Strange, Suffering, Saviour King - Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King (November 20, 2022)
Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 23:1–6 | Luke 1:68–79 | Colossians 1:11–20 | Luke 23:33–43
“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.’” (Luke 23:42-43).
Today we commemorate the Feast of Christ the King… a day to remind the Church that regardless of how it might seem, from moment to moment or day to day, Jesus Christ the Risen Lord reigns even now, and His Kingdom will have no end.
In Him, our hope and the hope of the world will endure.
In Him, we entrust our past, our present, and our future.
In Him, the reconciling love of God will rule forever.
In Christ Jesus, the King of Kings, God’s victory is complete.
But our reading today from the Gospel of St. Luke reminds us of what His reign really looks like… and that the King we Christians are called to follow and serve with all our hearts is strange. In fact, St. Luke shows us that Christ the King is not the kind of King our world imagined, or wanted at all.
I mean, they thought He was at times… like when He was filling their mouths with bread, healing their sicknesses, and amazing them with powerful signs and wonders. And yet, all along Jesus kept confusing them… confronting their expectations, challenging their deepest commitments… and this is something He continues to do, for twenty centuries and counting.
In every age, in every generation, in every culture where the Gospel has been preached, Christ Jesus the King has confronted and challenged ‘the way things are done around here’, and calls us instead to share in God’s Good Kingdom, not just someday, but here and now too. He shows us what it means to live God’s way: as the true incarnation, “the image of the invisible God” in the flesh, Jesus continues to stand out from the crowd, and call us back to our Creator.
And yet, in every age, generation, and culture, He is met with our resistance. For He is not like us, and yet He calls us all to come, and become like Him. To let His life reshape our own, and trade in our kingdoms for His.
Christ our King is a strange King. Not least of all because He is a suffering King. One who’s power and glory are revealed in all their splendour amid the horror of the cross.
The scholar, Ben Myers, points out that the suffering Jesus faced at the cross goes well beyond just physical pain: “In the Roman Empire, crucifixion wasn’t only about death. It was about public disgrace. The problem with getting yourself crucified wasn’t just that it would kill you but that it would humiliate you at the same time. Modern readers of the New Testament might assume that the worst thing about crucifixion was the physical suffering. But in a culture of honor and shame, the pain of the soul—humiliation—can be even worse than the pain of the body.”
And yet, Christ willingly endured the shame… the agony of the cross in all its dimensions. God’s chosen King chooses to receive the world’s rejection and cruelest hate. What stranger image of a victorious king could there be than a crucified one?
Reflecting on our passage today from St. Luke’s Gospel, the Anglican scholar and bishop, N.T. Wright, says this about our suffering King: “Jesus has stood on its head the meaning of kingship, the meaning of the kingdom itself… Now he is hailed as king at last, but in mockery. Here comes his royal cupbearer, only it’s a Roman soldier offering him the sour wine that poor people drank. Here is his royal placard, announcing his kingship to the world, but it is in fact the criminal charge which explains his cruel death.”
In every way, what happens at the cross seems like a defeat. The end of hope. The end of life. The end of someone completely cut off, and cursed.
But the Good News that St. Luke and countless Christians in every age, and generation, and culture have come to believe, tells us that the cross is how Christ accomplishes the victory of God’s Kingdom, once and for all. As strange as it might seem, through His suffering, Christ Jesus was at work saving our world, reconciling us to the Living God through the gift of His own life.
The Good News is we don’t just serve a strange and suffering King… we serve a saving King! One who’s reign has a clear purpose: to rescue and restore God’s broken but beloved world. As St. Paul writes in his letter to the Christians in Colossae:
Christ “is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 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.” (Colossians 1:18-20).
Christ Jesus is our strange, suffering, saving King, who gave His life to bring us God’s peace. And who has been raised from the dead so that God’s peace will reign, now and forever.
But who are those who recognize this beautiful truth, and strive to make it known? Who is it that has the joyful task of serving today in Christ’s strange, suffering, and saving Kingdom? Of joining Him in His mission?
It’s us. It’s you and I, and every Christian from every age, every generation, and every culture who, just like that criminal hanging nearby, looked at the crucified Jesus, and still chose to believe in the coming of His Kingdom.
