The more astute amongst you may have noticed by now that I am not native to Buckinghamshire, I know that it will astonish some of you but I actually come from Scotland. In Scotland, there are some things that we are very good at. Amongst them is really unhealthy food, drinking and it has to be said that we do love a party. The biggest of which is New Year and the build up to it (what you call New Year’s Eve) we call Hogmanay.
Today is sort of the church’s Hogmanay, it is the final Sunday of the church’s year, before Advent begins and we prepare ourselves for Jesus’ miraculous birth. It is always good to go out with a bang, and this Gospel reading does exactly that. The festival of Christ the King isn’t all that old, it was only inaugurated in 1925, partly in response to the church seeing what was happening around it in Europe and further afield, with totalitarian regimes setting up their own leaders, their idols, as something to be revered...effectively like Gods. (How times have changed!)
Now today is also ‘Stir up Sunday’, I mentioned this up at Gt Horwood school on Friday and nobody, absolutely nobody knew what I was on about. Are you aware of it here? Excellent. I have to say that it isn’t just about making Christmas puddings in time to let them steep so that they are all tasting their best on Christmas day. It is also about stirring us up, stirring us up to be drawn deeper in our relationship with Christ the King, stirred up to deepen our worship and discipleship with the man who died on a rubbish dump, almost 2000 years ago on the outskirts of Jerusalem. A man who died for the whole of his creation.
This notion of Kingship is something that is largely lost on us today, there are very few absolute monarchies around today, but in a nutshell, what it alludes to leadership. When leadership is poor or non-existent, then everybody suffers. The vulnerable and the powerless suffer more than the rest, but the entire social fabric is adversely affected.
Today, almost as a New Years Resolution, we should decide to look in a different direction for leadership. This direction can transform not only what happens in the corridors of power, but it can also transform the leadership each of us offers, however plainly and simply, in our church, our community. We look not only to Christ who reigns forever in heaven; we look also to Christ the king at Calvary. We look for leadership on the cross, and we find it there.
In Luke’s version of the Passion story, Jesus speaks three times from the cross. (Today’s Gospel, Luke 23:33-43, includes only the first and second of these three words from the cross.)
- First, he speaks to his Father about the people who put him there.
- Second, he promises paradise to the thief who acknowledges him as king.
- Then with his last breath, he places himself into his Father’s hands.
We look to the cross for leadership, and we are not disappointed. These three brief sentences from Jesus constitute a course in leadership of a kind that is unique. They are an example worthy of a king, but they are filled with humility and concern for all.
Jesus’ leadership gives us a template to work to, and his words on the cross show his cross was not a trap, but a throne. He forgave those who mocked him, shamed him. They laughed and jeered; he prayed for them: “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing. He realised that they mocked him because they didn’t understand the significance of who he was and what they needed wasn’t condemnation but pity. How can someone be so full of love that they can do that? And if he can do that for them, what can he do for us? There is a King that is worth following, someone who rules with loving kindness, compassion and gentleness.
So, as we go into a New Church Year, let us make a resolution, a resolution that will be kept, not lose sight of the man, who through his arms wide upon the cross, embraced us and broke all the rules with his Kingship. For there is someone to be reckoned with.
Rev'd Mark Nelson