Another liturgical year has come full circle, and here we are gazing at Christ our King, whose power is made perfect in weakness. Here is a sermon for Christ the King, Year C.
Jesus, Remember Me
A Sermon on Luke 23:33-43
Christ the King—Year C
What an odd thing it is to focus on the crucifixion story at this time of year! The holiday season is getting into swing. Beautiful decorations are going up. The mall parking lot is full. People are working at creating a Christmas atmosphere, warm and sentimental. The prevailing message sounds like this—and I’m quoting from the Coldwater Creek clothing catalog: “simmer wassail on the stove ’til the whole house smells of apples. Catch the joy in a child’s eyes. Light one candle. Or many. Marvel again at the power of song to lift the human heart. And sing for all you’re worth. This holiday, take comfort in the simplest of pleasures. For this is the season of sharing. Of giving. And finding quiet joy in the closeness of all those dear to your heart.” It sounds very cozy and inviting.
Today is Christ the King Sunday, and indeed, a baby king, a sweet little boy will receive some attention in a few weeks. But here is a pitiful man, strung up on a cross, with a sign that reads: “This is the King of the Jews.”
He doesn’t look anything like a king. No security detail, no secret service protected him from those that wanted him dead. Nobody, not even his so-called friends, stood up for Jesus. He was railroaded. People stood by and watched when the executioners stripped him and nailed him up in the middle of two criminals. Most likely they were terrorists, whose goal was to kick Rome out of Palestine.
One after another various people jeered. First it was the religious leaders, “If you’re really the Messiah, save yourself!” Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah. Look at him!
Then the soldiers took their turn, “Your highness! If you’re really the King of the Jews, save yourself!” and they laughed. Even one of the dying criminals kept on making fun of Jesus. “Aren’t you the Messiah?” he sneered. “Save yourself, and us, too, while you’re at it! Get us out of here”
A real king, a real Messiah would save himself. This Jesus was ridiculous. “Save yourself, your highness!” Those words must have throbbed in Jesus’ mind, with every slap, with every insult, with every crack of the whip and blow of the hammer, “Save yourself! Call the legions of angels to help you!”
Isn’t that the way the devil talked to Jesus in the wilderness? See Luke 4, when Jesus was hungry, exhausted. “Jesus, if you are the Messiah, turn this stone into bread,” said the tempter. Save yourself. “Make your work easy. Worship me, and I’ll give you all the world.” Save yourself. “Throw yourself off the Temple in a big spectacle. When the angels catch you, you’ll be a big hit. People will fall all over you!” Save yourself.
But Jesus’ answer was no, a steadfast NO! He refused to save himself. Why? Because he refused to exempt himself from being a human being. He refused to exempt himself from the utter depths of the human condition, from the worst this life has to offer, or from death. Jesus must tough it out with sinners, even the worst of sinners. Jesus must hang in there with people in agony.
Jesus must be completely joined with humanity in order to save us. He’s got to go all the way down into hell in order to lift us all the way to heaven. And in this way Jesus becomes the shelter, the safe place for all. He makes his kingdom not by conquering, but by giving and suffering and dying.
Jesus created peace for us not by waving a magic wand and smiting the Romans, not by lowering the boom and whipping the world into shape, not by scrambling to the top and staying there, but by the blood of the cross. Jesus could not save himself without abandoning us. It was him or us. He chose us. Jesus is a king of an entirely different sort.
Few people got it then. It is a great mystery that is hard to grasp now. But one person got it that day, the other condemned terrorist. He rebuked his comrade. “Don’t you fear God?” he exclaimed. “You received the same sentence Jesus did. Ours, however, is only right, because we are getting what we deserve for what we did; but he has done no wrong.”
This criminal recognized that Jesus didn’t operate according to the world’s rules. Without understanding all the “whys” “hows” and “whens” this man grasped that Jesus was entering his reign through weakness. Through death.
Immobilized on his own cross, this man reached out to Jesus in the only way he could. He had no case to plead before Jesus, no reasons why Jesus should help him, no opportunity left to earn Jesus’ favor. All he could do was utter a cry of trust: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” It was helpless faith.
And it was all that was needed. Not one reproach came out of Jesus’ mouth. Not one word to rebuke the criminal, or his comrade, for that matter. Not one word meant to shame him. Only words of promise. “I will. Indeed, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” You will be with me. It was an embrace. You will be with me. I am with you now, and you will be with me. Christ Jesus made a sanctuary for this man who had no other hope.
This is what the rushing world is in danger of missing at Christmas, this word of hope for helpless, hopeless people. If we focus so hard on feeling a certain sentimental way for Christmas, we are in danger of missing this word of hope for people in pain, for people whose lives are a mess, for a world whose life is in a great mess. We are in danger of missing the embrace of those great arms, the touch of those loving hands that still bear the scars of the nails. This is the king that can really help us. He chose to be with us in everything—EVERYTHING! He will never abandon us.
Lord Jesus, remember us.
Remember my family, Lord. Sickness condemns this one we love so much.
Jesus, remember me. I can’t put my heart back together. How can I go on? How can I bear any more?
Remember me, Lord. I have messed up big time. And me, Lord, this addiction has taken me over. I can’t conquer it on my own.
Jesus, remember me. I am being mistreated. I am angry. I am hurt. I am tired! Jesus, this pain won’t stop! Lord Jesus, remember me!
I am frightened, Lord. We are frightened. Our nation is frightened, and so are so many all over this world. Lord Jesus, remember us when you come into your kingdom!
See, his arms are stretched out still. The king says, “I will. I will remember you. Today you shall be with me in Paradise.