It sounds so regal, doesn't it? So triumphant. "Christ the King." There is an unmistakable emphasis on power in this name, and I can't help thinking, at least sometimes -- shouldn't we have a good resurrection story today? One where the tomb is empty and the angels are outside and they are frightening the women with their strange appearance and stranger words. "Who are you looking for? Whom are you seeking?" And it is clear that Jesus is not in the tomb -- because he is risen. Christ the king. The power of his resurrection which brings all of us to life.
But the mysterious people who put together our lectionary -- that is the readings appointed for every weekend of the year -- they never do that. Not even once. They never give us a good resurrection story. Instead, sometimes we hear the story about the King who divides the sheep and the goats, and who is found in the least and the little and the last. Or sometimes we hear the story of Jesus before Pilate -- and Pilate is saying to Jesus "Don't you know that I have the power to crucify you or to let you go free?" or sometimes we hear the story of Jesus on the cross, between two thieves. Christ the King.
It is the end of the church year -- the beginning of another. Next weekend it will be December and children will begin opening the doors on advent calendars and wondering what is inside each one. We will begin lighting Advent wreaths and those of us who haven't already begun Christmas shopping -- well, we'll be acutely aware that we must begin NOW, or soon. And "Christ is King." That's what we say. But what do we mean?
I can't help thinking that something is missing. Maybe it's a good resurrection story. Maybe that's what it is. Maybe it's a story that makes us know, be certain, that everything will turn out all right. Jesus has risen, and the dead will rise, and Christ is king. Is that what is missing? What do you think?
Instead, here is Jesus, on the cross. Between two thieves. There is nothing in this scene that would indicate that Jesus is a king -- nothing that would make us certain. There are so many missing pieces. And there are these two thieves. One of them taunts Jesus, but the other one says, "Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom." And if you think about it -- why would he say this? How would he ever think that this man hanging next to him has a kingdom? What moment of insight did he have? This conversation is such a mystery that people have written stories to try to explain it -- some that he and Jesus had known each other long ago, and the thief had gone on to a life of crime. But Jesus went on to be a healer and a prophet. Others speculate that this man had encountered Jesus somewhere in his ministry. Whatever. We want to fill in the missing pieces.
Something is missing, that is sure. Whatever it is, the thief turns to Jesus and says, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." Somehow, whatever is missing, he knows -- that Jesus is a king, and that it is possible, perhaps, that he might even have a place there.
But that is our life, isn't it? There are missing pieces, and there is missing peace. It was true fifty years ago, when a nation grieved the violent death of its president. And it is true today. There are missing pieces in our lives, some small and sharp, some deep and hollow. There is something missing.
And into the middle of those pieces, we proclaim, we say that "Christ is king." That the one on the cross, offering forgiveness to tormenters, offering paradise to thieves, is the one true ruler of the world. Who knows how we know?
So on Christ the King Sunday, we share God's peace with one another, and we live with the pieces, sharing them too. They are pieces of bread. They are pieces of our lives. They are pieces of our hopes.
And we follow the King, the one on the cross, the one who remembers us, the crucified one, who lives.