Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Reign of Christ, Year C
November 24, 2019
Lessons: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46 (or Luke 1:68-79); Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people trust that Jesus will never forsake them, so they are freed to work for the healing of the world rather than simply wait for an invitation for paradise and pie in the sky.
Key Scripture: Then he said, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:42-43
You will eat, bye and bye,
in that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.
–Joe Hill, from “The Preacher and the Slave”
We come, once again, to the end of the liturgical church year, to that relatively new (1925) commemoration known as The Reign or Christ or Christ the King Sunday. It is interesting that Pope Pius XI instituted this festival at least partly in response to increasing nationalism and secularism. Pius wanted this commemoration to help recall people to discipleship, to put their faith in the One who really matters, as he explains:
“If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men (sic), purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.” Pope Pius XI, Quas Primas, §33
Well, here we are in 2019, and guess what? Yes, there is once again a global rise in secularism and nationalism. The church is under stress in many corners of the religious world. Political and religious leaders around the globe are falling or being toppled, even as new ones rise in their place. The U.S. President in is in the midst of an impeachment trial, and the country is severely divided. The very same sorts of forces that led to Jesus’ trial and crucifixion are alive and working in the world today. Some folks would even be so bold as to say that we continue to crucify Jesus today with our words and actions (or lack thereof).
And yet, there is good news. There is good news precisely because there is Jesus, the Son of God, the Cosmic Christ, the very essence of mercy, grace, and love. Because of this we do not lose hope as we tie the knot on this church year. Jesus intercedes for us still: “Father, forgive the; for they do not know what they are doing.”
Even as he hung there dying at the hands of Empire and the religious leaders of his day, Jesus was still loving others and showing mercy, kingly qualities indeed. This week’s lesson ends with the thief’s request to be remembered. Jesus responds, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” It is a powerful affirmation that God does not forsake us, even as we lay dying.
We do not, however, have to wait until we’re dying to be with Jesus in “paradise.” We can look around us right now, give thanks for the gift of grace of which are unmerited recipients, and roll up our sleeves and work toward that restoration of the reign of Christ. Yes, friends, the reign of Christ is not about some “paradise pie in the sky” for which we just lounge around and wait. No. The kin-dom of heaven has come near and is still near. We glimpse it around the table, in the waters of baptism, in the faces of our neighbors (and our enemies), and wherever steadfast love and faithfulness meet and righteousness and peace kiss. We have a lot of hard, holy work to do in Jesus’ name, my friends. Or, as the concluding chorus of Joe Hill’s song reminds us:
You will eat bye and bye,
When you’ve learned how to cook and how to fry.
Chop some wood, ’twill do you good,
Then you’ll eat in the sweet bye and bye.
Every ending brings a new beginning. How will you end this liturgical year (if your tradition follows a liturgical calendar)? What resources can you offer folks to help them slow down and breathe in this liminal space, even as our consumer culture clamors for our holiday dollars and attention?
Consider pointing out the link between this Sunday’s gospel lesson (Jesus’ crucifixion) with the gospel lesson we anticipate for Christmas (Jesus’ birth). If you have both a large wooden cross and a manger place them both before the altar. Remind worshipers of the symbolism of the wood that both cradles new life and brings about death.
Invite youth to study Psalm 46. What does the psalmist say about the nature of God? Challenge the youth to work in pairs or groups to write their own 21st century psalm describing God.
This week’s focus verse is Luke 23:33 – 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.
Sometimes we get something fixed in our minds, and it’s tough to envision it being any other way. Like how a king is supposed to look and act, for example. Invite the children to describe a king. Tell them that we recognize Jesus as our king, our lord. But he’s a different sort of king.
Tell the children that today you want to tell them a story that has to do with Jesus’ birth, his ministry, and his death. And the main characters in this story are three trees. If you have a copy of “The Story of The Three Trees” folk tale, read it to the children. If not, you can access the story here and tell it from memory.
The point is that these three trees all had their plans for how they wanted to grow and what they wanted to become. One ended up becoming a manger that served as the baby Jesus’ bed, another became a small fishing boat, like the one Jesus sailed in and calmed the storm, and the third tree became the cross. All three had important roles to fulfill, but none of the trees could have predicted how it would be used. It’s that way with us. We don’t know how Jesus is going to use us. What we can make sure of is that whatever we do, we do it in service and thanksgiving to Jesus.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Stewardship is active. As stewards and disciples we don’t sit around waiting for paradise pie in the sky; we work now to make this world a better reflection of God’s intent for it.
Stewardship at Home
The alternate psalm for this week is Luke 1:68-79, also known as the Song of Zechariah or benedictus. Consider using this psalm as your prayer and meditation focus this week. Consider the words carefully. Consider how time operates. Consider how this song about the birth of John the Baptist has so much to say to us today in an age where prophetic voices are sorely needed. How might Zechariah’s song provide inspiration for your own benedictus? Why not write one to foretell what you believe God is calling you to do as one who points to the light of Christ and who works for the healing of this world?
2016 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2016/11/be-still-steward/
2013 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2013/11/at-the-feet-of-the-king/
Images: Chip Simons; hobvious sudoneighm; and Ollie Jones, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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