Today is known as ‘The Reign of Christ’ or ‘Christ the King’. It was introduced relatively recently into the church calendar in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. Along with the Catholic Church, the Anglican, Lutheran and many other Protestant churches celebrate this Feast day because of the significance of message offered on this day. Today we are invited to reflect on our understanding of Jesus Christ as Lord in our relationship with God.
I am focussing on three aspects of our celebration and reflections.
Firstly, the feast day signifies Christ’s rule over all creatures, spiritually and physically. As one with God, having all things in common with him, Christ is the supreme and absolute ruler over all things created by God.
In Proverbs (Ch.8) we read about Wisdom’s part in creation and we start to think about the development of our understanding of Christ arising from this literature as we explore our faith:
“Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth” (v.23)
“When God established the heavens, I was there” (v.27)
“When God marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him” (vv.29-30)
Secondly, we remember Christ has loved us at very great cost. Our lives and our very bodies are ‘members of Christ’. And we also remember, as essential to our understanding of Christ’s reign, God bestowed on Christ, the nations of the world:
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).
And thirdly, the Reign of Christ also points to the end of time, when the kingdom of Jesus will be established in all its fullness to the ends of the earth. We say this in each Eucharistic Meal: Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again!
As we step into Advent next week, it is a time when we as Church members anticipate Christ’s second coming.
Let me read you again ‘The Christ Hymn,’ which was our second reading in Colossians (1:15-20):
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creatures; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
I invite you to hold this extraordinary piece of writing which pulls the Wisdom literature from the Hebrew scriptures into our understanding of God, as Creator, Word – Son, and Holy Spirit and reflect on its relevance for us on today’s Feast day.
Now let me go to today’s Gospel reading traditionally read on Good Friday. Luke’s narrative forces us to take a good hard look at the violence and meanness of the world, the bloodiness of the cross, the depravity of the human condition and to imagine, see and understand our God was nailed to a tree by human hands. We did this because we could not bear his love and forgiveness. We could not accept God was with us.
And I ask myself, how can we celebrate the Reign of Christ with this powerful, terrible image of a suffering broken man hanging on a cross. What does brokenness have to do with power and glory?
Today, we confront our own human nature and see Christ as fully human, suffering and dying; and, at the same time, extraordinarily, breathtakingly, hear his words of forgiveness speaking clearly, strongly and lovingly to us all.
As Jesus is crucified, we see God suffering as God’s heart is torn in two; bearing the folly and cruelty of human frailty, our fear and sin, and God’s unquenchable love for all of God’s creation.
In Luke’s story the list of people lining up to have a final go at Jesus is almost unbearable to hear and imagine: the priests and religious leaders of the day, Pilate representing political and military power, the soldiers, the bloodthirsty crowds, Peter, Judas and other disciples.
This is not a story of a powerful God living on the side of the wealthy and prosperous. If it was, Jesus would never have been on the cross and we would not be sitting here, saved.
The theology of Luke’s Gospel begins in the poverty of a stable and continues by telling the story of a world in which the mighty are knocked from their thrones, the lowly are lifted up, the hungry are filled and the rich are sent away with nothing.
As I follow through the story of Jesus’ ministry, from the temptations in the wilderness which he refused, to his death on the cross, I remember we as human beings put our Lord there, to kill him and watch him die. As we still do today.
But at no time does Jesus ever withhold love, forgiveness or hope. Grace flows unchecked and abundantly to us all.
Jesus said: “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34). This is good news to believers who struggle with doubt and unbelief, who are not convinced by the offer of forgiveness, who cannot see or understand they are included in God’s kingdom. Yet be reassured, the reign of Christ extends to all.
Christ’s reign includes the Pilates of this world, who know the right thing to do, but who are swayed by the pressure of other people, and in an act of political expediency sends an innocent man to death.
It includes those who crucify, the solders and those who mocked, tortured, whipped and beat him. All those working in a system they chose not to question. Those who saw it as simply a paid job, who went home at the end of the day, sat down with their families, slept peacefully, ready to do it all again the next day.
It includes the people who one day were cheering and welcoming Jesus into the city as Saviour, and the next were demanding his death; who watched and jeered, who scapegoated an innocent man and refused to look and see what was being done.
It includes the criminals hanging on crosses next to him. It included Peter and Judas who betrayed him and all who ran away afraid.
It includes you and me who contribute to his death each day, by our inaction, our distractions, our doubt and our human frailty. As I reflect on Jesus whom I love, on Christ whom I worship, I am aware our choices mean we often accept the less frightening path, the easier way, the one that does not take us to the end, with Christ.
Yet, I have no doubt we are all included in the Reign of Christ. We remember Paul’s words (Rom. 5:8):
“While we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
As I follow this story I am overcome by the grief of our failures. I wonder at Jesus who bears God’s love for us all without regard for his own safety and life, even to the end. Jesus did not save himself, even though he had the choice.
Jesus, the Saviour, saves through the cross. We remember we are part of God’s reign. We remember God’s undying love. We remember the fullness of time and Christ’s coming again in glory.
On the cross, Jesus refused to give in to the meanness and arrogance surrounding him. In the face of evil and despair, the passion of his loving remains. To the cries for blood from the crowd he does not respond. To the clubs and whips beating him, he refuses to fight back. To the soldiers tearing his body to shreds, he offers forgiveness. To the thief he whispers the hope of eternity.
On the cross the passion of Jesus’ suffering is surpassed by the passion of his redeeming love. This story reveals the tenacity of God’s love is truly greater than the tenacity of humanity’s despair.
With the criminal’s request for remembrance we remember the cross is always part of Jesus’ reign and his reign will have no end.
We know the offer of paradise is not a distant reward for a worthy soul. It is the offer today of work that is not wasted. It is the hard work today of caring for the dying, the hungry, the lonely, who stand next to us on their own crosses of neglect and disrespect, crosses of senseless violence leaving families in pain and despair.
It is the ultimate gospel message for everyone walking this human journey to experience forgiveness and compassion in the reign of Christ as Jesus leans over from his cross to our cross and whispers:
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
The Lord be with You