November 25, 2007 Last Pentecost (RCL Proper 29C) Jeremiah 23: 1-6; Luke 23: 33-43
The themes of this last Sunday of the Church Year are shaped by the calendar, as we stand this morning on the doorstep of Advent and begin to anticipate the coming of our savior and our king. On the calendar of our Roman Catholic friends this Sunday before Advent is given the formal title “Feast of Christ the King,” and certainly in these lessons this morning we can see how that all fits together.
This passage from Jeremiah where the corruption and failure of earthly kings is contrasted with the promise that God will restore his own divine authority in a new Israel by raising up a successor to David’s royal line and establishing a new era of justice and righteousness and a renewal of holiness. And then this dramatic passage from Luke’s gospel, Jesus on the Cross, abandoned, mocked, tortured, at the point of death, and yet even in this moment, recognized by the Second Thief. In that broken and battered body, as it was giving up the last trace of earthly life, something shone through: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And we sense here that it’s not shopping days until Christmas that the world is counting down. Not really. Not deep down. A hint of a universe poised, at the edge of our seat, for what is about to be revealed. If you read the C.S. Lewis Narnia stories to your kids when they were little—this moment when the icy grip of winter begins to come loose, the beginnings of the thaw, warmth at the horizon, as they hear that Aslan, the Royal Lion, is on the march, coming back to reclaim what is his own. The ice begins to melt, color, warmth, life begins anew. Come thou, long-expected Jesus. For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory.
The thing is, life is hard, and bad things happen. Sometimes the very things that we counted on most of all for making things right turn out to be what turns us on our head. The ground under foot, that seemed so solid, begins to feel more like quicksand. The people who would be there for us forever just aren’t there anymore. The market tumbles, the pink slip arrives. The doctor finds something he didn’t expect to find during that routine examination.
Well, what did we expect? What did we expect--and for what do we hope? We’ve learned that there are no magic wands. That sometimes the dead end really is a dead end. That life is hard. What did we expect? For what do we hope?
It’s a great symmetry, a kind of poetic insight, to have lifted up before us on this Sunday before Advent, as the parking lots at the malls are already too crazy and the music on the radio and the annual craziness all around—it’s something, I think, to have us pause for this moment at the place of the Cross.
If there are going to be any prayers heard anywhere, this is where. If there is any place for hope, this is the place. If there is going to be any grace anywhere. Spaciousness. A sense of kindness. The generosity of the heart that beats at the center of the cosmos. This place of the cross. Where hopelessness made its last stand and was defeated. Where what we yearned for was made possible.
We’re invited to carry this moment with us, out of the church, this morning, and into our lives. When we wonder through this season, can we ever get for Christmas what we really want? How much shopping would that take? Invited to take our place with the thief, to think about what we think about when we really get down to brass tacks, when it’s all on the line, when there aren’t going to be any second laps around the track. A sense of clarified priorities. Almost deeper than any words: Advent, right around the corner. Come thou, long-expected Jesus.
It has been a long year, and the new one is about to dawn upon us.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.