The name we give to this particular Sunday is ‘Christ the King’. This to affirm that, in spite of the mockery of Jesus by the religious leaders and soldiers that we find in today’s Gospel reading and the insult of the inscription ‘This is the King of the Jews’ over the head of Jesus on the Cross, Jesus is for us the King.
What makes him King for us? As he was there for the outsider, the poor and the sick, we can name him as the King of love. This love embraces the repentant sinner too, as can be noted from today’s Gospel reading when the criminal being crucified alongside Jesus acknowledges his wrong doing and says that ‘Jesus has done nothing wrong’. Jesus replies ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’.
So from his earthly existence we can say that Jesus represents inclusion and forgiveness, all in the name of love. He is also King of obedience. Obedience to God’s will as he endures the agony on the cross to save us all from the power of sin.
Let us look a bit closer at this release from the power of sin. Why does the death of Jesus by crucifixion, a punishment meted out to criminals at that time, have this massive impact?’
We know that after his death Jesus was laid in, as Luke describes it, ‘a rock-hewn tomb’ but then he rose from the dead to sit at the right hand of God. We then have the formulation of the Trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is our hope and salvation.
How, though, specifically, does this death and resurrection relate to release from the power of sin? I find an answer in a Commentary on Luke by James Woodward, Paula Gooder and Mark Pryce, when Jesus says to the criminal alongside him ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’. The word ‘Paradise’ holds the key to explaining what is meant by releasing us from the power of sin. It does so because, as the Commentary gives it, in Jewish thinking Paradise was traditionally associated with the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden as sinners who have disobeyed God’s will, the Garden was shut up and would only be opened at end times when those who were raised from the dead would be able to eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. The death of Jesus marks the beginning of the end times when Paradise was re-opened and humanity could be saved.
So we are saved from the power of sin, which originated in the Garden of Eden, because the door to the Garden, long shut by the fall of Adam and Eve, is blown open by the crucifixion.
The death of Jesus, then, marks the beginning of the end times which is, to quote Shakespeare, ‘a consummation devoutly to be wished’. This wish is never more stronger than it is now while we battle with so many issues at once; the pandemic, war, poverty and climate change to name but a few. Yet in this battle we can, I believe, take heart in two ways.
One is that when times are hard everything feels reduced and this can make us feel uncertain, anxious and depressed. If though, we look at what happens in creation, reduction can be followed by a bursting forth of new life. I think here of the tiny spot we call ‘the singularity’ which marked the beginning of the universe. Or the contractions of a woman in labor before new life is born into the world. So reduction is not the end of the affair and has been with us in nature since the beginning of time.
When there is a reduction in human affairs, it happens because economic difficulty has prompted a shutting down of amenities and facilities that have sustained us in various ways. The pathways we have taken for granted have been blocked and this can make everything feel a bit unnatural. We can take comfort though in that shutting down is in nature. Animals hibernate in the winter and the ground is laid bare, awaiting new life to appear. When we are shut down we have time to reflect, refresh and re-evaluate our priorities. We do not want a time of withdrawal to last for too long so we explore ways of opening up again, maybe new ways. To use the well-worn phrase: ‘as God shuts a door, he opens a window’.
This exploration to find ways forward reflects our faith in that we are, if you like, imitating Jesus in continuing on the rocky terrain until we find the path once more. As Jesus had, in his death, the key to the door of Paradise, so we can seek ways of opening doors in our earthly life as a sign of our continuing trust in God.
If we look at the Bible text from beginning to end, we know that in spite of centuries of troubles, God has the power to re-open the door for us as our loving Creator. The door to our salvation, having been opened by the death on the Cross, is un shuttable. The joy of that re-opening completely defeats the Crucifixion in Golgotha, being ‘the place of the skull’.
So we need to keep our hearts and minds open to the possibility of a better future and not let evil purpose make us cower in the corner. Rather, let us move forward in faith for our sakes and the sake of generations to come.