This is the last Sunday of the Church Year!
Ordinary time gives way to Advent, but for one week we offer a prophetic salute to Christ’s reign: no plea, no mere hope or prediction, but rather a celebration that God certainly will sweep away the old.
The days are surely coming, and they will be proclaimed: a new dominion of just, righteous days; a rescue from oppressive powers; light erasing death’s shadow, even in the bitter plight of one unjustly executed and sarcastically taunted as “king.”
As usual, before we begin the next cycle of seasons beginning with Advent’s vision of God’s glorious future, we end the year by remembering the sovereignty of the One who makes that future possible – Jesus Christ, God’s righteous Monarch.
But the Reign of Christ must never be viewed through the lens of human empires.
The throne of Christ is unlike that of any human ruler, and the values of Christ’s Reign are completely different from those of our human societies.
This week we end the year by placing our lives firmly under the authority of Jesus again.
This raises two fundamental questions for us.
The first is whether we will really place our lives under the authority of Jesus?
It’s easy to call Jesus “Lord”, but to really live as a disciple means our lives must reflect the same values, attitudes, and behaviours that Jesus’ did. Only then are we really living with Christ as our authority.
The second question is to understand what Christ’s authority looks like.
Unlike our world, where authority means dominance or greater control over others, the authority of Jesus is about serving others, collaborating with others and setting others free.
In Luke’s version of the crucifixion story, we see an intriguing contrast in the way different people respond to Jesus’ death. On the one hand there are women, religious leaders, soldiers and criminals who mock Jesus and view his death as God’s curse.
This comes through clearly in today’s reading. But, on the other hand, we see all these same groups – women, religious leaders, soldiers and criminals – recognising God’s hand in Jesus’ death and turning to Jesus for hope and salvation even as he died. In today’s reading we see this in the thief who repent.
This shows us that it doesn’t matter who we are, or what our station is in life – we all have the opportunity to come under the Reign of Christ or to choose to reject his invitation.
It seems strange to focus on the cross when speaking of the Reign of Christ, but this is the way the Gospels do it. The cross is the primary way that God’s Reign is revealed in our world, and so, even though they were mocking him, Jesus’ detractors were right when they called him king. But the cross reveals that God’s Reign is very different from human power games. Instead of revenge, Jesus speaks forgiveness. Instead of rebuking the repentant criminal because of his past, Jesus welcomes him. And instead of anger at his suffering, Jesus dies with dignity, humility, grace and love – even toward his enemies.
Ultimately, we must all choose which realm we will live in – God’s Reign or the empires of humanity. Which realm do you choose?
At it’s most basic, the reign of God is manifest when those who, like the thief on the cross, recognise their brokenness and need to change, open themselves to the influence of Christ, and invite God to be the frame of reference for their lives.
This does not just apply to those without faith, or those who have not made a conscious decision to follow Christ.
It is a daily choice that must be made by all – especially those who are committed to the way of Christ. God’s reign will only be seen – Jesus will only be recognised as King – when we who are called by Christ’s name begin to live as true disciples, true followers of the sacrificial, life-giving Gospel.
This requires two simple, but difficult, tasks to be undertaken.
The first is to examine ourselves and our lives in the light of Christ’s teaching and example, allowing God’s Spirit to reveal where we still need to come under the rulership – the Lordship – of Christ.
This must then lead us into a life of repentance and change which allows Christ’s character to be revealed in us a little more each day.
If our faith doesn’t change us, then we’re wasting our – and God’s – time.
The second task is to allow the change which God’s reign brings to us to filter through everything we think and say and do.
Every interaction, every decision, every moment and every place we find ourselves in must be submitted to the influence of Christ and must be received as an opportunity to experience God’s reign in our lives, and to share the blessing of God’s reign with others.
This is not about evangelism in the “tell them about Jesus” sense. It’s about turning our faith into a life-transforming practice, rather than just an intellectual assent to some ideas about God.
Ultimately, for Christ to truly be Monarch in our world, Christ must be Monarch in individual lives in such a way that God’s peace and justice, God’s love and grace, constantly flow through God’s people into the world – one moment, one interaction and one step at a time.
Do: It is easy to use mockery and cynicism to protect ourselves from the influence of God’s Reign – and many people do. But, if we want to live as true citizens of God’s Reign, we will need to appreciate and value the alternative way of living that Jesus teaches. This appreciation is best expressed in praise – like the penitent thief.
Today, constantly submit yourself to Christ’s Reign through the practice of praise.
Pray: I praise you, Jesus, for your Reign which welcomes and saves me and all people