Monday, November 21, 2022

The glory of the Cross. . .

Sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, sometimes called Christ the King, on Sunday, November 20, 2022.

The Church Year begins on an odd note – so unlike the pregnancy announcements of our day or the gender reveal parties.  Instead, Advent begins with the Palm Sunday crowd, with palms and hosannas, and Jesus entering into Jerusalem to make His way to the cross.  The Church Year ends on an equally odd note – so different than we want it to end.  Jesus is on the cross, warning the women to lament for themselves as much as for Him, forgiving those who crucified Him, facing the taunts of His enemies, and telling a criminal who called out to Him that this guilty sinner would enter into paradise through Christ’s death.  No wonder why some wonder how this might be called Christ the King Sunday!

It seems that Jesus cannot get away from the cross and that we cannot look at Jesus without remembering the cross – the cross that lay before Him when He was born and the cross that we are called to proclaim in His death and resurrection.  This is the shape of Jesus’ glory – it is the glory of the cross and He knows no other glory than the glory He reveals when He is mounted to the cross to draw all people unto Himself.  And we are reminded of this when our thoughts are headed to Thanksgiving and Black Friday and decorating for Christmas.

The problem we have is that we tend to judge Jesus and His glory in the light of earthly kings and kingdoms.  Just months a queen who had celebrated 70 years on the throne died.  Nobody do a ceremony like the English but the marvel of it all is that the British throne is symbolic – it is ONLY ceremony.  The crown is regal in its appearance but it holds no real power to govern or wage war or legislate law.  In earthly terms there is great glory here but it is all superficial.  That is not the case of Jesus.

Even though the glory of Jesus is real, it is a glory that is always wanting for us.  Where we want warriors and victory, Jesus offers us suffering and death.  Where we want triumph and domination, Jesus offers us life that is a struggle in this world and service that puts others before self just as He has done for us.  It is not the glory we would choose but it is the only glory worth having.  It is either the cross or it is nothing.  That is not simply true of Jesus, it is true for us.  Our hope lies not in dreams of mythic glory but the real glory of the cross where sin was answered and death destroyed.

When we were building this sanctuary, there was a big disagreement over that cross.  I was pushing for a very large crucifix.  Some insisted that Lutherans don’t even have crucifixes – we have only empty crosses.  They said that Jesus is risen and the cross is done.  The compromise was the triumphant Jesus whose wounds are not obvious, who is not in agony or suffering but with arms raised up in victory and blessing, and the cross is behind Him as if it were in the past.  Honestly, I wish I had pushed harder for a giant crucifix and the suffering Savior.  In the aftermath of it all, we added crucifixes all over our building.  The cross is Jesus’ glory.

Maybe you cringe at all of those suffering bodies of our Savior.  Maybe you don’t even notice them.  You should.  The majority of words in the New Testament are either the record of what took place on that cross or the call to preach without embarrassment or compromise Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  Jesus says as much about money as He does about love or forgiveness or prayer or healing.  But He says most about what it is that is the center of the Gospel and how that good news is revealed in the work of suffering for a world that deserved nothing of it.

Now, here we are at the end of the Church Year.  And just as we began with the story of the Palm Sunday welcome as Jesus entered Jerusalem for the sole purpose of suffering and dying on the cross, that is how we end.  At the cross.  The challenge is not for us to like it.  The challenge is to see the glory of Christ in it.  We know Jesus as King only because we know Him as the Suffering Savior.  To know Him as Suffering Savior is to meet the King in all His glory and to enter into  His Kingdom forevermore.  That is where we stand today.  We look up to the cross, we trace the lines of His suffering, we acknowledge His death that gives us life, and here we learn what it means to call Him King.

In an interesting detail, some have suggested that Jesus’ absolution of those who crucified Him was not some general forgiveness offered to the many but a specific word for the Roman centurion who came to Jesus in Capernaum, who asked the Lord on behalf of his suffering servant.  This the same centurion who found himself with duty at the crucifixion of three condemned for death.  He recognized Jesus and was reluctant to participate in what he knew to be wrong.  Jesus forgives him because Jesus knows that His suffering and death are not accident or tragedy but salvation.  This same centurion stands in awe at Jesus’ death, “Truly this was the Son of God!”  And just maybe it was this centurion who is named Cornelius in the book of Acts and declared by Peter to be a righteous and God-fearing man.

Maybe that detail is exactly true or maybe not.  I do not know.  But the words from the cross are nothing but deliberate.  From the warning to the women who wail to the absolution from the cross to the promise given to the criminal who repents, all of these words are carefully chosen for you and for me as well as the Gospels.

To all who see the cross terrible tragedy, Jesus says “Do not weep for me but for yourselves and your children.”  Shed the tears of repentance and not of regret.  If we carry the guilt and the same of sins of omission in which hiding our Christian faith was easier than displaying it, Jesus would say, “Father, forgive them.”  If we would tremble in the face of death, Jesus would say, “Today, with Me in Paradise.”  That is what flows from the cross.  Blood?  Yes, but the blood that cleanses us from sin.  Suffering?  Yes, but the suffering that paid the price of our redemption.  Death?  Yes, but the death that gives us life.  That is why Jesus is King and that is the shape of His kingship and the path of our lives in His kingdom.

We glory in Christ and Him crucified.  We preach Christ and Him crucified.  We hold up Christ and Him crucified in the troubles of this world and as our pass to enter into the joy of our Master and the blessing of eternal life.  There is only one Jesus.  We know Him as the crucified who death gives us life and as the risen who will draw all people unto Himself.  That is the only glory of His kingdom and that is the only glory of Christ the King.  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.

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