Sermon Christ the King 2013
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and King, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It seems odd to hear the crucifixion story, the Good Friday story, as we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King.
We would expect something more joyful, something more like the Palm Sunday story, perhaps. We want to see Jesus royally welcomed. We like to remember the whole town coming to see him ride down the road. We like to sing “Hosanna to the King,” and wave our palms in parade, too.
Now, that’s more like a story about a king. There are always parades when heads of state come into town.
We don’t have many kings anymore. Most of them are figureheads anyway. Our children relate more to kings in cartoon stories than kings in real life. To be honest, most of our stories about kings begin with, “Once upon a time…”
We think of Jesus as a different kind of king, but there is an important way that Jesus was like other kings. When a king speaks, it matters. Every word matters.
A couple of years ago there was a movie called, “The King’s Speech,” about King George VI of England. He had a speech impediment and worked very hard with a coach so that he could be understood when he spoke publicly. When a king speaks, his speech is important.
I believe that the gospel story today is the scene of Jesus’ coronation. The Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem is the parade before Jesus’ coronation as king.
Luke tells this coronation story as the story of a martyr king with a dying speech. Martyrs are people who witness or testify for their beliefs and then die because of them. They die brutally, suffering at the hands of their killers. They die calmly, refusing to scream out in agony from their pain and torture.
Martyrs always have something to say. Their words are memorable, because they are the last words of a dying person. Remember Nathan Hale? He is the one who said his only regret was that he had only one life to give for his country. Martyrs are calm in the face of death and this is why their words and stories are memorable.
As many people approach death, they can tell that others want them to say things that are worth remembering. This is a good practice. It helps their family members remember them with dignity and honor. It strengthens the family.
Luke tells us the story of Jesus’ death as only someone who has witnessed crucifixions can tell it. We can tell by his words that he has watched people suffer torture and die like this.
But Jesus is different from the typical victim of the Roman torture and death penalty known as crucifixion. He dies like a martyr. Jesus is calm. He knows his execution is his coronation as king.
When the torturers arrive with Jesus at their chosen spot, the place of the skull, they are not alone there. The crowd is there for the crucifixion and coronation.
Like any king, all throughout his life, Jesus was surrounded by crowds of the faithful. There were crowds at his baptism. Crowds followed him to hear him preach and teach. Crowds came to him for healing. Crowds followed him into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
At his death, Jesus is surrounded by crowds of mourners, followers, family, even Jews from the Jewish council. Everywhere he looks, there are people of faith. No matter what happens to the King of the Jews, the family of faith shows up.
The crowd, the faithful ones, stand watching as he is crucified. They aren’t just onlookers, they are watchers. They are paying attention to what is happening. They have gathered. They are bearing witness. They are listening for Jesus, the king, to speak.
The crowd is watching as the soldiers put the sign over his head, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The crowd is waiting for the King’s speech. They are waiting for the last words of the one they love.
“Father, forgive them; for they don’t know what they are doing.”
That’s what the crowd heard and remembered. This was the speech of a different kind of king. The people heard King Jesus praying. They heard Jesus pray for them. They heard Jesus forgive them. They heard Jesus say he understood them, understood that they didn’t realize the importance of their actions, the seriousness of their sin.
Just like the crowd at the crucifixion, we don’t always know what we are doing either. We mess up. We break things that can’t be fixed. We say stupid and hurtful things we can’t take back. We ignore the things we should do. We get ourselves in trouble.
The two criminals who are crucified with Jesus give us examples of two typical responses people can have when we sin and get ourselves in trouble.
One option is to behave like the first criminal – get angry and blame Jesus for not getting you out of the mess you created, blame God for not saving you from the consequences of your actions.
The other response is to behave like the second criminal – admit your sinfulness, acknowledge that you are getting what you deserve, tell others who Jesus really is, then ask Jesus to remember you.
In his last speech, Jesus prayed for us. With his dying breath, he asked God to forgive us. Jesus is not like other kings. He is not like any political leaders. His kingdom is not like any in this world. His kingdom begins with forgiveness and understanding.
The crowd remembered something else King Jesus spoke that day. He said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Kingdoms in this world begin with the birth of the king and end with his death. Jesus’ kingdom began with his death and leads to new life in paradise. A different kind of life – a life of grace and mercy, a life of peace and justice, a life marked by never-ending love.
May our response to the King’s speech always be like the second criminal’s, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”