The Last Sunday after Pentecost; Christ the King Sunday, Year C (11/24/2013)

Lessons:Jeremiah 23:1-6 Psalm 46 (10) Colossians 1:11-20 St. Luke 23:33-43

Semicontinuous Series: Jeremiah 23:1-6 St. Luke 1:68-79 (69)

Prayer of the Day: O God, our true life, to serve you is freedom, and to know you is unending joy.  We worship you, we glorify you, we give thanks to you for your great glory.  Abide with us, reign in us, and make this world into a fit habitation for your divine majesty, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

23:33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [ 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah 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 there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? 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 have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

St. Luke 23:33-43. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Christ the King

Today, November 19th, we have been hearing a good deal about “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” It was 150 years ago today that President Abraham Lincoln (after listening to a two-hour-long address by the main speaker, Edward Everett) mounted the platform to deliver his Dedicatory Remarks. What followed was a brief statement (ten sentences) that has since been described as the best speech ever given in American history.

Lincoln’s primary intent was to honor those who had lost their lives in the battle at Gettysburg, and to clarify why the struggle for the survival of the union was both important, and worth continuing to its conclusion. In his closing line he articulated what is unique about this “grand experiment” that we call representative democracy. It is a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Ours is a country that has never known a king; in fact, a country that in its formative years defiantly rejected the notion of ever knowing a king. Yet this Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical church year, is celebrated as “Christ the King Sunday.” So for twenty-first century kingless Americans, what does this Sunday have to say to us?

We may never have a king to call our own, but we are not unfamiliar with kings (or queens). We know that some are benevolent (and rule to the benefit of their subjects), some are malevolent (and rule with an iron fist), and some are irrelevant (more of a nod to the past than a present force). Yet all kings and queens use whatever power they have at their disposal to achieve whatever their post allows them to accomplish.

With this in mind, one might expect to see, on Christ the King Sunday, the image of the resurrected Christ “seated at the right hand of the father,” or the Bethlehem Babe visited by Wise Men from the East, bearing precious gifts. Yet this Sunday we will turn our attention to Good Friday and the passion of our Lord. The Gospel lesson will feature Jesus in his final moments, enthroned on a cross with two criminals, forgiving those who are nailing him to a tree, helpless as others mock him and scoff at him, and continuing to invite others into God’s grace, up until minutes before his death.

Christ the King is Christ Crucified, and the kingdom he bids us enter is as different from the one in which we live as his kingship is different from those who once ruled in Rome or Babylon or Assyria. It is a kingdom where sacrificial love rules. It is a kingdom where notions of power and strength are supplanted by humility and grace. It is a kingdom where political maneuvering and financial finagling are seen for what they are and rejected out of hand. It is a kingdom where “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

This is the king who desires us as his subjects, and this is the kingdom in which we are invited to live. To be with him in his kingdom is, indeed, to be with him in paradise. As Jesus himself prayed, “Thy kingdom come.” And as Martin Luther interpreted, “To be sure, the kingdom of God comes of itself, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may also come to us.”


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How is Jesus a different type of king than the ones who ruled in his day?
  2. What are some examples from the Gospels of when people were able to glimpse this?
  3. What do his words to the soldiers or to the criminals say about his way of ruling?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do I like or dislike about kings who rule countries in our day?
  2. How is my experience of being a subject of King Jesus different from that?
  3. What does Jesus want me to remember (and share with others) about being a subject of his kingdom?