Sermon for Christ King Sunday, Year C
Based on Col. 1:11-20 & Lk. 23:33-43
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Kings… Christ the King. What does it mean for us to say that Christ is our King? In world history, kings are usually figures of great wealth and power. They have been honoured or dishonoured because of their military and political accomplishments or failures. Most of them lived in castles and palaces; wore extravagant robes and crowns decked with jewels; hosted lavish banquets and entertained the world’s rich and famous. In our second lesson and gospel today, we encounter a very different King in the person of Christ.
The Colossians passage speaks of Christ’s kingship in a very mind-boggling fashion. The writer heaps up title-upon-title to describe Christ as King. Listen to all of Christ our King’s titles: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; all things have been created through him and for him. He is the head of the body, the church; the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” All of these titles, in one way or another, stress the divinity of Christ, they affirm that he is true God. Yet, at the same time, the writer also stresses the reality that: it was precisely in Christ’s true humanity; in his death on the cross; which affirms his divinity; which accomplishes our redemption and forgiveness; our reconciliation and peace with God, one another and the world.
The great paradox of Christ’s death on the cross is that, on the surface, appearance level, from only a human point of view: the cross epitomizes victory, honour, good news, strength and power. There are, I believe, two key words in our second lesson which underscore the kingship of Christ in relation to his death on the cross. Those words are: transferred and reconcile.
According to biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann: The verb “transferred” suggests being reassigned and relocated to a new place, a new home, a new calling, moved out of the arena of death and disorder (the power of darkness) into a fully reconciled new life. 1
So, instead of condemnation, slavery, hatred and oppression; Christ’s saving work on the cross has given us forgiveness, freedom, love and peace. Just as God had delivered the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt into the freedom of the Promised Land; so, now God in Christ has delivered us from our bondage into the freedom of his realm. Christ our King tells each one of us: “You are no longer a condemned person—I have forgiven you. I have set you free from the slavery of sin and death—I love and accept you unconditionally. You no longer have to destroy your life by letting your addictions and obsessions enslave you. My love for you is unlimited—it has the power to remove and heal you from every hatred, every form of oppression. Come, and live with me in my realm of love and grace.”
The second key word in our Colossians passage is reconcile. This word reconcile means, quite literally, to make an enemy a friend. It is a wonderful word, for it tells us that: God would stop at absolutely nothing in order to make things right with humankind, and, as Paul puts it: “God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
This is where our gospel passage comes into the picture. Here, on Christ the King Sunday, we see how radically different Christ is from all other kings. Instead of worldly power and wealth; castles and palaces; jewels and golden crowns; we meet Christ the King, who is humble, despised and rejected by humankind; weak and powerless; suffering and dying on a cross. Moreover, we are likely surprised and shocked at how he reconciles us humans with God. Some of the most powerful words of reconciliation come from Christ on the cross when he prays for his enemies who crucified him, saying: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” It was the sin of all humankind that, out of ignorance crucified Jesus Christ. They didn’t know what they were doing. Yet, it is precisely in this evil, this ignorance, this violent, cruel criminal’s death that God in Christ was able to reconcile humankind—transforming us from enemies into friends and family of his realm.
How can that be? you may ask with a great deal of scepticism. The best way to answer that question is by looking at real life situations where this reconciling work with enemies has actually occurred.
The great Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi, read and studied the New Testament and was strongly influenced by the teachings of Jesus. He, like Jesus, believed in non-violence towards one’s enemy. When Gandhi was assassinated, he instinctively threw up his hand in the Hindu gesture of forgiveness. He forgave the very person who killed him.
Another example of the power of reconciliation with one’s enemies comes from the life of Japanese Christian, Toyohiko Kagawa.
One day, he debated at the University of Tokyo—against the war between Russia and Japan; strongly making his case for Christian pacifism.
One evening he was summoned to the athletics field. Wondering why anyone would want to see him there at that time of day, he followed the student who had come to fetch him. Immediately he was off the main path, a group of young men gathered at the side of the field surged towards him, their faces set and their fists clenched. Before he realized what was happening he was knocked down.
‘Traitor!’ ‘Dirty Russian!’ ‘Enemy of the people’ they yelled, as they beat him down, punching and kicking him where he lay. ‘This will knock your pacifism out of you!’ Then, panting from the excitement of their savage attack, they stood aside, waiting to jeer as he crawled away.
The descendant of the samurai, whose ancestors never forgave an injury, rose slowly—not to his feet, but to his knees. His trembling hands were clasped together, and his attackers listened silently to the high-pitched voice.
‘Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.’
One by one, shamed by a pacifism that had its springs in love they turned away and slunk off the field. None of them helped Toyohiko to his feet; none of them looked at him or at each other. They knew that he was a man apart from themselves. Amongst those who walked awkwardly from the field that evening was one who later on, as a minister, was to share in Kagawa’s ordination. 2
This Christ the King Sunday, we see that our King is different than all of the rest. Unlike the others, he went to the cross in order to reconcile all enemies to God. It is in this act of reconciling enemies; of praying for their forgiveness because they acted out of ignorance that God changes peoples’ hearts, minds and lives. In loving and forgiving the enemy, the enemy is radically changed and, in time, also able to love and forgive. It is precisely in being loved and forgiven by Christ that we too are able to love and forgive others—even our enemies. What a wonderful King Christ is—we are freed from the grip of the powers of death and evil. We are freed by Christ to live life abundantly and work for the good of all peoples—including, maybe even especially, our enemies. We are free to live with the hope and courage that the love and grace of Christ our King rules forever and ever!
Each Sunday, in one sense, is Christ the King Sunday, for we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” In this prayer, we are asking for and expecting Christ’s realm to take shape in our personal lives and in the lives of others; as they and we live under the influence of Christ in our daily activities. There’s also another way in which we celebrate Christ as our King—that’s in the sacrament of Holy Communion. In this Holy Meal, Christ our King is present among us. We, like the thief on the cross are with Christ in paradise, as we eat and drink the body and blood of Christ our King. As we partake of this sacrament, we are forgiven, healed, loved, and strengthened in our faith in order that we, in response, may go out from here to live and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ in the world.
1 Walter Brueggemann, “A New King and a New Order,” The Christian Century, October 28, 1992, p. 963.