is he distracting himself from the torture that he is experiencing? We must see, though, the grace that Jesus calls down for us all… including for this man who mocked him in the midst of pain as a way to push back on the condemnation of the world. I am reminded of the times that my pain has gotten the better of me and informed my actions for the worst. I give thanks for the grace of Jesus that can be brought into each of those moments. Salvation, grace, is for everyone, no matter what. And especially for the ones the world condemns and even the criminal who mocked Jesus.
The fact is that Jesus was crucified as Roman punishment. Not at the hands of Jews like some of the rhetoric that has at times been preached over the years (GBC, 496). Jesus broke Roman law by way of his actions and teachings. In Luke that radical message of Jesus addressing the status quo, calling to account the wealthy and powerful; flipping tables in the Temple, an offense that would have been deemed an act of terrorism under Roman occupation, are all things that would have brought him to this moment. He was crucified because of his embodiment of the role as the messiah that was steeped in justice and preference to the vulnerable (TBC, 334). I am proud to name Jesus as my king because of that very embodiment of love and justice for all people.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” It was all of the ways that Jesus drove a spoke into the wheel that brought him to the cross. Today we remember that JESUS is OUR KING, NOT CAESAR. We are not instructed to follow the ways of the empire, but instead the ways of this loving, graceful, justice seeking “criminal”… our king… Jesus. So, we too are to drive spokes into the wheels of injustice.
We stand in awe of the unexpectedness of Christ the King, and how he calls us to be in the world. We recall that in the life of Jesus, “His march to Jerusalem had been an act of prophetic witness, healing and beckoning of those who see and hear to follow. The time is now and the reign of God is breaking into this world.” (hitchhikingthbible.blogspot.com). And… With Jesus it does not end with death… it becomes a new way of being in eternal life.
Here at the end of our liturgical year, before we name the year anew with Advent 1, we remember that in this moment that Jesus brought himself to the cross in justice … the reign of God broke into the world in a new way. We remember that with each action we are invited to choose God’s reign. We aren’t expected to pull excalibur from stone like Arthur, but we do have to proclaim and embody who we follow. Today as we remember the humble beginning, the life, and wholeness through the death of Christ the King we remember that we are called daily to choose who reigns… Caesar and empire… or God. Who will you choose? And how will your life reflect who your king is? AMEN. (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlgregg/2010/1/preaching-reign-of-christ-sunday-as-a-progressive-christian).