30 November 2010

The Second Sunday in Advent - 5 December 2010


Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Saint Matthew 3:1-12

      














BACKGROUND

Isaiah and Advent – In this cycle of the Lectionary, Year A, the readings from the Hebrew Scriptures are exclusively from Isaiah.  Indeed, in the readings for today, the Second Sunday in Advent, both the Epistle and the Gospel readings feature quotes from the first of the Isaiahs.  Of all the prophets, this is the prophet most likely to be quoted by everyday people.  His work was so appropriate to the time, and so attractive to early Christians, even to Jesus, who reads from his prophecies in the Synagogue at Nazareth.  Like Jesus, Isaiah appears at a kairos, a crossroads, if you will, in time.  Isaiah looked forward to a kingdom that would be marked by God’s presence with not only his chosen people, but with all the peoples of the world.  His kingdom vision of deserts blooming, and wisdom and justice; of peace between races and species, this vision holds a kinship with the Kingdom of God that Jesus announced.  Isaiah looked forward to a kingship that was full of justice and righteousness, one that was faithful to the God of Israel, and finally a kingdom of mercy to all.  His messianic vision is fulfilled in the Christian mind in the ministry and work of Jesus.  So these Advent readings root us in an ancient and yet future hope.

First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

The Peaceable Kingdom, Edward Hicks

Whoever David actually was, his history and his promise left indelible marks on the kingdom that he ruled.  Isaiah is no stranger to this legacy, and in this reading imagines what ideal kingship (flowing from the tradition and story of David) would look like.  His vision sees three strong themes, each of which Isaiah elaborates on.  The king must have wisdom, resolution, and piety – not only trademarks, but visible and cultural signs of his rule.  So integral is this vision of the ideal king, that Isaiah sees all of creation marked by its signs: wolves living with lambs, young children leading lions and calves.  This is an ubiquitous vision of what Isaiah felt must be.  In his thought, the Kingdom of Judah was to be a sign to all of the world about what might be possible, when governance is guided by God. 

Breaking open Isaiah 11:1-10

1.     Isaiah sees something new coming out of something old.  What are your hopes that spring from parts of your life that you have given up?
2.     What kind of knowledge and understanding – righteousness and mercy have you seen in your life?
3.     Read the last lines of the Isaiah reading and then answer: what are the signs of a great nation?

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 Deus judicium

Give the King your justice, O God, *
and your righteousness to the King's Son;

That he may rule your people righteously *
and the poor with justice;

That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
and the little hills bring righteousness.

He shall defend the needy among the people; *
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
from one generation to another.

He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
like showers that water the earth.

In his time shall the righteous flourish; *
there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.

Blessed be the Lord GOD, the God of Israel, *
who alone does wondrous deeds!

And blessed be his glorious Name for ever! *
and may all the earth be filled with his glory.
Amen. Amen.


A superscription assigns this psalm to Solomon, but that seems unlikely in that the psalm is an intercession for the king.  Later Jewish commentators felt that this was a psalm about the messiah, which seems to flow from the themes of justice, and righteousness lifted up in the early verses of the psalm.  Whatever its provenance, it certainly has a kinship with the thoughts of Isaiah in the first reading.  Whether Isaiah was inspired by these verses, or visa versa is not important.  What is important are the hopes for righteous rule in Israel, which hopes are assigned to the messiah. 

King David at the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela 
Breaking open Psalm 72:
1.       In your mind, what are the qualities of an ideal ruler?
2.       Do these qualities find themselves in the way your rule in your family or in your work?
3.       What does it mean to be righteous?

Romans 15:4-13

Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

"Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
 and sing praises to your name";

and again he says,

"Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people";

and again,

"Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
 and let all the peoples praise him";

and again Isaiah says,

"The root of Jesse shall come,
 the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; 
in him the Gentiles shall hope."

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.



