Psalm 46: 1-3
On Holding the Whole Story
November 20, 2022
Reign of Christ Sunday
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
Luke 23: 33-43
“When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people
stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then
he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’”
*** Today’s sermon is titled On Holding the Whole Story.
Here we are, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving and on the cusp of Advent, and the lectionary gives us this story from Luke about the crucifixion of Jesus. I checked and double-checked to make sure this was indeed the correct scripture; it is. The reasoning behind this choice is that this is the last Sunday of our church year on the liturgical calendar. This final Sunday of the church year has a special name, The Reign of Christ. It makes sense that we should begin our church year, next Sunday, with the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. This last Sunday was first set aside for observance rather recently, in 1925, by the Pope who gave this day a much longer name, The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. What would Jesus have thought about that title? I can see why it has since been shortened to The Reign of Christ.
Regardless of the official title, what this day affords us is a chance to consider the full arc of the life and ministry of Jesus. This day affords us a few moments to hold the whole story. In holding knowledge of the full story of his life, the events surrounding Jesus’s birth take on a
different light. We know the end of the story and that inevitably affects the way we approach the beginning. Playwrights and screenwriters know that sometimes revealing what is to come changes the way the viewer experiences the unfolding of the story leading up to that point. This is called flashing forward; the technical term is prolepsis. In considering Jesus’s death, we are able to see his birth, his life and his ministry in a clearer light.
Jesus’s ministry spanned only the last three years of his life; he was charged with blasphemy and crucified at the age of 33 along with two other convicted criminals. The scene is depicted in detail in our reading today. The three are taken to the place known as Golgotha, in Aramaic, or Calvary in Latin, both words translate as “the skull” because of the shape of the hill. As they are dying, Jesus is taunted, first by the Roman soldiers and then by one of the two other criminals, who challenges Jesus. “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The other man
defends Jesus, defends his innocence, and then asks, “Remember me.” Jesus responds, “You will be with me.” These are some of the very last words Jesus spoke, words of assurance, words of promise, words of consolation even as he hung, dying, on a wooden cross.
This is the fate of the child born to Mary and Joseph. If we were speaking of just another person, we might say that this was the inescapable fate of the child born to Mary and Joseph, but we are not speaking of just another person. Jesus of Nazareth knew he would be tried and put to death. He could have avoided that outcome. He had weeks, if not months, to escape. In the Garden of Gethsemane, shortly before he was arrested, Jesus prays to God, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done.” This is the moment of fulfillment, I believe. This is the pinnacle of Jesus’s ministry; he has been so effective, so influential, so successful in deconstructing the power structure of his day. He has done this by edifying the oppressed, by unconditionally extending the love of God to all levels of society and he has amassed a large following, large enough to be a real threat to business-as-usual in the temple and in government.
Jesus is Teacher, Jesus is Healer, Jesus is Leader, and some say Jesus is King, although an unlikely King he would be with no army, no lands, and no possessions. If ever he was King, I would say it was after his crucifixion, when he appeared multiple times to his disciples, and always, always with the same message, “Peace be with you.” Even today, all across the world, in nearly every nation there are those who gather in his name, to learn about the limitless nature of
love. Jesus embodied a love so great that he was able to face a painful death and in the very midst of it, minister to another. “You will be with me,” he said to the other.
In closing, I lift up the one known as Jesus from Nazareth. In his life and even in his death, he ministers to all who open their hearts to him. As we prepare to travel once again through the story of his birth over the next few weeks, I hope that by revisiting his death we are equipped with a greater capacity to hold the deep significance of his birth. So be it. Amen.
In the stillness of this moment, Lord, lead us closer to that place within us where You are all that is. In your omniscience, you are aware of needs that have no voice…needs for healing, for forgiveness, for support, and for acceptance. As we wrestle with the many problems in our lives and in our world, we invite your peace to dwell within us, so that we may become part of the solution, part of the remedy, part of your holy design that mends the broken. Shine your light on opportunities to right our wrongs, so we may experience a clarity of mind, that is impossible when conflicts sit unresolved. Remind us, God, that through your love, all things are possible; through your love, the unimaginable becomes reality, and through the Christ Child, we can approach aspects of ourselves that need your unquestioning healing and grace. Amen.
Benediction: From the book of Jude: “As for you, Beloved, build up yourselves upon your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in the love of God…unto life everlasting.”