By Barbara Klugh
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Canticle 16; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text.
Christ the King: This is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, known as Christ the King Sunday. Pope Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King in 1925 to remind Christians that our loyalty is to our ruler in heaven, not to the ones in our earthly realm. In 1970, the Episcopal Church and other mainline churches also began to observe Christ the King Sunday, though some use the title “Reign of Christ” Sunday. Our readings are exceptionally rich and poetic this week.
Jeremiah 23:1-6: I’ve come to admire Jeremiah a great deal, mainly because he stayed close to God (though not without complaining) and managed to get up every day when his life was terribly difficult. He had the hard job of warning the people to repent or to face God’s judgment, and his messages were rejected time and time again. We have to remember that God called Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation in order to serve the world. The leaders—the royal officials, landowners, and priests—led the people astray. They offended God by breaking the covenant, worshiping false gods, and exploiting the poor. They brought this devastation upon themselves. Still, Jeremiah grieved when Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC and the people were exiled. Yet into these terrible circumstances, God used Jeremiah to bring words of hope for restoration and new life.
In this week’s reading, God, speaking through Jeremiah, judges the leaders (shepherds) who destroy the people (sheep). Although the people followed, the leaders bear most of the responsibility. “I will attend to you for your evil doings,” says God. Then God says he will gather the remnant of his flock, bring them back into the fold, and raise up good shepherds to guide his flock.
God promises a time “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” We recall God’s covenant with David, that one of David’s descendants would serve as king, and God kept his promise by sending us His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Canticle 16: The Song of Zechariah is from vv. 1:68-79 Luke’s Gospel and is well-known to those who begin their day with Morning Prayer. The backstory is that Zechariah, the old priest, was visited by the angel Gabriel who said, “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.” Among other things, Gabriel told Zechariah that his son would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah was struck mute when he did not believe the angel Gabriel’s announcement, and did not regain his speech until it was time for the baby to be named and circumcised.
When he was asked, “What then will this child become?” Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, sang this hymn of praise, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free….You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.”
Colossians 1:11-20: Scholars are still debating whether Paul is the author of this letter (c. AD 62) or whether one of his disciples wrote it. I choose to consider it as Paul’s letter and focus on the content. An associate of Paul’s named Epaphras founded the church in Colossae, located in modern day Turkey. Although our reading can’t cover the whole letter, Paul was writing to correct a mixture (called “syncretism”) of false teachings, a return to Jewish rituals, and ascetic mysticism. The letter declares that Christ alone is sufficient! He is supreme over the entire created universe. Paul also gives encouragement on how we can grow in Christian maturity.
This week’s reading begins as Paul concludes his greetings, thanksgivings, and prayer. Paul prays the Colossians would be strong in the strength of God’s power, endure everything with patience, and give thanks to the Father who has rescued them from the power of darkness and brought them into the kingdom of Christ.
Paul follows this with a beautiful ancient hymn or creed. Some commentators call it Paul’s gospel.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
Later in Colossians, Paul teaches that we must be rooted and grounded in Christ (2:7). The Life with God Bible has a helpful comment that serves as a touchstone for me as I strive, however imperfectly, to grow strong in Christian discipleship: “This growth is guided by faithfulness to the teaching of the apostles, which acts like a trellis guiding the growth of a fragile flower.”
Luke 23:33-43: In this last reading of the church year, it is fitting that we journey with Jesus “to the place that is called the Skull, [where] they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” While Jesus is suffering the agony and humiliation of the cross, he prays, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” The soldiers cast lots to divide his clothing; they mocked and scoffed. “There was an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’”
Reported only In Luke’s gospel, there is an exchange between Jesus and the two criminals. One mocked Jesus, but the other recognized Jesus as both Messiah and King. He acknowledged he was getting what he deserved, but that Jesus was innocent. “Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” Jesus healed and redeemed this criminal as both of them were dying. To me this encapsulates the never-failing forgiveness of our Lord, Christ the King. And he has called us to bear witness to his love and bring light to the world. Alleluia!