Colossians 1.11-20; Luke 23.33-43
+ Throughout this past year, at our Wednesday night masses here at St. Stephen’s, we have been commemorating the events of 50 years ago. 1963 was, of course, a very momentous year. We commemorated in June, the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope John XXIII—a Pope who is still very important to all of us who call ourselves Christian. In August, we commemorated Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” in Washington. In September, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the bombing in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four little girls in their church.
Which, of course, brings us to today. Today, was in 1963, also a Sunday. On this morning in 1963, here at St. Stephen’s, we would of course be worshipping according to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. And this Sunday, according to the 1928 BCP, was called “The Sunday Next Before Advent.”
Our collect that we prayed this morning, would be the same. Our Old Testament reading would be the same, though our Gospel reading that morning would be from the sixth chapter of John.
And on this “Sunday Next before Advent,” November 24, 1963, at about this exact moment—11:21 a.m.—in the basement of the Dallas Police headquarters, club owner Jack Ruby stepped forward and shot Lee Harvey Oswald in the stomach.
These events that we have been commemorating these last few days have certainly intrigued me. I, like many of here this morning, was not born yet when these events transpired. But I was raised hearing them in almost apocryphal tones. My mother, of course, was a die-hard Kennedy Democrat and loved John Kennedy deeply.
For many people of her generation, John Kennedy represented hope for the future. And with his death, many of those hopes were dashed. As I grew up hearing the stories of this weekend in 1963 or from the Presidency of John Kennedy, none of it sounded like an American president. Our appreciation for President John F. Kennedy and an administration that was often nicknamed Camelot, was certainly on the level of what one felt for a well-loved monarch.
I was discussing this with a dear friend this past week. In the course of our conversation, I also said, “You know, Christianity is not a democracy. It is a monarchy.”
My friend was appalled.
“How can you say that,” she said.
I can say it because we follow a king and our job is essentially to expand that monarch’s kingdom. My friend thought was horrible. But, that is what we are called to do as Christians.
And if we doubt that in any way, we are reminded of it no uncertain terms on this Sunday, in which we commemorate Jesus as King. This is Christ the King Sunday.
Now, for us, good democratic Americans who love our freedom from such archaic forms of government as a monarchy, this no doubt sits wrong with many of us. But, I have to say to you what I said to my friend: just relax.
What we’re talking about when we discuss Jesus as King is simply making Christ as first and foremost in our lives. For us, followers of his, he is not just some figurehead, nor is he a despotic ruler who tells us what to do and we do it blindly. Jesus the King is truly a humble and loving King, who is also the Shepherd—the ultimate servant leader, shall we say?—who rules not above us or over us, but beside us. And who invites us, his followers, to be co-inheritors of his Kingdom.
Christ the King is the King and Shepherd who has come to us wherever we may be and is with us. But, this King also makes clear to us that our job, as inheritors of that Kingdom isn’t just sit smugly by. Our job as inheritors is to allow that Kingdom to be present here, in our midst, again and again, through our ministries. And that is the real point of this Christ the King Sunday. And because he comes to us as one of us, because he is the true servant leader, it is easy for those who do not recognize that royalty personified to degrade that role.
In our Gospel reading for this morning, we find that title of King being used in a derogatory way. The King of the Jews, as Jesus is called today in our Gospel reading, is meant to be a demeaning title. It is a way to mock him. Those taunting people did not recognize the royalty present within Jesus. Rather they saw him as a little man with thoughts of grandeur.
But what we know and celebrate on this Christ the King Sunday is that, yes, he is King. And his Kingdom—that Kingdom that we, as his followers are called to bring forth into this world, is not a kingdom of the privileged. It is a kingdom of the outcasts, the marginalized, the downtrodden. It is a kingdom of those people, uplifted by their King.
As the Anglican theologian Reginald Fullers says,
“It is not just an abstract idea; it involves the doctrines of creation, redemption and reconciliation of the universe, and of the Church as the sphere in which his reign is already acknowledged and proclaimed.”
It is a celebration of not only who Jesus was, but who Jesus is and will be. It is a celebration of the fact that, although it seems, at times, as though this Kingdom of God is not triumphant, at times it seems, in fact, to have failed miserably, we know that ultimately, in all that we do, in our ministries, it does break through into this world again and again. And it triumphs, again and again.
We—the inheritors of that Kingdom—are the ones who birth that Kingdom. We bring that Kingdom into our midst whenever we love radically, we welcome radically, we serve radically in the Name of Jesus. That’s why we celebrate this incredible day on this last Sunday before Advent begins.
Advent, after all, is that time for us to look toward the future, and to hope. It is a time for us to gaze into the dark and the haze and all that lies before us and to see that it is not all bleak, it is not all frightening and scary, but that, in the midst of that darkness, there is a glimmer of light. This Sunday and the season we are about to enter, is all about the future and hope.
On Friday, I posted this quote from John F. Kennedy;
“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past are certain to miss the future.”
Those words speak loud and clear to us 50 years later. And they speak loud and clear to us, followers of our King, as we look forward into our own future. We, on this Christ the King Sunday, are looking forward into the darkness of the future and eternity, and we are seeing the rays of light shining through to us. For us, as follower of Jesus the King, as inheritors of that Kingdom , it is a hope. It is a time to remind ourselves that we must continue on in bringing about that Kingdom of God into our midst.
So, let us rejoice on this Christ the King Sunday. Let us move forward into our future together. Let go together into that future with confidence and joy and gladness at all the blessings we have been given and that we are able to give to others. And let us to do all that we do, as Paul tells us today in his letter to the Colossians, “made strong with all the strength that comes from [God’s] glorious power…”