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It may seem strange to read this particular story at this time of the year. Doesn’t it make more sense to read it just before Easter? It does and we do. Today, though, is a special day on the church calendar. It is the Sunday before Advent begins which makes it Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday. It is the last day of ordinary time. The last day of the church calendar year. Why does it matter, you may be thinking? Well, it’s a
day that we set aside to give thanks and praise for the sovereignty of Christ over all of creation. And as we consider this story and our own stories alongside it, it does matter that Jesus is sovereign, that Jesus has supreme authority over all that is and all that will be. It’s something that is easily forgotten, though, particularly when all seems lost.
As a lover of fiction and literature, I am often transported when I read scripture. I am taken to the pages of other books and the narratives of other stories. When I read accounts of the crucifixion of Christ, as we have today, I remember a different story I read as a young person: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I find myself in Narnia, crouching in the darkness with Lucy and Susan as they watch in disbelief as Aslan the
lion is bound, mocked, and killed by the White Witch. She is triumphant and the girls are grief-stricken. C.S. Lewis writes, “I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been–if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you–you will know that there comes
in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again.”
Though Lewis hopes none of us have been in that position before, I imagine that we’ve all been there. I imagine that we’ve experienced deep grief and uncertainty. I imagine that we’ve cried all the tears or perhaps had no tears left to cry at all. I imagine that we’ve felt helpless and hopeless and unsure of what comes next. At the foot of the cross or the edge of the stone table, at the bedside or the graveside, at the end of the
rope or in the bottom of the pit we know what it feels like when it seems all is lost.
Luke’s gospel plants us firmly in that place this morning. The empire is winning.
The powers that be have the upper hand. The soldiers have no idea what they’re doing.
No one understand why Jesus isn’t saving himself. It looks a lot like failure. It looks like everything has gone terribly wrong. This is truly life or death. How can this person who so many claim is the messiah be hanging on a cross? The sign posted above him mockingly labels him King of the Jews. Three times come the wondering question, if he’s the messiah why doesn’t he save himself? If/then. Prove yourself, Jesus. Get to saving and we’ll believe you’re the savior. How many times do we test the divine in this way? How many bargain prayers have been uttered? How many deals have been struck? It’s not uncommon for us to underestimate the power of God. And in our darkest moments, who can blame us?
In this crucifixion narrative, no one knew how the story would end though they thought they did. It sure seemed like death would win. It sure seemed like all was lost. It sure seemed like the end was at hand. And that’s when trust in God is hardest to come by. When we are faced with an ending or a death and we can’t see what comes next, it’s hard to trust that God has things well in hand. It’s hard to believe that Christ is, indeed, the ruler of all. God’s promise is to be with us and to never forsake us and as much as
we would like for it to, salvation doesn’t mean safety and discipleship doesn’t equal ease. We’re not guaranteed a life free from difficulty or grief. We’re not guaranteed a life free from questions and doubts. When we come to the end of something, we may find ourselves in the depths of despair, unsure of where to go, and unsure of what to do.
And, again, God promises to be with us in the depths, in the grief, and in the uncertainty. When we’re not sure what we’re doing or where we’re going, we can move forward in faith even if our steps are shaky.
Last week, my husband Keenan and I had the privilege to worship with the saints at Rock Spring Presbyterian Church. It was their last worship service. Some weeks ago, their leadership voted to close the church. I know that there is grief at the end of anything and I know that from all accounts a church closing sure seems like a death.
When I told people we’d be going to the last service, I heard a lot of “Oh that’s so sad.”
And it is because it’s the end of that particular worshiping community in that place.
The service wasn’t sad, though. It was joyful and energizing. It gave glory to God even in the face of uncertainty. What a courageous decision for the leadership of that church to make. They said they had become a house church living in a mansion. They could see that moving forward would mean closing a chapter. And they don’t know exactly what will come next but they’re trusting God with their future. Over the last year, they’ve been
giving away their financial resources. They’ve committed large sums of money to community organizations and ministries all around them. They’ve also set up a foundation so that their resources might be used to further other ministries in the future.
They will continue their ministry in other places and they believe that something good will come from this ending. What may seem like a failure to many is anything but. They are proclaiming to all who will listen the promise that in life and in death we belong to God. They are remembering that Jesus is Lord of all and that love is alive.
One of the criminals hanging on the cross next to Christ asked Jesus to
remember him but I think that it’s just as important for us to remember Jesus. In times of uncertainty, grief, or darkness, it is good for us to remember that Jesus is Lord of all and that love is alive. On this particular day set aside in the church year, a day you may not have known existed, we give thanks to God for the reign of Christ, for the sovereignty of Christ. We give thanks that all of creation is under God’s authority and power. The
powers and principalities of this world do not get the last word. It certainly seemed as though all was lost as Jesus hung there on the cross between two criminals. It certainly seemed as though the end had come. In this instance, though, we know the rest of that story and we know that it wasn’t the end rather it was the beginning. We do well to remember Jesus: his life, death, and resurrection. God promises us that in the darkest
moments of our lives we are loved and held. God promises us that in the darkest moments of our lives there is light shining. God promises us that when we are facing an uncertain road ahead we are guided by something we cannot quite explain.
If you’ll remember in Narnia, when the sun started to rise and Susan and Lucy in their grief began to walk around, the stone table cracked and Aslan was no longer there.
They wondered aloud how this could be, if it was more magic. And Aslan who was alive
told them that yes, it was more magic, deep magic. There was a deeper magic, he explained, a deeper magic that the White Queen didn’t know about, a deeper magic that triumphed over death itself. Hear me when I tell you now, for us, there is a deeper love, a deeper hope, and a deeper peace than we may know because Jesus Christ reigns.
The sovereignty of Christ gives us the courage to say that all will be well even when we can’t know how that could possibly be true. When all seems lost we do well to remember that death is not the end, Christ is on the throne, and God’s love abounds.
Thanks be to God.