On November 23rd 1927 the last words uttered by the Mexican Jesuit priest Miguel Pro before he was murdered were, ‘¡Viva Christo Rey!’ ‘Long live Christ the King!’ ‘Byw fyddo’r Christ y Brenin!’. The Mexican regime of that time was cruel and went out of its way to persecute Christians, including Miguel Pro, a twentieth century Christian martyr who died confessing Christ’s sovereignty over all things. His words are powerful, and inspiring. When we acknowledge Christ as King we are saying that He is above all human power and authority, and we affirm that God is supreme. As Christians, we declare that our primary allegiance is to God alone, and not to the things of this world. To proclaim Our Lord as King of Heaven and Earth will always challenge and trouble those who wish to claim an authority and a power which is not their own. There are plenty of examples in the world around us of those who are unwilling to recognize a power greater than themselves.
Christians profess the sovereignty of God primarily on the basis of the Crucifixion of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We worship a Crucified God. This should strike us as something strange and disconcerting. At one level it doesn’t quite make sense, and yet it does. St Paul expresses the paradox at the heart of the Christian Faith in his First Letter to the Corinthians:
‘For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.’ (1Cor 1:25)
God is doing something amazing, which we cannot fully comprehend, or understand. This is because it is the mystery of God’s love. This is a love which we can never understand but it is something that we can experience.
Today’s Gospel is from St Luke’s account of the Crucifixion. It begins with Jesus being mocked by religious leaders:
“He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (Lk 23:35)
They demand action — that Jesus saves Himself — because they have completely misunderstand Jesus’ mission, which is not to save Himself, but to save us. They are joined by soldiers, who mock Christ saying:
“If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Lk 23:37)
In these words, power has been conflated with self-interest. Jesus, however, is not interested in saving Himself, but rather in saving us. He is the King of the Jews, born in Bethlehem of the line and lineage of David. And here Christ, in saving humanity, is doing what a proper King does, caring for His people, even at the cost of His own life. While the soldiers are mocking Jesus, they are actually proclaiming Him as a King.
One of those men crucified with Jesus asks:
“Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Lk 23:39)
This man has been condemned to death for acts of robbery and rebellion, and is only able to understand the Messiah in political terms: he is looking for a revolutionary leader, who can save him. This causes the other man being crucified to rebuke the first one, saying:
“Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Lk 23:40-41)
This second man understands that Jesus is innocent. This leads to one of the most memorable interactions in Luke’s Gospel, a demonstration of faith followed by its reward.
And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Lk 23:42-43)
This man does not ask to be saved, he simply requests that Jesus remember him, when He comes into His Kingdom. His request is granted. The condemned man’s recognition of Jesus’ Kingship is rewarded with the promise of eternal life with God in Heaven. Here in two sentences we see salvation and redemption at work. Christ’s death saves people. That is what His kingship is all about: bringing healing and the forgiveness of sins to all who turn to Him in faith.
We worship a Crucified God, one who suffers and dies for us, to offer us eternal life in Him. This is true kingship, shown in self-sacrificial love. Christ is the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for His sheep. He wants to save others, because He is the Messiah, and He is God saving his people. The Hebrew for Jesus is Yeshua and means ‘God saves’. Here on the Cross Jesus fulfils His life’s work, this is who and what He is. God saves His people by dying for them. This is real kingship, not robes, or power, but love, dying the death of a common criminal. It doesn’t make sense, and it isn’t supposed to. God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts. We cannot save ourselves, only God can do that, in an act of generous love, an extravagant and exuberant gift that we can neither earn nor repay.
In the second reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, we hear both what God has done for us, and who Christ is. God has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. We can go to Heaven because we have been delivered from darkness, into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. In Christ we have redemption and forgiveness. Christ has paid the debt we owe; our sins are forgiven. We do not need to slaughter lambs and be sprinkled with their blood, because we have been sprinkled with the Blood of the Lamb of God in our Baptism. We are redeemed, and our transgressions are forgiven, because of what Christ does for us on the Cross. This is the heart of our faith: Jesus died for us, because He loves us.
In Christ we see that God loves us. He created all that is, so all is subject to Him. He is the head of His Body, the Church, of which we are a part through our baptism, and our participation in the Eucharist. As the firstborn from the dead, Christ, in His Resurrection, shows us that death is not the end, that our lives will be changed not ended.
This is the God we worship, and whom we hail as our true King. The God of love and healing. Christ has conquered on the Cross; Christ reigns as King of the Universe; Christ reigns in our hearts, and in our lives. May we then sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.