The Last Sunday after Pentecost
Christ the King Sunday

The Rev. George Pejakovich
Luke 23:33-43

THE CHURCH YEAR HAS WOUND DOWN TO ITS END AND, BEFORE WE LIGHT THE ADVENT CANDLES TO CHASE AWAY THE WINTER DARK, WE SET ASIDE THIS LAST SUNDAY TO REMIND US WHO IT IS THAT WE WORSHIP AND SERVE. THIS IS CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY; THE SUNDAY ON WHICH WE PROCLAIM THAT JESUS IS INDEED THE KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. HE IS KING OF ALL THERE EVER WAS, ALL THERE IS, AND ALL THERE EVER WILL BE, AND THE TEXT OF THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY, WHILE YOU MIGHT THINK IT STRANGE TO TALK ABOUT HIS CRUCIFIXTION, IS A PART OF THE RECORD OF HIS ENTHRONEMENT. IT IS NO WONDER THAT THOSE WHO ARE NOT FOLLOWERS OF THE CHRIST HAVE SOME DIFFICULTY WITH UNDERSTANDING HOW THE FIGURE OF JESUS DYING IN AGONY ON A CROSS CAN BE THE SYMBOL OF HIS GLORIOUS VICTORY; BUT THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT IT IS. HE IS A STRANGE KIND OF KING; A KING THAT THE WORLD CAN NOT RECOGNIZE, FOR IT IS ONLY WITH THE EYES OF FAITH THAT WE CAN SEE, IN THAT BROKEN BODY, OUR ROYAL LORD AND MASTER.

BORN IN A STABLE TO A FAMILY THAT COULD ONLY BE DESCRIBED AS THE WORKING POOR, HE GREW UP WORKING WITH HIS HANDS, AND NEVER TRAVELLED MORE THAN ONE HUNDRED MILES FROM HIS HOME TOWN. HE NEVER MARRIED, AND OWNED NOTHING. TO THE EYES OF THE WORLD, HE DOESN’T LOOK LIKE MUCH OF A KING; BUT A KING HE WAS, AND IS, AND WILL BE.

WHEN NEXT YOU READ OR HEAR THE PASSION NARRATIVE, READ IT AS THE CORONATION STORY OF THE KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. HE WAS CONDEMNED TO DIE ON THE CROSS; A PUNISHMENT RESERVED FOR THE VERY WORST OF CRIMINALS, TRAITORS, AND, ESPECIALLY, FOR THOSE WHO CHALLENGED THE RULE OF ROME. THE ACCUSATION WHICH SENT HIM TO THE CROSS WAS THE CHARGE THAT HE CALLED HIMSELF THE KING OF THE JEWS. WHETHER PILATE REALLY BELIEVED THAT IS IRRELEVANT; THE ACCUSATION ALONE CALLED FOR THE CROSS. THERE COULD BE NO KING BUT THE GOD EMPEROR, CAESAR, AND THOSE HE APPOINTED, SO JESUS HAD TO DIE; INNOCENT OR NOT.

BEFORE THEY CRUCIFIED HIM, HOWEVER, THEY PERFORMED A MOCKERY OF A CORONATION SERVICE. THEY MADE A CROWN FOR HIM OUT OF THORNS, AND PRESSED IT DOWN ON HIS BLEEDING HEAD. THEY WRAPPED HIS FLOGGED BODY IN A PURPLE ROBE; A SIGN OF ROYALTY. THEY PLACED A REED IN HIS HAND AS A SCEPTER, AND THEN BLINDFOLDED HIS EYES. INSTEAD OF KISSING HIS HAND, THEY SLAPPED HIS FACE AND DEMANDED HE PROPHESY WHO HIT HIM. THEN THEY LED HIM ON A GRAND PROCESSION TO HIS PLACE OF ENTHRONEMENT, AND NAILED HIM ONTO HIS THRONE BETWEEN THE MEMBERS OF HIS COURT; THE TWO CRIMINALS. TO BE CERTAIN NO ONE COULD MISS THE POINT, THEY NAILED A SIGN OVER HIS HEAD THAT READ, “JESUS OF NAZARETH, KING OF THE JEWS.” EVERY SINGLE THING THAT WAS DONE TO HIM WAS A DIRECT REVERSAL OF A CORONATION CEREMONY FOR A KING; REPLACING ALL THE HONOR AND RESPECT WITH DISGRACE AND MOCKERY. YET, IN THEIR IGNORANCE, THEY DID INDEED CROWN HIM AND ENTHRONED HIM AS KING.

