This morning I am annotating my words with projected images. Those who encounter the world best through their vision will probably find this enjoyable. If you are not in that category, and find the images more of a distraction, (or you are listening on the web) feel free to close your eyes and just listen. This is really more of a reflection interspersed with prayer than a proper sermon. I hope something in it will speak to each of you. And thank you to Ollie for his technical help!
(Slide 1 – Christ the King) Here we are at the end of the church year on what has been traditionally celebrated a Christ the King Sunday. I have to be honest and say that this is an image of Christ that I struggle with. I struggle with it because the word king brings up for me lots of associations that are not even close to my sense of who Christ is. When I hear king, I think, ruler; I think warrior; I think of one to whom others are subject; I think of one who lives in a grand castle, well insulated from the everyday struggles of lives of his subjects. But when I think of Christ, I think of one who knows me well – even better than I know myself; I think of an all knowing and all seeing one who is not far away and insolated, but rather down in the stuff of life with all of us. When I think of Christ I think of one who took off all the trappings of ultimate power for the love of you and me. So if this is Christ the King Sunday, I guess my only choice is to focus on how Christ radically redefines my images of kingship. And when I listen to the readings for today I am heartened because they do reveal a radically different image of kingship than the world usually offers us.
In our first lesson from the prophet Jeremiah speaks God’s words on the problem of failed leadership of those ruling Israel at that time. Through the prophet God describes the leaders as “shepherds who shepherd my people”. God warns here that these shepherds have not protected the flock of God and instead have scattered the flock (slide 2 – quilt block of scattered sheep) and driven them off. The solution? God will step in, and gather the flock back together. God will then raise up a branch from the house of David – the great King of Israel who ruled with compassion and righteousness, rather than the harshness and self-absorption of the current shepherds. If we look into the story of David we find that before he was anointed as king, he was a shepherd. Caring for a flock was his first vocation. And it seems that is what God is looking for in a new leader for his people – someone who will keep watch over the whole flock, who will be vigilant in keeping track of all the sheep, and will keep the whole flock moving forward together. And so we have our first alternative image for kingship – the king as good shepherd. (slide 3 – shepherd leading sheep)
Let us pray; Christ our shepherd king we pray to you today to tend us and draw us together. (slide 4 – shepherd counting sheep) Take stock of us and if there are any who are straying, or missing from the fold of your love, draw us back in; if there are any feeling alienated, reconcile us;
(slide 5 – sheep in rising tide) if there are any lost or suffering or in danger, reach us; (slide 6 – shepherd feeding) Feed us with your love and may your healing power move among us. All for the sake of your love, Amen.
The writer of Luke picks up the thread of God’s word in Jeremiah in the 3rd chapter of that Gospel by listing Jesus’ lineage through the line of David back to Adam. Here is Jesus, the branch of David, (slide 7 – branch) the writer is saying – here is the remedy to the sin of Adam passed down through the generations. And here in our Gospel lesson of the day, taken from the final chapters of Luke, we find that righteous branch of David, (slide 8 – Jesus with crown of thorns) wearing a crown of thorns, (slide 9 – Jesus on cross) hanging near death on the cross. And it is in this moment that Jesus reveals the heart of his kingship. As he is being crucified and experiences the searing pain of that torturous process he prays for those who pierce him. He prays, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing”. Then it is only in Luke’s Gospel that we are given the conversation that ensues between the two others who are being crucified and Jesus. One of these two men joins with the crowd in taunting Jesus, but the other (slide 10) admits his wrongs and asks Jesus to remember him when he comes to his kingdom. Jesus responds, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
On writer blogging on this passage recently wrote,
“I think Luke wishes to demonstrate the continuity between Jesus ministry and his dying. Even on the cross, Jesus reaches out to embrace the socially marginalized. Who is more socially marginal, more excluded, than a criminal being executed? Jesus, who stood in solidarity with outcasts and sinners, feeding them, healing them, welcoming, shepherding and loving them as children of God through his life, continues to do so until the moment of his death… For those who accept this love, paradise can be found today, as Jesus tells the repentant criminal, no need to wait three days or a lifetime, or for the end of time. The kingdom of God is here and now, even in the midst of suffering.” (only name given on the web was Fr. John)
And so we are given another radical image of kingship in Christ – Christ our king of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Let us pray; Christ, king of forgiveness and reconciling love, (slide 11 – silhouette figure on bench) find us in the midst of our sufferings and the manifold sufferings of our world. Stay with us and in your good time and ways lead us to the understanding that your love for us (slide 12 – embrace) is stronger than our sin; Where we are wrong, right us;
(slide 13-Jesus and Peter) Where we are sinking, lift us; (slide 14 – person bound) Where we are bound, unbind us; (slide 15 – free woman) Where we are injured, heal us; (slide 16 – dawn over crosses) When our eyes are cast down, lift us to see the dawn of your realm breaking in upon us. Amen.
I find the final radical image of kingship in our reading from the letter to the Colossians, where we are given the great hymn of praise to Christ as (slide 17 – A&O Christ) the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end who fills all, and is all in all. This is the cosmic view of Christ as our king. (slide 18 – Christ raising Adam & Eve) The one who cannot be held by death and who puts an end to death forever; (slide 19 – vigil flame being passed) The eternal light in the darkness from before time. The one who was and is and is to come; (slide 20- Jesus with world in hands) The one who holds all things together. (slide 21 – hands with globe)The one who holds the whole world in his hands.
Let us pray; Oh Christ our king, help us to long for nothing more than your loving care and forgiveness; help us trust nothing more than your abiding presence wherever we are and whatever is happening; and when images for your kingship fail us, help us to remember that you never will – that you will always hold us securely so we need not fear anything in heaven nor on earth, in this realm nor in the realm to come. (slide 22 – hands with globe and prayer)
In faith we pray. Amen