”With Christ in Paradise”
Reign of Christ Sunday – November 24, 2019 – Year C
Peter De Vries wrote the novel “The Blood of the Lamb.” He presents a desolate and desperate character named Don Wanderhope, who has just lost his daughter to cancer. Wanderhope defaces a statue of Christ by throwing a cake at it. The pastry lands squarely on the face, just below the crown of thorns. But Wanderhope experiences the power of redemption offered in this symbol of sacrifice.
“Then through scalded eyes I seemed to see the hands free themselves of the nails and move slowly toward the soiled face. Very slowly, very deliberately, with infinite patience, the icing was wiped from the eyes and flung away. I could see it fall in clumps to the porch steps. Then the cheeks were wiped down with the same sense of grace and gentle ritual, with all the kind sobriety of one whose voice could be heard saying, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me … for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
It may seem strange to read a portion of the passion narrative at this time of year. On this Sunday however, when we celebrate the Reign of Christ, the church has traditionally looked to the passion to see most clearly how Christ’s power is different from any other. It is a power that underlies the reconciliation of all things. It is a power that lets go rather than hangs on. It is a power that expresses itself through vulnerability rather than fortitude and forgiveness rather than revenge.
Today’s passage shows bystanders mocking Jesus because he was so obviously not the David’s warrior-king, or the shepherd-messiah that Jeremiah and others had prophesied. They believed, naturally enough, that his crucifixion was the sign both of his own personal defeat and of the weakness of his teaching. Yet on the cross, Jesus offers forgiveness to the thief beside him. God’s reconciling power is found in the gift of love, understanding and acceptance that Jesus offers, even in his last hours of life.
Jesus’ death was not a defeat, but a victory. The power of Jesus’ sacrifice was stronger than the power of the Romans who killed him and because of his crucifixion Jesus’ message spread around the world.
Jesus’ real power is in the trust of vulnerability, the grace of forgiveness, the joy of renewal and the hope of eternal life. Do we the church trust this far reaching power more than we trust the outward, visible, tangible power? Is Jesus the kind of king we really want?
Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador writes; ”Those who have brought tears to so many homes, those who have stained themselves with the blood of so many murders, those who have hands soiled with tortures, those who have calloused their consciences, who are unmoved to see under their boots a person debased, suffering, perhaps ready to die.
To all of them I say, no matter how ugly your crimes: they are ugly and horrible, and you have abased the highest dignity of a human person, but God calls you and forgives you.”
Theologian Frederick Buechner writes in the book “Telling the Truth,” – “Jesus looked more like a street accident than a Saviour. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus once said. Well, take a look: Bloodied and bowed, lips puffy, teeth cracked, eyes swollen shut, the spit of other men dribbling down his beard. This is what God in Christ became to reconcile the world to himself.”
The sage Jacob states: “It says in our books: In order for a house to be a house, it must have a window and a door.”
A smile climbed the man’s face. “Jacob, this much even I know.” Those behind the man chuckled as well.
“But,” Jacob continued as if he did not hear their laughter, “do you know why I think a house must have a window and a door?”
Suddenly it became very quiet again.
“My house must have a door so I can enter myself, and a window so I can see beyond myself.”
“And if it doesn’t?” asked the man.
“We must remember,” said Jacob, “the only difference between a house and a coffin is a door.”
Jesus understood this. He looked at people at the foot of the cross and offered hope and love. He saw a window of compassion. Not a coffin of retribution.
In the letter to the Colossians Christ is portrayed in the figure of Wisdom – a female personification of God’s gracious activity in the world. Like her, Christ is seen as the image of the invisible God, the one through whom all creation was made, and the one through whom all things hold together. Although the understanding of divine wisdom as the creative life-force was not a new idea, the connection that is being made in this passage between divine wisdom and Jesus Christ is very new.
The author proclaims that the same divine wisdom which was active in creation is active in Jesus. Not only that, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are now to be understood as the fullest embodiment and expression of God’s wisdom. Christ crucified is seen as the ultimate manifestation of God’s wisdom at work in the world “making peace through the blood of the cross.” Jesus’ death on the cross thus becomes a powerful act of cosmic significance that has the power to reconcile all things.
This is a universal and all-embracing vision of God’s power to reconcile and transform. It is for all of creation, not simply for human beings, or even for believers alone. Also, there is no sense here that our salvation happens only in some afterlife, or in some future time. What the author proclaims is that all things are being made new through God’s wisdom in Christ – right here and right now!
The story of the up-side-down king helps us to understand the depth of Christ’s great gift. It goes like this: “In a kingdom where the rich grew richer and the poor grew poorer, the rich king liked it this way.
When he died, a new king came to the throne. He did things in a different way. He always sat upside down with his feet in the air. He ate dessert first and had cake for breakfast. Before long, people called him “the upside-down king.” Strange things began to happen.
The king learned to bend in places that usually do not bend upon the throne. He became less rigid and more flexible in all his ways. The king learned to look up to everyone who came to see him. He watched the sun, the moon, the children, and little people of the realm.
Best of all, he had his ear to the ground in a way no king before him could have imagined. He became a good listener to the needs of the earth and the longings of the people.
Soon the kingdom became a place where rich people lost their power and ground their teeth. They plotted how to get rid of this upside-down ruler. But the poor people, blessed throughout the realm, understood that they had seen a glimpse of a new kind of living. They did not all live happily ever after, but they did see a new way.”
May we know Jesus the Christ as the One who has turned our life upside down. May we live as resurrection people – full of hope and love. Amen.