We are those called to place our hope in God’s power to overcome every obstacle… to undo even the defeat of death. We are those whose faith is not to be based upon the way things are, but on the One who makes everything new. And we are those who are called to see in the shameful death of an innocent Jewish man, God’s own self-giving love poured out for the world… and invited to share in it.
In short, if Christ is King, we Christians are to be fully committed to His Kingdom. To be His faithful subjects, following His ways… His strange, suffering, saving ways.
What does this all mean for us?
For starters: as we heard last Sunday, in our Archbishop’s charge… we Christians are increasingly becoming strangers in our society. Fewer and fewer folks in Canada claim to be following our Lord, after many generations where that was simply taken for granted.
Given this change all around us, those of us who continue to follow Jesus Christ as our King, need to know that our neighbours will notice… that moving forward, we will sometimes have to stand out from the crowd in ways that seem strange to those around us.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The key is for us to be strange for the right reasons! To be strange because God’s Kingdom is at work in us… helping us be strangely compassionate… strangely forgiving… strangely gracious, and generous, and faithful, and genuine, just like Jesus.
Whenever we feel vulnerable, there’s always the temptation to do whatever it takes to get the others to like us… or to dig in our heels and hold onto the things we really don’t want to change.
But serving our strange King Jesus means following the one who prayed to His heavenly Father: “Not my will, but Yours be done.” It means committing ourselves to what the Living God is up to… whether or not it seems strange to our neighbours, or even ourselves… which is something we can only do if we’re committed to getting to know our strange King Jesus more and more. As Archbishop David reminded us in his charge:
“Unless I can understand even a little more about God and the way he loves and suffers for his creation, I will never understand God’s mission in God’s world.
Furthermore, unless I come to understand God’s mission, even a little more, I will not understand how we, the Church, are to reflect God in the world; and thereby never know what God is calling us to do.”
I believe that at least part of what God is calling us to do right now is to share in His sufferings.
Another temptation we can face when we feel vulnerable is the temptation to simply avoid pain as much as possible: to hid from the challenges, and difficult choices that self-giving love entails.
But the Kingdom of God is not an escape from the present troubles of the world… it’s actually a way to share in its pain, while still holding onto hope.
St. Luke tells us that one criminal mocked Jesus by demanding that He prove His divine power by delivering them from the suffering of the cross. How often do we expect Jesus to do this for us as well?
The other criminal, we’re told, still believed that Jesus would one day come into His Kingdom… even as He was being crucified next to him… an innocent man, sharing in his sufferings. But instead of expecting an easy out, he simply asks to be remembered. To not be forgotten.
And to this second man, Jesus turns and promises… not to shield him from suffering or pain… but to share, along with their present sufferings, the joys of paradise.
Christ Jesus endured the suffering of the cross because that was where God’s love led Him: to step right into the pain of our broken world, to bring us the joy of God’s new life.
So how can we share in the sufferings of those around us in ways that make known to them the love of God? How might God bring them hope and even joy through our willingness to be present with them in their pain, and not simply look away?
We know God’s salvation is about far more than escaping this earthly life, fleeing to heaven and abandoning our world in its brokenness. Our Saviour King suffered and died, and rose again to bring about it’s transformation and healing. To bring reconciliation, not to help us run away.
And so our Saviour King calls us to trust Him, and not simply to strive for our own survival, but to stay true to Him, and point those around us to their Saviour too. So that, along with us, they may look to Christ and hear Him say: “Truly I tell you… you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
We serve a strange, suffering, saving King who calls us to join Him… to share in His wonderful, holy strangeness… to faithfully endure with Him pains of love in our broken world… and to point towards His saving power most clearly displayed at the cross… the power to defeat death itself, and bring God’s peace to all.
I’ll close now with the words of St. Paul from his letter to the Colossians:
“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins… 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.” (Colossians 1:11-14, 19-20).
This is our King, who reigns now and forever. Amen.
 Ben Myers, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism, ed. Todd Hains, Jeff Reimer, and Sarah Awa, Christian Essentials (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 67.
 Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 284.
 David Edwards, The Bishop’s Charge to the 138th Synod of the Diocese of Fredericton (Fredericton, New Brunswick. November 5, 2022).
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Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School