Prayer of the Day: O God, our true life, to serve you is freedom, and to know you is unending joy. We worship you, we glorify you, we give thanks to you for your great glory. Abide with us, reign in us, and make this world into a fit habitation for your divine majesty, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
23:33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [ 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
St. Luke 23:33-43. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
What Kind of King?
In the Lutheran church we recognize the fifth Sunday before Christmas as the last Sunday in the liturgical church year. (The new year begins with four Sundays of Advent, as we prepare for the celebration of the Christmas season.) This Sunday is actually a festival. It is called Christ the King Sunday, or in some traditions, Reign of Christ Sunday. It is a relatively young festival, instituted by the Roman Catholic Pope, Pius XI, in 1925.
1925 was the year when Benito Mussolini dissolved the Italian Parliament and became dictator of Italy. It was a time of great uncertainty. Mussolini took advantage of the division and dissension the country was experiencing, amassed power around his Fascist party, and soon began to invade neighboring countries. By the late 1930s he would become one of Adolph Hitler’s strongest and most important allies.
Much of Europe was still reeling from World War I, and many people worried about the impact someone like Mussolini could have on the world. Pope Pius XI was worried too, and in a papal encyclical he warned believers about the increasing secular nature of Europe, and the danger of following the whims of dictators.
In response, the church established a feast which honored the kingship of Christ. Pius XI understood that when nations are spinning out of control, it is even more important for Christians to remember that there is a King above all other kings, who calls us to lives of faith and hope and peace and righteousness.
And so this day comes around each year, providing believers with a different image of what it means to have a king. Christ is pictured not on a heavenly throne, surrounded by the trappings of a powerful kingdom. Christ is pictured on a cross, suffering and dying — loving and forgiving — as an embodiment of God’s profound and sacrificial love for humankind. There is a power in this image of Christ as King, but it is a subversive power. It subverts the rule of violence in the world, and asserts that love will have the final say. Not the sort of love which blithely claims that everything is fine, but the sort of love which empowers people to risk their very lives in service of what is good and right and just.
Christ the King Sunday is a perfect time for us to consider what it means to be welcomed into God’s love just as we are, and then sent into the world as a reflection of Christ. As you and I are sent, how will our lives reflect his passionate commitment to forgiveness (even forgiving those who were crucifying him) and to new life (even welcoming a convicted criminal to Paradise)? We are all subjects of this King, and he may well lead us in other directions than worldly leaders might lead us. The question is: will we have the faith and courage to follow?
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- What kind of kings ruled in first century Palestine? In first century Rome?
- How do God’s intentions for believers become revealed in Jesus, crucified on the cross?
- In what ways did the early church choose to follow Christ instead of the Emperor?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- What does it mean to be subjects of a crucified king?
- How does both Jesus’ living and his dying instruct us about our own lives?
- What “powers that be” are trying to seduce me away from honoring Christ as my king?