Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Luke’s Gospel passage is set at the place called "The Skull”: it is the crucifixion of Jesus.
Jesus has been preparing the disciples (and us) for months; yet this event feels much too soon. It is shocking. We’re not ready. We desperately want to look away from the brutal execution.
(As adults we may have even become inured to it as we live with hindsight and the knowledge of the resurrection.) But if we are willing to look closely, the crucifixion is where we see the cruel violence of the World conquered by compassion and forgiveness.
We even speak of the tenderness and mercy of Christ in connection with this horrific event. How can this be?
On Wednesdays our study group has delved into the writings of Julian of Norwich, a nun who spent her life exploring this very question.
Julian lived during the plague of fourteenth Century England, and is thought to have been the first woman author published in the English language. Her writings are called The Showings.
When Julian was about thirty she had a near death experience. While she was close to death the priest came into her room and placed a crucifix in front of her face.
Julian had an intense experiential vision while gazing upon the crucifix, with several more visions to follow. She had what we call a "mystical experience.”
Surprisingly Julian did recover, and she spent the rest of her life contemplating, reflecting and writing about the meaning of the crucifixion.
Julian does not look away from the blood, the pain, and the suffering of Jesus. Actually, it is a deep dive into the gruesomeness of the crucifixion. While at the same time, her interpretation of these visions upon the cross are pregnant with the knowledge of Jesus’ love. Jesus’ love, faithfulness, companionship, forgiveness, tenderness and mercy. It flows unceasingly for us. The font of every blessing.
As we recited in the Canticle this morning:
In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, * and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Jesus is broken open not only by human violence, but also through his heart given over completely to humanity. It is that break that allows new light to shine upon our very human predicament with tender compassion.
If you are willing to look closely at the crucifixion, the dark forces of the World are not overcome solely by Easter Morning. They are overcome by and with the cross, where the intersection of humanity and divinity is fully revealed. Jesus empties himself completely and joins us in our humanity.
The cross reaches both vertically and horizontally to bring heaven and earth into a shared point and purpose. Although I do not think of heaven as being in the sky, The Cross as intersection of humanity and divinity is central to our concept of who Jesus is and why he came for us.
We are not to feel guilty because Jesus died for us. It is unfortunately the message that so many received growing up in a church of penance. That is the church of human tendency. Not the church of God’s tenderness.
We are affirmed by the very earliest of Christians, In the letter from Paul to the Colossians, that we are “rescued through Jesus who reconciles us to himself and forgives us of all of our sins.”
Jesus empties himself upon the cross and offers forgiveness to the crowd and to the soldiers:“Father, Forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
Christ's voice still rings out today in the violence we perpetuate against one another, both globally and at home.
The mission of the church as our catechism states, is
“to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice,
peace, and love.” That’s who we are. That’s what we do.
The prophet Jeremiah also speaks of this reign of justice and righteousness; Against shepherds gone awry, against those who have scattered the flock.
Another helpful way to view this prophetic vision is that it helps define what is and what isn’t the reign of God.
We can therefore see the divisiveness and separation, the scattering occurring in our World has nothing to do with the true Kingdom.
The Reign of this Kingdom is about justice and righteousness and Peace. We may think of Power as in complete control. But another way to look at power is to have agency: The activity. Paul tells us, “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power.”
When we died with Christ through our Baptism our voices were meant to rise with his in a chorus of forgiveness and compassion. We believe in One Baptism for the forgiveness of sins. This one crucifixion & this one Baptism intersect on the Cross with forgiveness. We are made for this.
Forgiveness for ourselves and for others is the way into Peace. As difficult as it may feel when we have been hurt, forgiveness works to release us from the torment of those abuses, just as Jesus was released from the torment of the cross.
If we are willing to look closely at the crucifixion, we see the Resurrection is not a separate event. Together they are part of the fullness of his being.
And our ascension from where we "dwell in the shadow of darkness” is also part of God’s fullness. We are made for this.
We may not be able to change another’s behavior, just as Jesus did not change the behavior of the soldiers who nailed him to the cross, or the crowd that heckled him. But we can resist the temptation to further the cycle of trauma by forgiveness. Lead us not into temptation. forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Forgiveness is not about amnesia. It does not mean excusing the harm. It means release from the torment of grudges; release from our captivity to pain and anger and revenge.
The crucifixion is where we witness this release. This outpouring of love.
Baptism for our forgiveness from sins is a sacrament: We call sacraments an outward sign of inward Grace. The inward activity (agency) of that Grace involves loving. Loving ourselves and loving others.
We need to begin with loving and forgiving of self so that we can pour it out for others. Most of us struggle with loving ourselves. We want to turn away from what we feel ashamed of. We often were given the idea as children that we had to show only our perfect selves to God, so we hid the things about ourselves that didn’t feel perfect. We trained to hide from God because none of us is perfect.
In Julian’s writings, she reminds us that we are going to miss the mark. Often. And God loves us anyway. In Jesus we see that invisible God seeking after us always. Offering compassion to those thieves suffering with him: "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” You who have missed the mark. You who have sinned by your own admittance. You shall be with me in Paradise.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers *
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, *
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear, *
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
Christ’s Kingdom was revealed through Jesus’ healing ministry even unto death. He was healing those hanging beside him.
Christ's Kingdom was revealed in forgiveness poured out from the cross.
Christ’s Kingdom was revealed in Jesus’ humanity for humanity.
Like Julian of Norwich, and like Paul, perhaps if we are willing to look closely into the crucifixion, not for penance, but for strength….
We will see where it intersects with our lives and sets us free. Remembering it daily when we say:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.