Paul is attempting to build a gracious and tolerant community – a community that respects the faith of the Gentiles that are drawn to the Gospel, and equally respects the traditions of the Jews upon which Christian theological thought is based.  It is all useful, according to Paul, and the conversation that surrounds the discussion of these traditions is a bridge between Gentile and Jew.  Paul, a lover of lists, lists quotes from the Psalms (18) (117), Deuteronomy (32), and Isaiah (11).  These form a chain of hope for Paul – and this is his theme in this reading.  Christ is the hope for not only the Jew, but the Gentile as well.  This hope is abetted by the Holy Spirit breathing life into a new creation.  Paul’s thoughts form a perfect Advent exhortation.

Breaking open Romans:

1.     What does hope mean to you?
2.     For what do you hope?
3.     For what should this parish hope?
4.     For what should our nation hope?

Saint Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
 `Prepare the way of the Lord,
 make his paths straight.'"

Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
"I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

St. John the Baptist
Matthew reports as if his readers/hearers were on the scene, in the present.  We are introduced to the nazirite (an ascetic, one consecrated or separated from society) John the Baptist.  The Gospels of Luke and John will wrestle with John the Baptist and his role in the Christian Narrative.  Matthew, however, has no such problems.  He wants his readers to hear John’s message – a precursor to the message that Jesus will bring, and the kingdom of heaven that Jesus will proclaim.  In prophetic style, John announces a series of woes that flow from his own message of repentance into the ministry of Jesus who will act as a messianic judge.  In the Advent lectionary, we focus on John twice in the readings.  They give us an opportunity to look at the problems that Jesus hopes to address, and the full scope of religiosity at the time.  John takes on the role and literally the garments of the ancient prophets.  Jesus will be something entirely different.  John poses the conundrum, Jesus resolves it.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What is the “good fruit” that John the Baptist is speaking of?
  2. What does he mean when he says that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire?
  3. How have you been baptized with fire?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

24 November 2010

The First Sunday in Advent - 28 November 2010


Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Saint Mathew 24:36-44

                                                                                       











BACKGROUND
Advent -  originly a much longer period of preparation and devotion preceding the Feast of the Nativity, is not preparation for Christmas, despite a popular understanding that it is.  Looking at the lessons in the lectionary for the last Sundays of the church year, and the first two weeks in Advent, we see am emphasis on the End Time, and an anticipation of the Second Coming of Jesus.  Before the reforms to the liturgy in the mid 20th Century, the season was seen as penitential, much like Lent.  Such an emphasis was softened in the new lectionaries that were products of the Second Vatican Council.  In some churches, the color blue is used rather than purple, and the themes are more upbeat, a reflection of popular preparations for Christmas.  None-the-less, there is still this anticipation of Christ coming again, and the ancient Christian prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.”  With these words of prayer, the new Church Year begins, hoping to see once again, the Lord Jesus.

Isaiah 2:1-5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come 
the mountain of the LORD's house 
shall be established as the highest of the mountains, 
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
 "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, 
to the house of the God of Jacob;
 that he may teach us his ways
 and that we may walk in his paths. "
For out of Zion shal l go forth instruction,
 and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
 He shall judge between the nations,
 and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
 and their spears into pruning hooks;
 nation shall not lift up sword against nation, 
neither shall they learn war any more.
 O house of Jacob,
 come, let us walk
 in the light of the LORD!

Isaiah, the Prophet
The first of the Isaiahs introduces us to the notion of the Messianic Age, although it is not only he who does so.  The text seems to either be the source of or a reflection of Micah 4:1-3.  A third possibility is that both prophets borrowed a liturgical text which they used to introduce their ideas.  Here, Isaiah sets a stage for a series of sermons he will present on the situation in Judea.  The images are stunning – Jerusalem, the mountain city, to which all of the nations flow, waiting to hear the teaching of Yahweh.  The messianic character of this vision is underscored by the “swords to plowshares” and the judgment that brings justice among nations.  In this way, Isaiah prepares us for the Advent vision of a Christ who comes to bring justice and mercy to a weary and worried world.

Breaking open Isaiah
  1. Is Jerusalem a symbol of peace to you?  Why not?
  2. What do you think of Isaiah’s notion of Jerusalem as a center of peace and justice?
  3. What role do you have as a peace-maker in the world?  What role should the church have?

Psalm 122  Laetatus sum

I was glad when they said to me, *
"Let us go to the house of the LORD."

