Today we come to the end of that long green season creatively named, “the Season after Pentecost,” or, “Ordinary Time.” I have a habit of reminding my parishioners that we refer to this season as Ordinary Time not because it is ordinary and dull, but because the Sundays following Pentecost (and, technically, Epiphany) are counted in sequence using ordinal (ordinary) numbers – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. – all the way through today, the 27th Sunday after Pentecost. And, if you're like me, you're ready for the change; green just gets so . . . well . . . ordinary.
During Ordinary Time our focus is on the life of Christ and discipleship, unlike liturgical time when things are color-coded and we focus on specific events in the life of Christ. It is during this long season where we work hardest, or are supposed to work hardest, at putting Christ in the center of our daily lives. As we moved through the season, we heard parables and witnessed miracles. We saw Jesus reach out to the marginalized, the oppressed, and the despised, inviting them into the kingdom to be a part of the new heaven and new earth of which we are co-creators with God. The goal is to walk the path Jesus set before us, to become disciples on a daily basis, and at the end of the journey, reach a place where we proclaim him King.
So here we are on the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King Sunday, proclaiming Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords, and singing songs extolling his power, triumph, and glory. Today we look upon Jesus as King.
Look, then, upon your king – betrayed, abandoned, beaten, and bloodied. Look upon your king, tortured and torn. Look upon your king – whipped, stripped, nailed through hands and feet, and hung on a cross to die. Look upon your king.
On Christ the King Sunday we don't get images of Jesus coming in power and glory. We don't see Jesus robed in splendor sitting on a throne. What we get is Jesus beaten down, stripped of his clothes, dying on a cross. What kind of king is this?
This is the kind of king who refuses to act against violence and hatred with an equal amount of violence. This is the kind of king who understands his power is not defined by our standards. This is the kind of king who identifies with the oppressed, victimized, and marginalized to the point where he takes their suffering upon him. This is the kind of king who asks us to reevaluate where we center our lives. This is a king who cannot be defended by violence of any kind.
Because this king refuses to define his reign on our terms, because he refuses to play by our rules, because he actively cares for and includes those whom we call Other, and because his power doesn't rely on violence, the world executed him. WE executed him. Because the world sees Jesus as just another option that competes for space, the world will try to remove him from its space.
So the world had him crucified. WE had him crucified.
As we look at this crucifixion story we can see things moving from the general to the specific. What's moving is the call for Jesus to act as the world expects. The people stood by and the distant leaders challenge him to use his power and save himself. The soldiers who carried out the execution circle closer mocking him and taunting him to save himself. And one criminal, hanging next to Jesus, also encourages him to come down from the cross. The world wants Jesus to behave in a certain way. The way of the world is backed up by an influential contingent. And insiders within that contingent try to exercise power over Christ.
But this king will not make use of the world's power plays. This king does not ask for space in the world. This king contains all space and nothing the world dishes out will change that.
Within this firestorm of taunts and violence there appears one man who recognizes that Jesus does not, will not, and cannot, play by the rules of the world. This man recognizes that the way of God, and therefore the way of Jesus, is not to return violence for violence. This man understands that to claim Christ as our king requires us to move our center of being from us to him; and if that means we are to be crucified, so be it.
The man who comes to this realization is hanging on a cross next to Jesus. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus replies, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
There's been a lot written about this deathbed confession, absolution, and promise of heaven, but I like what Pope Leo the Great said about it: This promise did not come from the wood of a cross but from the throne of power.
This is your king – beaten, bloodied, tortured, and crucified.
This is your king – who turns the shame of the cross into the grace of salvation.
This is your king – can you, like the thief next to him, place a crucified Christ at the center of your life?