Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Christ the King, the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 34 C
Texts: Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43; Jeremiah 23:1-6
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
We should be careful as we celebrate today that we truly see and hear what God is doing in Christ.
When the feast of Christ the King was first established in the nineteen-twenties, it was a witness in a world of rising nationalism, fascism, and racial hatred and tension, that our trust lies with Christ who is reconciling all things to God, not with any human governments or rulers.
God is pleased to reconcile all things through Christ, Paul says, whether on earth or in heaven, to God’s own self. All things, the creation, beings sentient and otherwise, living things, rocks, planets, stars, all are reconciled into God through the ruling grace of Christ. This is whom we serve as we celebrate the feast of Christ the King.
But are we overlooking how God is doing this in Christ? God is making peace with all things through the blood of Christ’s cross, Paul says. And we have this in our Gospel today: a criminal dying on a Roman cross, who looks at Jesus, also dying on a Roman cross, and sees a king. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he says.
Look, this is not news to us. We know we follow a crucified and risen Christ. But as we look to God for the hope of reconciliation in our fractured world, as we imagine how Christ reigns over us and the world, we can’t ignore this confusing paradox of the ruler of the cosmos receiving that crown on a humiliating tree of execution. All God’s reconciliation hinges on this, and so does all our hope.
Paul’s claim is a ray of hope in a world hopelessly divided.
The problems our nation and world face are enormous, and need a God-sized reconciliation. We are destroying our future on this planet by practices that are inexorably changing our climate, and time is running out. Millions of our people suffer under systems of racism, gender inequality, and prejudice. Our laws aid the wealthiest and make it exceedingly hard for the poorest to survive. We have needed immigration reform for years, so we can be more welcoming to the stranger. We’ve long needed to solve astronomically rising health care costs. This all in our country. Oppression, war, famine, hatred, systemic failures of government, religious conflict, human environmental abuse, plague our whole planet.
But what drives hope into the ground is the divisions that prevent even talking about solutions. Our country is divided as deeply as many of us can remember, as is our world. This election is only the sign of an extended period of people on all sides isolating from those who disagree, listening only to our own points of view. Huge divides exist between those who live in rural areas and in urban centers, between rich and poor, between men and women, between races, between faiths, and these divisions only seem to be deepening.
A reconciliation in God through Christ is needed. But that’s not one side getting everything they want and not listening to the other. True reconciliation is our only hope. But it’s not what we might think.
Our challenge is that God will heal all things through reconciliation, not vengeance, forgiveness, not punishment.
In Jeremiah, God’s anger at the failed shepherds of God’s people causes God to promise to “attend” to their evil doings. God will raise up a righteous, wise Shepherd who will execute justice. Yet when this Shepherd comes, proclaiming God’s reign of justice and peace, righteousness and love, he is put on a cross. And on that cross, he looks at those who are killing him and asks forgiveness for them.
This is how God is “attending” to the evil-doing of God’s people? By forgiving? By taking on this death, which somehow reconciles God to this world?
This doesn’t always feel like an answer of hope and healing when we or others are wronged, or hurt. It doesn’t feel like a fair answer to those who have been beaten down and oppressed, who struggle to survive.
When it comes to our individual sins, we’re happy to be forgiven. But as a strategy for God’s healing of the world, we wonder how the cross can be effective if evildoers are not only forgiven, they get to kill God.
But we don’t see the world as God does.
On the cross, the Son of God looked out on some of the worst of human sinfulness, sights still familiar today. Religious leaders seeking to be faithful to God through hatred and death, soldiers exceeding orders by mocking humiliated convicts, crowds finding a day’s entertainment at an execution and joining in the derision. He had a pretty horrible view.
But what Jesus saw was people he loved. “Father, forgive them;” he said, “for they do not know what they are doing.” But of course they did, at least at one level. The leaders, the soldiers, the crowds, even the criminals were aware of what they were doing.
But Jesus saw people he loved. Christ embodies the fullness of God, Paul says, and here shows the fullness of God’s love: to receive hatred, evil, and death, and say, “I forgive you. I understand that you’re not aware of all that you are doing.”
Our problem isn’t that Christ is naïve and doesn’t see evil. Our problem is that Christ sees evil and offers forgiveness. Christ takes evil into himself in order to bring about reconciliation.
God will reconcile all things, but in God’s way.
God will heal divisions between people, heal the pain of this world, by loving us whether we do good or evil, taking on our evil and our death, taking all things into God’s own life. This is the way of the Triune God who made all things. Like it or not.
And is our way, if we celebrate Christ the King. If we truly follow this One who rules not from a throne but from a cross of death. We are literally crucial to God’s reconciling. As Fr. Richard Rohr has said: “Those who agree to carry and love what God loves, both the good and the bad of human history, and to pay the price for its reconciliation within themselves – these are the followers of Jesus. They are the leaven, the salt, the remnant, the mustard seed that God can use to transform the world. The cross is the dramatic image of what it takes to be such a usable one for God.”
This is what it is to follow such a King, such a Christ. It is to follow our vocation, as Rohr puts it, “to share the fate of God for the life of the world.” To be usable, like God, for the world’s healing.
This sounds elevated and theological. But it is lived in our ordinary lives.
Living our vocation in such a divided world, being Christ’s reconciliation, might begin for some of us at the Thanksgiving table. I’ve heard from a number of folks who know there are political divisions and hostility awaiting them this Thursday, as they gather with their families. If listening between opposing sides of issues is going to happen, it will start with those closest to us. Being Christ at table with a loved one who makes you feel despair or sadness or anger is hard. But Christ would so listen, and love. This is a little death, such bearing with another. But in God’s love is resurrection life, and this path is the only way reconciliation can begin.
But the path gets rockier. We learned from Luke this year that Jesus “welcomes sinners, and eats with them.” So our reconciliation work is not just with those we disagree with. Today Christ seeks those who proclaim hatred and intolerance, those who threaten and intimidate, those who do violence or use power to crush people, to spend time with them. Our King will seek out these whom we fear, these whom we stand against when they harm our neighbor, because Christ welcomes sinners and eats with them. Christ sees people he loves, as he did on the cross. At some point, Christ will call us to follow there, too.
If Christ rules in our lives and hearts, this is our vocation.
We begin and end at the cross, and it might be our own. Maybe small deaths, the daily pain that comes from risking to reach out to the other in love. Maybe even larger suffering. The only way walls that divide can be broken in Christ is by our willingness to lose, to break down our barriers, to listen and see as Christ Jesus listens and sees. To share this vocation of death and resurrection with Christ.
It’s a little frightening. But Paul says today we are given all strength in Christ, and patience to endure all that is to come. We’ve been rescued from the power of darkness, Paul says, and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, in whom we have forgiveness and life. We are not Christ alone, we are Christ in Christ, with all the grace of God we need to be a part of this reconciliation God is making in this world.
We know how badly the world needs it. Now we know how badly the world needs us, and all who are drawn into Christ. God make this so, for the sake of this creation.
In the name of Jesus, Amen
 Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999), pp. 179-180.