Christ the King
—Fr Ainsley Swift
Luke 23. 33–43.
You might be wondering why we just had a reading about Jesus dying on the cross when we are just about to enter Advent; the special time the church sets aside for spiritual preparation for Christmas. Well today is the Feast of Christ the King and these weeks running up to it are called the Kingdom season and the Feast of Christ the King brings them to a climax. They prepare us for Advent. The point is; we celebrate a kingdom very different from the kingdoms of this world and the death of our king, on a cross, is a huge sign that God’s kingdom is very different (counter cultural perhaps) to the kingdoms of this world.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all record the presence of two thieves with Jesus at the crucifixion, only in Luke’s Gospel is a distinction made between them. In Matthew and Mark both thieves join in taunting Jesus, but in Luke one of the thieves acknowledges the injustice of Jesus punishment and asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. We don’t get any indication from the passage that Jesus has met the criminal before, although the thief himself seems to know that Jesus is somehow ushering in a new Kingdom. Somehow the thief recognises in Jesus, even in light of his imminent death, a glimpse of a previously unimagined possibility that a kingdom unlike any earthly realm; a kingdom of love and acceptance, with justice, healing and forgiveness for all is coming. In Jesus this kingdom is glimpsed.
It is sometimes hard to keep alive the ideal, the hope, of a Kingdom of love and forgiveness and justice for the oppressed, values not always seen in this world. The signs in our world at the moment seem far from signs of a kingdom like that; recent events in particular seem to speak of the opposite. A friend of mine from school days in Liverpool, who is a black woman priest in the North East now, was spat at in the street this past week. And I am sure you have heard stories in the media and have stories of your own that indicate a voice has been raised in these days that seems to be empowered by the opposite of the values of Jesus kingdom of unconditional love, forgiveness and justice.
Jesus spoke of a kingdom where the first would be last, the prisoners set free, the blind able to see, the poor hearing good news. And prophets down the ages have called us to remember that kingdom.
Dr Martin Luther King Jr said “I refuse to accept the view that humankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and kinship can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” True Christians believe the final word is with Jesus Christ. He is the first and the last, beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega.
Like the thief on the cross we need to pray “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom”, we must keep alive that hope of his Kingdom of unconditional love. We must commit ourselves to work for that kingdom by embodying those values in our own lives and never give up. When people around us hate others because of the colour of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, their social status; we must stand firm on the values of Christ the King’s unconditional love.
We are going to baptise Khalia in a moment; she is a sign to us of the Kingdom of God; Jesus said “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” She shows us the Kingdom, her innocence, her love, her dependence; speak powerfully of the kind of Kingdom God promises to us and of how we should be. God’s unconditional love is poured out on her and we see ourselves in her, accepted by God, loved by God and blessed by God. As we baptise Khalia lets make our prayer; Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom... and lets commit to bringing that kingdom into reality in the here and now.