THE FINAL PART OF A CORONATION CEREMONY IS WHEN THE CROWD CRIED OUT, “GOD SAVE THE KING; GOD SAVE THE KING!” THE CRIES FROM THE CROWD, AND EVEN FROM ONE OF THOSE CRUCIFIED WITH HIM, WERE, INSTEAD, “SAVE YOURSELF!” IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD, THEY SHOUTED, SAVE YOURSELF. WHILE WE USUALLY INTERPRET THIS AS CRUEL MOCKERY, ONE OLD PREACHER SAW THIS AS SOMETHING MORE. HE SAID THAT SATAN SUDDENLY REALIZED WHAT WAS HAPPENING AND THAT IF JESUS DIED ON THAT CROSS GOD’S GRACE AND FORGIVENESS WHOULD BREAK INTO THIS WORLD. IN A LAST DITCH EFFORT TO STOP THE SALVATION OF GOD IN JESUS, HE TRIED TO INSPIRE THE CROWD TO CONVINCE JESUS TO ABDICATE AND GIVE UP HIS THRONE. ONE THERE, HOWEVER, HANGING ALONGSIDE THIS BLEEDING AND SUFFERING MAN, SAW IN HIM HIS TRUE LORD AND KING. MISERABLE SINNER THAT HE WAS, HE COULD, WITH THE EYES OF FAITH, SEE THE TRUE KING WHO HUNG BESIDE HIM, AND SAID, “JESUS, REMEMBER ME WHEN YOU COME INTO YOUR KINGDOM.”

FROM HIS THRONE, A RUGGED WOODEN CROSS, THE KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS, PROCLAIMED HIS PARDON AND FORGIVENESS; “TRULY I TELL YOU, THIS DAY YOU SHALL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE.” THE WORDS OF JESUS SPOKEEN FROM HIS EARTHLY THRONE WERE THE WORDS OF PARDON AND FORGIVENESS; “FATHER, FORGIVE THEM, FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO.”

ONE OF THE VERSES RECITED AT FUNERALS IS, “PUT NOT YOUR TRUST IN PRINCES;” WHICH IS VERY WISE ADVICE. THE KINGS AND PRINCES OF THIS WORLD ARE NOT TO BE TRUSTED, FOR, UNDER ALL THE POMP AND CEREMONY, THEY ARE THE SAME AS WE ARE. THEY MAY DO GOOD AND THEY MAY DO EVIL, BUT THEY ALL WANT TO HANG ON TO WHAT POWER THEY HAVE OVER THEIR SUBJECTS. THE MORE POWER THEY HAVE, THE LESS FORGIVING THEY ARE OVER ANY CHALLENGE TO THAT POWER. THE ONLY KING WHO CAN BE TRUSTED IS THE ONE ALL POWERFUL KING WHO POURED OUT ALL HIS POWER AND OFFERED HIMSELF AS THE WILLING SACRIFICE FOR HIS PEOPLE. HE ALONE CAN BE TRUSTED, FOR HE ALONE HAS PROVEN HIMSELF TRUSTWORTHY UNTO DEATH; AND, IN THAT DEATH, POURED OUT FORGIVENESS FOR HIS PEOPLE, AND OPENED TO THEM THE WAY TO LIFE EVERLASTING.

SO TODAY, AS THE YEAR COMES TO A CLOSE, AND BEFORE WE PREPARE TO CELEBRATE THE BIRTH OF A CHILD IN A RUDE STABLE, WE REMIND OUR SELVES OF JUST WHO THAT CHILD IS, AND OF WHAT HE HAS DONE. THIS SAME JESUS, WHO’S BIRTH WE WILL SING, IS THE KING OF HEAVEN AND EARTH. HE IS, AS SAINT PAUL WROTE, “THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD, THE FIRSTBORN OF ALL CREATION; FOR IN HIM ALL THINGS IN HEAVEN AND EARTH WERE CREATED . . . ALL THINGS HAVE BEEN CREATED THROUGH HIM AND FOR HIM . . . 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.” OUR ALL GLORIOUS AND ONLY KING CHOSE, AS HIS EARTHLY THONE, THE CROSS; AND HE DID THAT FOR YOU AND FOR ME.

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