Now our feet are standing *
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is built as a city *
that is at unity with itself;

To which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD, *
the assembly of Israel,
to praise the Name of the LORD.

For there are the thrones of judgment, *
the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: *
"May they prosper who love you.

Peace be within your walls *
and quietness within your towers.

For my brethren and companions' sake, *
I pray for your prosperity.

Because of the house of the LORD our God, *
I will seek to do you good."



Almost on cue, this psalm of ascents follows upon Isaiah’s paean to Jerusalem.  The underlying theme is one of pilgrimage, as the people of Israel moved from the lower plains up to the City of Zion, high on the central ridge of mountains that runs down the Levant.  The ascent was accompanied by hymns, and several of the psalms are candidates for such rejoicing.  The psalm not only celebrates the city itself, but the kingship and justice that emanate from there.  It sets up a model for the messianic era that later prophets will write and about, and the model of Davidic kingship that will be applied to Jesus as well.  As such, it is a psalm full of promise and thoroughly appropriate for this first Sunday in Advent.

Breaking open Psalm 122
1.     In what ways is your life a journey or pilgrimage?
2.     How does your religious life bring you peace?
3.     Where do you go to find God’s peace?

Romans 13:11-14

You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.



All of the readings for this Sunday are in an alignment, noting the passage of time and people, and the coming of a new age.  For Paul the images of night and day, wakefulness and sleeping.  The very movement of time is important for Paul as he and all of the churches he founded await the second coming of the Christ.  Therefore his admonition to the people for watchfulness, and righteousness is not only appropriate, but necessary.  The night and sleepiness are over, and the day is dawning.  “Salvation is nearer!”, he says.  Such is the Advent attitude.

Breaking open Romans:
  1. What does a new day mean to you?  What are your concerns when you wake up in the morning?
  2. What do you think of when you hear Paul’s term “the works of darkness”?  Why?
  3. What does it mean to “live in the light”?

Saint Matthew 24:36-44

Jesus said to the disciples, "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."



During this liturgical year, our attentions turn to the Gospel of Matthew.  Jesus’ words of watchfulness and anticipation are not only appropriate to the season, but fit into Matthew’s worldview and the context of his time.  One can imagine that the Roman conquest and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD left an indelible mark on Matthew’s countrymen and readers.  The words of urgency and alarm would be familiar.  Even more telling than the evocation of Noah and his story is the notion of people at their normal everyday tasks suddenly being removed from the normal realm of things.  That Christ should come soon, thus requiring a sense of immediacy, if not anxiety, was the expectation of this time.  These Sundays of Advent, however, have a different message – that we should learn to patiently wait.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How do you feel about Matthew’s sense of immediacy?
  2. What does he mean when he talks about one “being taken”, and one “being left”?
  3. How do you make ready for Christmas, for the remainder of your life, for your end?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

16 November 2010

The Feast of Christ the King - 21 November 2010


Jeremiah 23:1-6
The Benedictus
Colossians 1:11-20
Saint Luke 23:33-43

Christus Rex




















BACKGROUND
The Feast of Christ the King is a newcomer to the Liturgical Year, not only in the Episcopal and Lutheran Churches, but in the Roman Church as well.  Formerly it was celebrated on either the last Sunday in October, or on 31 October.  Some say that this was to counter the celebration of the Reformation by Lutherans on that same day.  More likely, however, was its promulgation by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quas primas, published in 1925.  It was most likely intended to serve as a foil to the fascist policies and government of Benito Mussolini.  The feast was moved, following Vatican II, to the last Sunday of the church year – the Sunday immediately prior to The First Sunday in Advent.  The intention is to emphasize the spiritual nature of Christ’s kingship, and to underscore its non-violent nature (a theme that ought to be vigorously discussed by the Churches, in concert with other faith traditions). 

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD.

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness."


The prophet Jeremiah

This reading follows a series of oracles on the Judean kings, in which Jeremiah has harsh words for their stewardship of kingdom and people.  The last king of the chronological list should have been Zedekiah, but Jeremiah moves on to talk of a messianic king – one who would understand the divine mandate of kingship.  The “shepherds” that Jeremiah mentions are these very kings who have not done right by the people under their rule.  In these reading we are introduced to an idea shared with Isaiah and others, the notion of the remnant who remain faithful to God.  It is to this small band that the prophet promises a kingship that is based on justice and righteousness.  To that end, Jeremiah looks forward to a new Davidic king, a sprout on a tree that has been hewn down.  Out of the old, comes something new and vibrant.

