“Jesus Christ, King of the Universe” (November 20, 2016: Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe–Year C)

This sermon was preached at the 8:30am, 11:00am, and 6:00pm services on November 20, 2016, being the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.  

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in Your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under His most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Readings: Jeremiah 23.1-6; Canticle 16; Colossians 1.11-20; Luke 23.33-43

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”—Luke 23.43[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Today, for Western Christians, is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, known within Anglicanism as Christ the King Sunday, and serves as the concluding Sunday in the Western Christian liturgical calendar.  It is of Roman Catholic origin, established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and came into observance within Protestantism during the late 20th century.

When Pius XI established this feast ninety-one years ago, secularism was on the rise, causing a number of Christians to doubt Christ’s authority, even His very existence.  And though much of the world has changed, much of it has remained the same, with secularism posing just as much a threat to Christian allegiance, perhaps more so now than ever.  Hence, we have the purpose for this day: to remind the faithful, as the liturgical year concludes, that Jesus Christ, at all times, must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies.  As the late pontiff himself said, “The faithful…by meditating upon these truths, will gain much strength and courage, enabling them to form their lives after the true Christian ideal.”[2]  That ideal is none other than Jesus Christ Himself, who is “the Alpha and the Omega…who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”[3]

In his letter to the Colossians, Saint Paul summarizes in wonderful prose Christ’s Kingship

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Him all things in Heaven and on Earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through and for Him…He is the head of the body, the Church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead…For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him God was pleased to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on Earth or in Heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross.[4]

Hence, to conclude the liturgical year, today’s Gospel brings us back to Calvary, to the sight of our Lord being crucified.  “And the people stood by, watching…the leaders scoffed at Him, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Messiah of God, His chosen One!”  Between Jesus are two criminals, one defiant, the other penitent.  “Are you not the Messiah?” the defiant criminal says.  “Save yourself and us!”  The penitent criminal rebukes back, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  We indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve…but this man has done nothing wrong.”  To Jesus, the penitent criminal pleads, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Hear what our Lord says: of the crowd, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”; to the penitent criminal, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” 

By being brought back to Calvary, we are reminded of the Good News, that Jesus Christ, this Man hanging on the cross, is none other than Almighty God in human flesh come to save us.  He is the One whom “God did not send…into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”[5]   Jesus is the God-Man whose love was first conveyed to the world through its very creation and by sacrificing Himself reconciled it all, once separated and enslaved by sin, back to Himself.  We end this liturgical year being reminded that the cross was what it was all about, for in the cross was shown the extent of God’s love for all people throughout all time, past, present, and yet to come.

Therefore, from the cross, Jesus Christ, giving Himself up to death so that we “may have life, and have it abundantly,” reigns as King.  He transformed what was an instrument of shame into the throne of grace, offering to His people the gift of His redemption.  That is why the cross is our symbol.  Because of Jesus, our great and glorious King, death has been conquered and the victory won.  Only He could accomplish such a mission.  “For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”[6] 

So, for the sake of being perfectly clear, Jesus is King because Jesus is God, and because Jesus is God, only He and He alone is capable of redeeming all things.  His power is not harsh, exploitive, or fascist; it is kind, loving, welcoming, and redemptive.  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[7]  That is the power of our Savior and King Jesus Christ, for from Him becomes imparted upon all who believe God’s power of salvation.[8]

Therefore, our desire should be in nothing and no one else except Jesus Christ.  Despite our sin, Christ our King proved His love for us by laying down His very life to save us.  He knew the cost of what it would take and willingly paid it.  Christ is the King who has saved and freed His people.

Now we, in turn, are being extended the chance to submit to Jesus’ most gracious rule, living as His ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven people.  As we walk with Christ in faith, we experience more and more a truly liberated life.  “To grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ”[9] is a lifetime’s journey.  But at the end, to die in the Lord makes it worth it, for then we will dwell with Christ our King in His great Paradise.

We end this liturgical year with Jesus, dying on a cross, promising not only to the penitent criminal, but to all penitent people, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  Next Sunday, we begin another liturgical year looking for this same Jesus, raised back to life on the third day, in His Kingly glory, to come again: “Therefore, you…must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”[10]  This begs the question, to which will you submit?  Will you submit to Christ, whose Word and saving power have been proven true, or to the ways of the world, “where moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal?”[11]  I hope that all of us answers, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”[12]

The Lord has shown forth His glory: O come, let us adore Him!  Amen.

[1] All Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] Pope Pius XI, Quas primas (1925), ¶33.

[3] Revelation 1.8

[4] Colossians 1.15-20

[5] John 3.17

[6] II Corinthians 5.21

[7] Matthew 11.28-30

[8] Romans 1.16; I Corinthians 1.18

[9] Ephesians 4.15

[10] Matthew 24.44

[11] Matthew 6.19

[12] Joshua 24.15

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