A sermon given during the 10:30am Choral Eucharist, given by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, on the 20th of November 2022
In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen. This Sunday, the Sunday when we reflect on Christ the King or the Reign of Christ, is the final Sunday in this liturgical year. We have spent this year guided by the Gospel according to St Luke and so this morning we might spend a little time reflecting on what we have heard. The writer of Luke’s Gospel commences with the following words, letting the reader know what he intends to do:
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
This writer plans to write an orderly account about what happened with Jesus for someone called Theophilus, a name that means “one who loves God”, to know the truth about Jesus. We are ones who love God, we long to know the truth about Jesus. This gospel has been written that we, too, might know.
This orderly account begins with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, before the beautiful account of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary. The birth of John the Baptist is told and then the birth of Jesus. Much of the detail of birth of Jesus that we love in Nativity stories and plays, the birth in the stable, the visits of the shepherds and angels, are found in Luke. The baby Jesus is presented in the temple, we hear the old man Simeon speak the words of the Nunc Dimittis as he holds the baby, and the one scene in the gospels telling of Jesus as a child in the temple, worrying his parents by remaining there for days when they set off home, follows. We are in no doubt that Jesus, whose birth in a most earthy place in a stable is woven with signs of heaven, this Jesus is one who is utterly at home in his Father’s house.
Jesus enters the scene as an adult and after his baptism, his naming as God’s Beloved Son, and after his temptation in the wilderness, is portrayed arriving in the synagogue. He reads from a scroll, words from the prophet Isaiah:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
Jesus says that these words were being fulfilled in him this day. He knows who he is, God’s child. He knows what it is God would have him do.
And the Gospel according to St Luke tells the story. Jesus’ ministry of healing and teaching, of setting many he encounters free from the things that bind them, of feeding crowds with bread and fish, and sharing meals with those whom society shuns, is told through chapter after chapter of this spirit filled gospel.
Luke’s gospel is the one where many of the parables we know well are found. Chapter 15 contains the parables of the lost, told when the religious leaders grumble about the company Jesus is keeping over a meal. The third parable of the Prodigal Son shows us the nature of God seen in a father who rushes to greet his wayward son and kindly counsels his jealous brother. We see God as one who forgives before we ask for forgiveness, as one who feeds with a generosity that is beyond imagining. Our worth in the eyes of the world is not of relevance to God. We are created by God and all God longs to do is bless and forgive. A few chapters on we meet Zacchaeus, a tax collector hated by the crowd around him. Zacchaeus climbs a tree to see Jesus and finds himself welcoming Jesus into his home. Zacchaeus, like many who encounter Jesus is transformed by Jesus knowing who he is and loving him all the same. Jesus, the sacrament of God, longs only to spend time with us and in so doing to set us free.
His freedom, freedom living, thriving, in his identity as his Father God’s Beloved Son, is his downfall. As he approaches Jerusalem, he approaches his trial and death, death on a cross, accompanied, one on his right side, one on his left by two criminals. His death, following a trial of silence on his part and lies on the part of those who condemn him to death, is brutal, the most brutal method of execution thought up by the Roman occupiers of Palestine.
Just after Jesus has died, we meet a new character. There is a good and righteous man named Joseph, who came from the Jewish town of Arimathea. Joseph is looking for something. He is waiting expectantly for something … Jesus is waiting for the kingdom of God, the Reign of God.
He is waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, the Reign of God.
Just as we are this final Sunday of our liturgical year. Just as we are every Sunday, when we enter our cathedral doors.
This man, Joseph of Arimathea, goes to Pilate and asks for the body of Jesus. Then he takes it down, and the one who was wrapped in swaddling bands and laid in a manger all those years ago, is wrapped in a linen cloth, and lain in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. And it seemed like the end. Bookends on a life. Jesus wrapped in cloth and laid down in an enclosed place.
Only …On the first day of the week, at early dawn, some women come to the tomb, taking the spices that they have prepared. They find the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they go in, they do not find Jesus’ body.
The Gospel according to St Luke gives one of the most poignant resurrection encounters in the four gospels, the story of the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus.
Now on that same day two of them are going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that have happened. While they are talking and discussing, Jesus himself comes near and goes with them, but they don’t recognise him. Jesus says to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’
When they speak to him about the things that have happened, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interprets to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
Which is what we have done Sunday by Sunday, day by day in our cathedral during this year of Luke, haven’t we? Pondered the things that are happening to us – in the lives of those dear to us – joys and struggles, death and grief and hope, and in the lives of human beings across the world … the death of a Queen which shook us more than we might have imagined, the clear evidence of changes to our climate caused by human behaviour, happening more quickly and more violently than we had even begun to expect, a pandemic that we now say we “live with”, and war, yet another war. We bring these things as the two disciples did walking alongside Jesus and hold them to him and hear him say to us “What things?” and listen as he speaks to us through the readings from scripture. The word of God, that we have placed before us. And God who loves us, teaches us and heals us and feeds us, just as his Son did when he walked the earth, as we ponder the events of our time and place with the words of holy scripture ringing in our ears.
Until this final Sunday, the Sunday when we ponder Christ as King, gathering the years ponderings for one last time before Advent comes and we begin it all again. And on this final Sunday, what are given to ponder on, what words of holy scripture ring in our ears this day?
What did Joseph of Arimathea ask for when he was waiting for the reign of God? The body of Jesus.
What are we given when we search this day for that very same thing, the reign of God?
The scene of Jesus dying. His broken bloodied body nailed to a cross. …
It seems that it is here, in his dying on the cross, that we will know the heart of the one who is our king, the heart of the one whose reign we ponder this day.
It is here, that he speaks words of forgiveness, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Spoken to the soldiers who nailed him to the cross, seemingly ending his life of love and healing. It is here he speaks words of welcome to the one dying at his side. ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
What do we think about this? A king who suffers such a defeat but with such grace? What do we think about our world being held in this love shown in a dying man? What do we think about a kingdom that is built in the outstretched arms of one who forgives and gathers home those dying at his side? Do we wonder about it? The frailty of it? Can we believe that our world is redeemed in this as our reading from the Letter to the Colossians says …all things created in him, all things redeemed. Peace for all creation made through the blood of Jesus’ cross. What do we think as our liturgical year draws to a close yet again? We are allowed to ask questions, did you know?
And then, perhaps we might gaze in wonder and love, and give him our hearts, and know that, whilst we can barely understand what is going on, in him all we care about is cared about, all we love is loved, all the pain we have done to others and all the pain that has been done to us is forgiven, all our brokenness is bound up, all things, somehow, in him, find their healing and their home.