Breaking open Jeremiah
1.    What would Jeremiah have to say about our government and our society?
  1. How would Christians and Churches be treated by this prophet?
  2. What “righteous branches” do you see in our time?

Canticle 16, Luke 1:68-79 Benedictus Dominus Deus

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old,
that he would save us from our enemies, *
from the hands of all who hate us.
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.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.
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.

The prophet-priest Zechariah


Like other of Luke’s canticles, which are scattered throughout his Birth Narrative – the Magnificat (the Song of Mary) and the Nunc Dimittis (the Song of Simeon) – this canticle, the Benedictus, sung by the father of John the Baptist, Zechariah, is modeled on examples from the Hebrew Scriptures.  It seems likely that the first stanza of this hymn was distinctly Jewish, and may have been augmented by the followers of John the Baptist before inclusion in Luke’s narrative.  In every respect, the initial verses elaborate on the themes that Jeremiah announced in the first reading.  On that basis, the hymn then concentrates on “the child”, John the Baptist, who as a nazirite (a person dedicated to the service of God) may have been formed in the Essene Community at Qumran out in the Judean wilderness.  Christian interpretation of this hymn sees the “child” as the forerunner – the announcer of the Christ – “The dawn from on high shall break upon us.”  The song is full of messianic promises of justice and righteousness which fit in nicely with Luke’s evangelical program.

Breaking open Psalm 32
1.     What promises did God make to Abraham and Sarah?
2.     How is this canticle similar to the Song of Mary, (Luke 1:46-56)?
3.     Reading through the Canticle, what hopes or expectations does it indicate to you?

Colossians 1:11-20

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-- all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

In this letter to the Colossians, Paul seems to enter a new phase of his theology.  No longer is there an imminent expectation of Christ’s coming again, but rather an intentional waiting, “enduring with patience”.  Its inclusion here, on this day and with these other readings, seems to stem from the comments on the “kingdom of his beloved Son.”  Here, in a very oriental list of titles, powers, and distinctions, Paul ornaments the life of Jesus with messianic expectations and evident realities.  Jesus is seen as present at creation, head of the Church, first-born from the dead, the fullness of God.  Such a list of dignities is not unique to Paul, who may have styled his writing on the dignities assigned to the personification of Wisdom.  The Eastern Church understood this parallelism when dedicating churches to ‘Agia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) seeing a relationship of Wisdom to the Word-made-flesh, Jesus.  However, these distinctions may not be Pauline at all, but rather a quotation of a liturgical hymn, dedicated to Christ.  It is clear why the framers of the lectionary chose this reading for this day.

Breaking open Colossians:
  1. What adjectives do you use when describing Jesus?
  2. What do you think of Paul’s choices?
  3. How is Jesus “Wisdom” to you?

Crucifixion from the Isenheim altarpiece
M. Grünewald

Saint Luke 23:33-43

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. The people stood by, watching Jesus on the cross; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

When the lectionary was revised, following the model of the Roman lectionary in the reforms from Vatican II, the Episcopal and Lutheran churches, along with others, quickly adapted the three-year model.  I remember being stunned as I read the Gospel for the Feast of Christ the King, in year C.  Unlike the Christ in Judgment in Matthew (Year A), and the almost pensive and yet challenging Jesus discussing kingship with Pilate in John (Year B), this Christ rules from the throne of the Cross.  This is a king, using a Pauline idea, who strength is made perfect in weakness, as he meets the sharp comments of his tormentors, and the ones who are being punished with him.  From this throne, Jesus delivers mercy and true justice.  Even at the last hour of his visitation with us, and at the last moments of the “other thief”, Jesus promises paradise.  Would that all kings, presidents, and dictators were of such a mercy.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Do you have a crucifix in your house?
  2. What do you think of when you see one?
  3. How does Christ rule from the cross?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.