Feast of Christ the King
A Homily for the Feast Christ the King:
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Today is the Feast of Christ the King.
That is, it is a celebration of the Sovereignty—the Monarchy, if you will—of Christ over all things. As we hear in our Colossians lesson “all things have been created through him, and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Think about that: Jesus is preeminent over creation because he preceded it, he made it, and it is because of Jesus that matter itself continues to exist.
Consider the beginning of the creation of all things: the garden of Eden. What was this paradise? It was God gardening and appointing a caretaker couple with whom he had community: communion, which was “paradise” for mankind.
But what happened when Adam sinned alongside Eve? In sinning, that garden, that matter, that kingdom, was handed over. Adam and Eve abdicated their role as caretakers of the Creation which the triune God created to prepare man for a more perfect communion: God’s nature is to give, for perfect love gives rather than takes, and the one loved receives. Adam, when he sinned, forfeited his custodianship of God’s earthly kingdom, for it is through this that death enters into the scope of the human experience and the sin that so easily ensnares our species. This is part of why we read of Jesus being tempted by Satan,
“The devil took him to an extremely high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. The devil said to Jesus, “I will give you all of these things if you will fall down and express adoration to me.”
Satan may not be lying here, but like in the garden, being a deceitful bender of the truth. Satan had the keys to the earthly kingdom after Adam, and the history of God was the resistance movement to take the kingdom back, because he loves us. Satan offers what he is able to offer.
This gives us context for the Old Testament. It is a history of God having relationship with his people to repair the damage we have done to our kind and to the world, to bring about the fullness of the Kingdom of God, which will culminate in the new heaven and the new earth. He did this, as the author of Hebrews says, through people of abiding faith whom he called towards his plans, Abraham, Moses, David, Samuel, Isaiah, (and Jonah) and so on until St John the Baptist. He is called the greatest because he is the prophet that heralds the entry of the long-absent King here to reclaim the kingdom that was forfeited. The Gospel we hear so much of just means “Good News” and that good news is that the king is here to set all creation, all humanity, and each individual soul right. Our collect for the day says “whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords”
In this feast, as the last Sunday of the church year, we celebrate the sovereign victory of Jesus Christ, as we look for the fulfillment of the Kingdom in his second coming. As the Renewed Ancient liturgy says, “In the fullness of time, put all things in subjection under your Christ, and bring us with all your saints into the joy of your heavenly kingdom, where we shall see our Lord face to face.”
But we are confronted with a big, glaring question: our lesson in Luke doesn’t feel like this does it?
At this point Jesus has been betrayed, falsely accused, victim of political manipulation, abused, reviled, and mocked. Yet, as Jesus is suffering on the cross, he still offers hope: full of self-control, and kingly dignity of care for others, and even upon death is sovereign over the surrender of his spirit.
Luke shows Jesus’ apparent helplessness as the crown–both Jew and Gentile–mock him, shouting for him to save himself.
Jesus doesn’t sound very before all things, above all things, firstborn of all creation.
Bound, suffering, dying on a cross, with those in the most power mocking him as a would-be king. Everything they do is designed to mock the messiah role that Jesus has been: the soldiers offer a sour wine known only to the poorest in a mock royal cup bearing, and Jesus receives a title designed to be ironic.
Yet, in this passage, the two criminals crucified alongside Christ show us who Jesus is, not the crowds. This section appears only in Luke’s Gospel.
We have two characters of equal guilt: one who mocks, and the other who sees Jesus.
The mocking criminal joins the crowd. If you notice, Luke plays with the irony: The crowd, the soldiers, and even the crucified criminal who will also die the most shameful death possible, tell Jesus to save himself, if he’s really the sovereign.
In fact, this criminal is more daring than the crowds: he says, “save yourself and us as well.”
You can imagine the mocking impossibility of the whole thing: a three-and-a-half-year movement of God, culminating in Palm Sunday: people crying out to Jesus saying Hosannah, which means “Save now.”
Within a week, those hopes, even by nearly all his closest friends and disciples, were crushed at his crucifixion, and this thief presses the total loss even further: you didn’t save yourself and you didn’t save us.
This sounds cruel, and cruel it is. but we, who live on the other side of the resurrection, know differently. Jesus says to these scorning mockers, crying out for salvation behind a mask of cynicism: he says to them, and he says to me, and he says to you: “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”
None of us know what we are doing.
