There was a time, when a King’s word was law…but he was also the judge, the jury, and could be the executioner…if he wanted to wield the axe himself. The King could be benevolent and merciful, or tyrannical and murderous…in any event it was as the King’s prerogative. The King’s judgment couldn’t be appealed to a higher court, he was the higher court. Even the English word “ruler” meant that the king established the standards that would measure everything in the Kingdom. He was like a gravitation force…if he said “up”, then up it went and it wouldn’t come down, until he said so. In the dazzling pomp and circumstance of the King’s retinue, even men and women of power, position, and wealth cowered and lowered their heads, if they wanted to keep them! I think we all know how messed up that kingship was.
Christians have a different kind of king. Our king is a good shepherd. And with that shepherd watching over us, we can say, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Or in the words of Psalm 46 today our God is a “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” As St Paul wrote about Christ in the Epistle to the Colossians he said, “in him was pleased to dwell the fullness of God…making peace through the blood of the cross”. This is the king who in offering himself reconciling all things to God. These are two very different images of ruling. The first king inspires fear and the second offers forgiveness and inspires love. Fear imprisons, but love liberates.
It reminds me of the ironic story of the Christian King Charlemagne who in the 8th century, in an act of compassion decided to visit the prison where his most dangerous criminals were being held. He interviewed a number of them one after another…those convicted of murder, highway robbery, and other serious crimes. But incredibly as he listened to each man’s story…all of them, to a person claimed their “innocence”. It was an impossible coincidence…all these innocent men in the same unfortunate circumstance! But then he interviewed a man convicted of a long list of crimes who told the King that he was guilty as charged, and he expressed his deep remorse for his offenses but told the King he thought he was getting what he deserved. Charlemagne was so moved by the man’s honest confession, and shame, and penitence that he went immediately to the warden and demanded that this guilty man be released, so he wouldn’t corrupt all those “innocent” men locked up in the prison.
I think our natural inclination is to see the world in our own particular way, despite how bent or distorted that might be. Just as our eyes bend light as it comes in, so our minds bend the truth to our truth…so we see what we want to see, sometimes completely missing what’s actually there. But as blessed St Francis described life under the rule of Christ, he said, “Grant, O Lord, that I may not seek so much to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” This is life as seen in the Kingdom of God.
That’s what today is about. Today is Christ the King Sunday, it’s like New Year’s Eve for the Church. But rather than fireworks and noise makers, it’s a time for reflection, for taking account and for assessing where we are in our lives. It’s time to ask, “Lord, show me the way ahead.” It’s a time to reconcile, to forgive and be forgiven.
On this Last Sunday of Pentecost, the scriptures chosen by the church do not proclaim, “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” or “Peace on earth, good will towards men,” but instead we see a humiliated and brutalized Jesus, the King of the Jews on the cross. This scripture points the way toward the conclusion of the story of Jesus of Nazareth, but the revelation of Jesus the Christ. The cross is transformed by the gospel from a symbol of death and annihilation to a symbol of life and hope. Jesus’ death on the cross is not a defeat, but the opening for all of us to find our way to life in Christ. The only legitimate hope any of us have when we appeal to God as we ourselves reach out at the end of our story is the same one made by the penitent criminal on the cross before his own death… “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” When we appeal to God, “remember me”…Jesus gives us the assurance, “You will be with me”. And that’s the point when we too will start to live the rest of our story with Christ. AMEN.
The Reverend WA Ray
Jer. 23.1-6; Col. 1.11-20; Lk 23.33-43