Reigning from the cross

20 November 2016
The Last Sunday after Pentecost
The Reign of Christ
Proper 26C (RCL)
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 146
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

The feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, as a response to the rise of secular regimes in Europe. Many of those regime were trending toward fascism. In the encyclical Quas primas, Pius stated that “Christ has dominion over all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence or usurped but by his essence and by nature.” Pope Benedict XVI, in a sermon on Christ the King said that Christ’s kingship was based not on human power, but on loving and serving others.

In these terms, the Feast of the Reign of Christ remains as relevant today as in 1925. All three readings (and the psalm) express the need for service of others in the divine scheme of things. The false shepherds in Jeremiah rule by violence, destroying and scattering God’s flock. God will raise up a branch of David’s line who will rule by executing justice and righteousness, and bringing security for all.

The Colossians passage quotes an early Christological hymn (which likely quotes earlier hymns to Wisdom — see for example Wisdom 7:22-8:1). After ascribing to Christ divine attributes — the image of the invisible God; all things created in him and for him; the fullness pleased to dwell in him — after all these ascriptions, we are told that through him God reconciled all things to the divine self through the blood of his cross. It’s a jarring phrase. In the hymn to Wisdom in Wisdom 7, Wisdom passes into holy souls to produce friends of God. Reconciliation through the blood of Christ’s cross cast an unexpected light on the divine plan.

The passage from Luke also seems an unlikely passage to read on the feast of the Reign of Christ, except for the inscription above the cross. Here is irony at its best; the inscription seems sarcastic to those looking on, but to the reader of the Gospel, it is truth. Three times, bystanders tell Jesus to save himself as he saved others, if he is in fact the Messiah or the King. These match with the three temptations — this is the opportune time. And Jesus does in fact save the one thief, who recognizes his own powerlessness. The seize power by violence runs counter to the reign of Christ. To save oneself by a display of power is not the divine way. God chooses to save us by giving the gift of the divine life (in him was the fullness pleased to dwell), which under the reign of sin, looks like the cross.

Jesus forgives his persecutors. This runs counter to the way the world works. We want the blood of our enemies. Jesus’ power comes through the blood of the cross. As we look at the wreckage of our political system, we need to relearn what pope Pius was trying to teach; power comes through service, not violence.

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