Reign of Christ
It might seem odd to hear the gospel lesson that Isaiah just read at this time of year. It’s strange to be talking about Jesus’ suffering and death as we head into Thanksgiving and the Christmas season.
We hear once more and remember the mockery, shame, sorrow, pain and all the effort to subdue who Jesus really is. We hear his words of grace, “Father, forgive them” and remember that they are words for us too.
As we prepare to gather around the dinner table, thinking of those people that we say we can no longer sit with for whatever reason, considering all the personalities, all the dynamics, and unresolved “this and that,” we might want to have beneath our breath the words of our king: “Father, forgive them;” and forgive me.
We join ourselves—or at least we ought to—with that sinner who knows that he is a sinner in need of grace: “Jesus, remember me.”
Make no mistake, this known crook had likely been a hot mess much of his life, and he is now in a hot mess. Like him, we are sometimes guilty too, aren’t we? We often misunderstand, act out, and make decisions based on the crowd or what we think is rather than what really is true.
I’m guessing that most of us have been guilty but didn’t get what we deserved, didn’t pay the full penalty or any penalty at all for our deeds and neglect More often than not, we get a free pass and are rendered innocent with no repercussions at all.
The thief said, “Lord, remember me. When you come into your kingdom, remember me.”
Lord, remember me. See me as your child who still has possibilities. Remember your promise of love and grace. See me as someone in need of your divine unmerited favor. See me as someone capable of doing better and being better. Give me another chance—and another and another.
And here in this moment, despite all their efforts to make Jesus and the world think otherwise, despite all the lies, schemes and trickery, despite the bogus charges and fake trial, despite the contempt, and downright hate, despite all the efforts to subvert Jesus’ true identity, he remains true.
Right here in that moment, so fraught with the greatest of sorrow— sorrow beyond our wildest imaginings—Jesus remains clear: “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Is that not just about the best news you ever want to hear? Today you are mine despite it all. Right here, right now in this moment you are a child of the King.
And that’s what we celebrate today: the reign of Christ over us and over the world. We celebrate that the way of Christ, the way of love, grace, and civility, is superior to every other way.
It might seem odd to be talking about it, but it is the message of the Church every Sunday.
Today is a way of marking time between the end of the Christian year and the beginning of it which starts next Sunday with the first Sunday of Advent during which we have a span of days and weeks intentionally saying, “Come Lord Jesus.” Come into my life, my heart, and world. Come right here, be born in me again. And we remind ourselves that Christ has already come. We evaluate whether or not his appearing is evident in our lives, our words, and work day-by-day.
It is a transitional Sunday, sort of like New Year’s Eve, where we look back but also ahead with greater resolve to what is coming even though it is unknown. We open ourselves to newfound resolutions about how we want to live and who we want to be.
It is important work, and like all good hard important work, it will require something of us. Because there are many forces that vie for our time , attention, and loyalties. There are many forces that yearn to sit on the throne of our lives vying for power and control, telling us who we are and who we ought to be, what we are capable of, who likes us and who doesn’t, and what we can do and cannot do.
There are forces that try to try to shape our moods and attitudes, decisions, value, and worth. And we have to be careful that we don’t get caught up and lose our way. It seems to be a fight every day to remain true to who we are.
Jesus has a new world order; a different power. Even in death, perhaps most splendidly in death, Jesus claims the authority to reign over every living thing and over every feeble heart. By his death, crucifixion, and resurrection, Jesus declares where the real power lies, claiming authority and power over everything including life and death, hate and evil. That king and that kingdom that will have the final say.
We have a different story to tell than the story we so often hear. We have a story to tell that the walls of separation and division are not sufficient to block out what God is doing. We keep trying. Trying to be healed. Trying to move forward; trying to grasp God’s grace for ourselves and for others. We are trying to love our neighbors; to step closer in understanding.
You know, I’m often amazed by people’s willingness to fight big causes over there. Causes for women’s rights, social justice, and immigration reform, and thank God for that. I’m grateful for those people who fight day in and day out, and there are so many issues for which we need to be fighting.
But kingdom building is not always about over there. It also about those little everyday close up moments, decisions, conversations, and relationships that are right at hand with one another; family and would-be friends. It’s about family squabbles and differences of opinions that require patience and grace; understanding and longsuffering. It’s about tending to those wounds so deeply rooted so that honest conversations can be held. It is about starting every morning new.
Psalm 46 is one of my favorite passages of scripture. Martin Luther was inspired by this psalm when he wrote “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
This psalm was sung in the context of worship and speaks to the collective. The Lord is our refuge and strength. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though mountains shake in the heart of the seas. The Lord of Hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge.
In the context of good worship, we remember that we are in this life and in this faith together. Our lives are interwoven with one another and all people. Words like we, us, and our are paramount.
Though the earth should shake, though there are natural disasters, hurricanes, tornadoes, and all sorts of calamities physically, spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically, we will look to the One who is greater than us all and greater than all circumstances. We pick each other up, we stand in the gap, we become grace for grace.
We might ask how these things can be. We know something about the challenges of life. We know something about calamities.
But we will not fear. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter, he utters his voice, the earth melts.
Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations; exalted in the earth. The Lord of Hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge.
We must trust that God is with us and at work in us.
Being still is the enemy of our time. It is like a curse; an unknown. We like to be busy – busy doing and running. But some things can only be learned when we are still. Some things we can only know when we are alone with God.
Here is the advice I want to share with you: carve out some time this holy season so that you might remember that God is with you and God is with us, come what may. God is right here right now, present and accessible.
Thanks be to God.