Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Yr C

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Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Yr C

Sermon Date:November 24, 2013

Scripture: Luke 23:33-43

Liturgy Calendar: Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Year C

PDF version 

For the past twenty-eight Sundays, the Sundays after Pentecost, we have walked through the lectionary readings with Jesus. 

We’ve seen him do the things he said he’d do that first day he stood up in the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.   

We’ve seen him bring good news to the poor and release the captives.  We’ve seen him give sight to the blind and free the oppressed.   

We have heard him proclaim, in word and deed, the year of the Lord’s favor.

But in today’s gospel reading, Jesus, God’s anointed one, Christ the King,  hangs dying on a cross between two criminals, one on his right, and one on his left—and even now, as well as we know this story, this ending is shocking, horrible, tragic, and beyond belief. 

The first criminal derides Jesus and saying, “Save yourself and us! You are the Messiah.” 

And the second criminal rebukes the first.  “We both deserve what we’re getting.  This man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 

And then, the second  criminal simply addresses the man next to him on the cross by name, rather than by title—

Not Messiah, not King of the Jews, just by his name—Jesus. 

“Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” 

As we hear this criminal say these words, we hear him letting go of life as he has known it—all of the bad things he has done, all of the good memories he has, because in his lifetime, he must have had a few moments of joy and wonder—he is letting go of all of that now, ready to move beyond all of that– 

in contrast to the first criminal, who desires nothing more than to be saved and restored to his former life. 

  “Just get me down from this cross, Messiah!” 

In her book, The Gift of Years, Joan Chittister, a Catholic nun and theologian, writes about the importance of letting go as we grow older, and these words of wisdom apply to us as we move through our lives if we hope to grow and change.   

Chittister explains that we reach a time in our lives when we know that we must divest of all that we have gathered in order to move forward into the next phase of our lives— 

And as we age, we move into a period of getting rid of all the things that gave our lives definition before we began the great spiritual quest, a time in which we, as she puts it “consider the meaning of life and death, “ and time in which  “we consider the spiritual and the material, and the Earth and its beyond.”   

“We consider our souls in contact with the great soul within… is the shaping of our souls that occupies us now.”   

“… we set out to find out for ourselves who we really are, what we know, what we care about and how to be simply enough for ourselves in the world.”   

But sometimes we can’t let go–

if what we have is all that defines who we are.  Sometimes we hold onto the past and long for some distant memory of a time that was seemingly perfect.  Even as we lose our hair and our figures, we try to hold onto our youth.   It’s hard to let go of our past career successes, our past loves, our past hates. 

The first criminal can’t let go. He desperately wants to return to what he has known in the past.  “Save yourself and us, Messiah.” 

Wind the clock back—return to the way things were. 

But the second criminal is ready to move beyond life as he knows it. 

In this moment on his cross, he is letting go of everything that has defined him in the past.   

He doesn’t want to return to the way things were.  He wants to set out into a new place, a new understanding of who he is—he’s ready to, as Chittister says, “to consider his soul in contact with the great soul within.”   

And so he says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 

He’s ready to be transformed by this tragic way of dying.  He is willing to move through the awfulness of dying in order to set out for and reach the kingdom beyond.   

If we live long enough, we go through many tragedies, big and little.  We live through tragic moments in history.  This week we’ve relived President Kennedy’s assassination. 

In our own tragedies, we journey alongside someone we love who is dying of Alzheimer’s or cancer or some other awful disease.  We may lose our health, our marriages, our children, our jobs, houses, and we lose the little things that give our lives meaning—our pets die, the tree we planted years ago in our front yard gets blown over in a storm—the family scrapbooks get destroyed in a when the basement floods–the list goes on and on. 

In these moments of loss, we can cry out to a God we hope is magic—God, save me and let me go back to life as I knew it. 

Or we can simply let go— 

and cry out to God who suffers like we do, who hangs on a cross next to us, cry out to Jesus,  who knows what it is to lose everything, including life itself. 

We can ask God, who suffers with us,  to put us back together in a new way, to restore us, not to our old lives, but to bring us into new resurrection life—to re-member us.    

In the end, this re-membering, this putting us back together in a new way,  can only be done by our Messiah, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, who saves us by re-membering and transforming  us.   

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 

The first criminal could only look back into his past life and long for what he was losing. 

But the second criminal let his past go.  He looked at Jesus suffering next to him.  He looked into the tragedy of death that would engulf them both that day. 

He looked through and beyond the loss of all he had ever known into the heart of God’s kingdom,

Paradise, full of green and growing hope, new life,  remembrance, transformation, full of God’s healing presence, full of the peace that passes all understanding.   

Advent, the first season of the new church year, dawns with next Sunday’s sunrise. 

And our work during Advent is to let go of the past, to get rid of the things that hold us captive 

To have the courage to move through the tragedies in our lives  by asking the Lord of life to put us back together in a new way, to remember us, 

To enter into a great spiritual quest

Our work during Advent is to set out for a new place 

Seeking life, not  as we’ve known it, but seeking life in Paradise itself– 

Paradise being  any place in our here and now lives where we find Jesus  beside us,  and the Paradise we look forward to at the end of our lives, and at the end of time, when we at last come into God’s heavenly country and enter into God’s transforming and life giving presence for all eternity.   

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 


Resource:  Chittister, Joan.  The Gift of Years:  Growing Older Gracefully.  Bluebridge, NY, NY. 2008. 

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