I didn’t know what I was doing, or what I was getting into when I converted to Christianity as a teenager. Before Christ we are equal in our flailing searching for what we are about. Colossians 1:12 says “God the Father has granted us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints of Light”
Those who have seen Christ, are quite accurately spiritually illuminated: we begin to know what we are about, for we receive that identity, that knowledge of reality from Christ.
In Jesus’ reconciling of all things to himself, there are only two paths:
Those who, like all these witnesses, reject Christ.
Those who are for Christ, that is those who choose to see Christ for who he is, recognizing his sovereignty—that Jesus is Lord.
The seeing criminal, which is often called the repentant thief, represents the latter path. When others tell Jesus to save himself, he sees Jesus as the righteous one, who did not deserve his death, and who is still the messiah—the King, despite apparent defeat: “we are receiving the due reward for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong” and to Jesus he says “Lord, [which is to say King] remember me when you come in your Kingdom”
We are all these criminals:
We have all sinned, we all are subject to the consequences of our brokenness, our poor decisions, and our poor perspective, for not seeing ourselves for who we are, and “missing the mark” of righteousness.
We cannot save ourselves, no matter how hard we try.
And Jesus was not there to save himself: his entire mission was to save those who were so lost they could not save themselves.
When we say yes to Christ, Jesus says to us “Today you will be with me in paradise”
Now Paradise, at the fall of Adam and Eve was guarded with a flaming sword by an Angel. Adam and Eve were exiled from the place that God had prepared for them. Yet Jesus, when we see him, invites us to begin the journey back into paradise, for through his death and resurrection, he has also removed the sword.
This is a lot more than what the thief asked for. He asked to be remembered, having accepted that his guilt was just, and he deserved what he was suffering.
St Ambrose commented on this thief saying “The Lord always grants more than one asks”
Paul continues in our Colossians reading: “he has delivered us from the powers of darkness and has translated us into the Kingdom of Christ.”
“In him, we have our redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
All who come into the kingdom have seen Jesus, it just differs in the way in which one sees Jesus
The thief on the cross, saw Jesus, saw who he was, what the world is, and asked for Jesus to remember him.
After the Crucifixion, the disciples who unknowingly traveled with Jesus, learned from Jesus, only really saw Jesus after the road to Emmaus, when he broke bread with them in Luke 24.
The apostles had their eyes opened, from their latent nationalism, after the resurrection, when they were taught by Jesus for the forty days.
In your baptism God is accomplishing all those things that I just mentioned: he is granting you the ability to be partakers, to be delivered from the power of this world, be translated into the reality of the Kingdom of God, which is both now and in the future, and receive the forgiveness of sins.
Fellow baptized Christians; did you know that you get to see Jesus?
You see him in your fellow Christian, for Jesus is the head of the body which is the church—the gathered believers in Christ. One another, we are all part of the same system. So, it is good you are here!
You see him in Holy Communion. You are shortly invited to, like the thief, recognize where you are guilty under the weight of your sins, sorry for where you have sinned, that you cannot save yourself, and ask for the grace of God to assist you in amendment of life. He will forgive you. And in preparing yourself this way you are, like the thief, brought into the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Through the Holy Spirit which he sent so that we can be in the presence of not just the crucified Christ, but the resurrected Christ, who gives us more than we ask for. In the Prayer Book liturgy, we ask that in communion “he may dwell in us, and we in him.”
Holy Communion is a divine drama, where in his mutual indwelling, we participate in the great dance of Heaven. We approach God, ask for him to be present to us through the Holy Spirit, and there he is! In partaking of Holy Communion, Christians invite Christ to dwell in them, to let “Jesus take the wheel” of their subconscious, helping them to see, to become more holy.
This is a model for the ritual of celebration in heaven, which was given in the garden, to Israel, to the Church, and which will continue when Jesus again comes to renew all things in the new heaven and new earth, reconciling them to himself, some the way of the repentant thief, some the way of the mocking thief. For those who seek to be the former, Jesus invites you to talk with him, to dwell with him.
St Ambrose said again of the repentant thief:
“Life consists in dwelling with Jesus Christ, and where Jesus Christ is there is his Kingdom”
Proper Preface Christ the King
Through your only begotten Son Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords; for you have seated him at your right hand in glory, and put all things in subjection under his feet, that he may present them to you, O Father, perfectly restored in beauty, truth, and love.