It was Palm Sunday which has morphed into the Sunday of the Passion. The Triumphal Entry is the Gospel of the Day in Advent 1. Maundy Thursday (the institution of the Lord’s Supper) and Good Friday (the crucifixion) have their own days, so I try to preach on the arrest and trials of Jesus. And I have to be honest that 15 years ago I don’t know if I was just naive or if things were really different, but these trials always felt like a different world. But with the number of polically motivated trials and refusals to prosecute that we’ve seen in the past few years, they have become much more real. This sermon meditates on how Luke’s portrayal of Jesus’ three trials: Chief Priests, Pilate and Herod represent three modes of failure to do justice: venality, cowardice and cynicism. How we often succumb to those failures. And How Jesus overcame them and deserves the crown.
This is the last Sunday of the Church Year which recent tradition has often labeled Christ the King Sunday. The gospel lesson from the year we spend in Luke is a preaching opportunity I relish. The criminal on the cross is the bane of the theologian, but I’d bet one of the best remembered by ordinary folks. He scrambles everybody’s system, but he holds out the greatest hope. And of course is rests simply on the Grace of the King. It rests on sovereign choice. This sermon for Christ the King Sunday, is a meditation on that King’s Choice. Why is rightly causes fear…and why it should cause love.
This Sunday is one of those pageant days. The start of Holy Week starts with a palm parade into the sanctuary for us today to the strains of All Glory Laud and Honor ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/442 ). But then with the readings it takes a turn toward the end of the week with a full reading of Luke 23 which is the trials before Herod and Pilate, the cries of the mob, and the crucifixion. At least the way we do it the hymns are key. The Pomp of Palms and the cries of Hosanna give way to the tumult of the streets and Pilate’s vain weaseling captured so well in No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/444 ). After the crucifixion Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/435 ) sing what has happened for us. And as we turn to go back out into the world, or to walk our way through Holy Week once again, we remember the end point with Ride On, Ride On, in Majesty ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/441 ). “Bow thy meek head to mortal pain, then take O God thy power and reign.” I’ve left in the recording snips of those hymns. It really is a liturgical day that is tough to capture just in a recording. We are recreating the week in an hour. The sights, and sounds and emotions.
Something I have been struggling with thematically with this day is how to preach it. Growing up this was just Palm Sunday. The Passion was for Thursday and Friday. But given the loss of piety, the reality was that many people would skip from the Triumphal entry to Easter Resurrection without even breezing past Calvary – a tragedy. So the reading was smashed into today. But what joins the Palms and the Passion? That is something I’ve been searching for. And I think this year I understand something I didn’t in previous years. It is the mob. Even more acutely in Luke, both are the will of the mob. Both are expressions of desire revealing the division of the ages. I’m leaning a bit on Rene Girard and his mimetic desire here. But it is a story captured fully in scripture. And it is one I see played out more and more. And it is the choice we have. He’s the King. We can crucify our desires and accept his grace, or we can let the mob rule. Anyway, I don’t know how well this walks outside of the liturgical framework, but I like it.
It is the last Sunday of the Church Year, often called Christ the King Sunday. The other years of the lectionary that typically means an eschatological parable like the 10 virgins trimming their wicks. When we are in Luke, it means Good Friday. Luke’s Good Friday scene is unique because there is a divergence from the other Gospels. One criminal sees something that the others don’t. The world is united in seeing “This is the King of the Jews” placed above Jesus as a great joke. One naked criminal sees the King. One naked criminal sees His Grace. It is like all acts of God – hidden and revealed. It is done plainly before all the world, yet it is faith alone that perceives the revelation. To those without God’s acts remain hidden. The sermon is a meditation on this and what we see – mistaken peasant or King.
Worship note: The text drives some different hymns than normal. The opening hymn was “The Head the Once was Crowned With Thorns”, but I’ve left in the Hymn of the Day. LSB 534, Lord, Enthroned in Heavenly Splendor. The tune right after the alleluias is tough, but the words uniquely to me capture the day’s theme. The cross as throne, the acts of God hidden in humble frame.
The last Sunday of the Church year (today) is often called Christ the King Sunday. The appointed reading from Luke is the crucifixion. I usually dodge preaching directly on this text. For those who have been around Holy Week at St. Mark’s, Good Friday has been our collective reading of the passion text. We let the gospel preach itself in our midst. If you can’t be moved by the text itself…what am I going to say. I couldn’t dodge it today, but today compared to Good Friday the purpose is slightly different. Good Friday is more about the lens of atonement – the cross as what buys our salvation. Christ the King is about the revelation of the God. When we say Jesus is Lord, what kind of King or Lord do we have. It is that word – King – that the text can tell us about. “There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews’”. It is here, at the place of the skull, we are to see most clearly, to learn the type of King we have.
This sermon looks at the text and application to our knowledge and lives through looking at three pictures that are concluded by memorable phrases of the gospel.
1) For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry.
2) The mocking contrasted with the criminal’s – “remember me when you come into your kingdom”.
3) And Jesus’ words from the cross – “today, you will be with me in paradise.”
So, what what this sermon does is invite you to ponder three pictures or three phrases.
The sermon is somewhat pointillist. There is one theme, the absurdities in the Palm Sunday and Trial before Pilate sections of the Gospel according to Luke; and how those same absurdities play in our day. That choice of structure seemed fitting. Luke tells a story full of irony and absurd details. The modern world is the one that ceased making sense captured as the arts turned from form and beauty to abstraction and shock.
But of course the over-riding absurdity of the Palms and Passion is why did He do it? For a bunch of inconsequential dust. For creatures that strut about in stubborn defiance and invincible ignorance. Christ took to the cross to redeem all the absurdity. To redeem our absurdity.
And to compound it, he left us as His ambassadors. He gave us a roll to play. The only question is if we know the things that make for peace.