The Feast of Christ the King, Proper 29, 24 November 2019

Track One:
Jeremiah 23:1-16
Canticle 16

Track Two:
Jeremiah 12:1-6
Psalm 46

Colossians 1:11-20
Saint Luke 23:33-43

Background: Enthronement

In looking at Luke’s enthronement of Christ the King upon the throne of the cross, I thought we might look at ancient ceremonies of enthronement throughout the ancient near east. The most elaborate seem to be those of ancient Egypt, where the Pharaoh was deemed divine. The Egyptian ceremonial all centered around the new Pharaoh taking on the royal ka (life force) of those who had preceded him, thus making for a continuity of rule and leadership. In Persia, there was a similar ceremony, at least in intent. The king would enter the temple of a war goddess, and there take off his robes and put on the robes of Cyrus I – thus taking on his persona. The Mesopotamian kings also enjoyed something of a divine aspect, especially at the New Year ceremony in which kingship literally mated with the goddess Ishtar. The Hebrews came to monarchy later in their history. In II Kings 11:12 we have the account of the seven-year old King Jehoash who is crowned at the doorway of the Temple. 

Of importance in the symbolism of coronation and enthronement is the throne itself, a seat upon which the monarch sat and dispensed judgement and justice. Thrones are mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, such as the description of the Throne of Solomon in I Kings 10:18-20. The throne of God was the Ark of the Covenant with its “mercy seat” placed between the two cherubim. In the levant there were other thrones upon which the ba’alim sat, most notably a bull upon which the god stood. This has led some commentators to rethink the purpose and intent of the golden bull in Exodus. Perhaps it was not an idol but a throne for God.

Track One:

First Reading: 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."

In the chapters leading up to our reading for today, Jeremiah has his say about the inadequacy of monarchy. That theme continues in the first verses of our reading and then leads on to promise. The shepherd who are derided in verse one, “Woe to the shepherd who destroy and scatter,” are the kings of Judah, and the sheep are the people of Judah. That they have been scattered in exile is a result not only of their own behavior, but of the poor leadership that the elites, especially the monarchy have practiced. What follows this indictment is a series of three promises. The first promise, 23:2b-4, is that God will return to the direct rule of the people. God will “unscatter” the people, reversing what the former kings have done. God will gather them again and will attend to them. The central image here is of sheep (the people) and the Shepherd (God), seen in the image of the Davidic kings, David himself the shepherd. 

The second promise is that of raising up for David a righteous branch. What we hear here is a faithfulness to the covenant made with David. Jeremiah looks into the future to see what a king of David’s line might look like, given the circumstances of the current situation. There is a need for justice and righteousness in the land, and thus this new hope is known as “The Lord is our righteousness”, returning to the former promise of God’s intervention and rule. 

The third promise (23:7-8) is not a part of our reading today, however, you might want to look at it to get a more complete picture of Jeremiah’s hope. Here the exodus from Egypt is superseded by the “bringing out” of the people from lands in which they were exiled. Thus the notion of salvation history is expanded to include the present time, and the salvation that God offers.

Breaking open Jeremiah:
1.            How faithful to God are the leaders of your nation?
2.            What could be done better?
3.            How might you be a part of reform?

The Response: Canticle 16
The Song of Zechariah    Benedictus Dominus Deus Luke 1: 68-79

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.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

We have already met Luke’s proclivity for song with the Magnificat, Mary’s song sung to Elizabeth at the Visitation. Now it is John the Baptist’s father who breaks into song with the Benedictus. In the reading from Jeremiah, the last promise was an extension of salvation history to the present. Zechariah does something similar in tying the birth of Jesus to the kingship of David – “He has raised up for us a mighty savior, born of the house of his servant David.” This song has the aspects of a prophetic saying, for the initial verse notes that Zechariah has been filled with the Holy Spirit. In this song of praise, the God of Israel – the One who blesses – is now blessed. There are three aspects to the song: visitation (note the reference to Abraham), redemption (set free from the hands of our enemies), and salvation (to give people knowledge of salvation). This is the completion of the ancient promise made to Abraham and Sarah and their descendants.

Breaking open Canticle 16:
1.        How has God visited you?
2.        How have you been redeemed at points in your life?
3.        What does “salvation” mean to you?

Track Two:

First Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6
See above.

Psalm 46 Deus noster refugium

     God is our refuge and strength, *
a very present help in trouble.
     Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, *
and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea;
     Though its waters rage and foam, *
and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.
     The Lord of hosts is with us; *
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
     There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, *
the holy habitation of the Most High.
     God is in the midst of her;
she shall not be overthrown; *
God shall help her at the break of day.
     The nations make much ado, and the kingdoms are shaken; *
God has spoken, and the earth shall melt away.
     The Lord of hosts is with us; *
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
     Come now and look upon the works of the Lord, *
what awesome things he has done on earth.
10    It is he who makes war to cease in all the world; *
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,
and burns the shields with fire.
11    "Be still, then, and know that I am God; *
I will be exalted among the nations;
I will be exalted in the earth."
12    The Lord of hosts is with us; *
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

This is a psalm for all the people rejoicing in a victory over an unnamed enemy. This notion of God and the collective will appear at several points in the psalm – “God is our refuge and strength.” Perhaps this is a psalm for our time as well as it notes “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be move.” Even in the midst of difficult times when the earth itself seems to be coming apart, God is with us. The difficulty of the times is symbolized in various ways – mountains toppling, waters raging and foaming (perhaps a reference to the primeval battle of God and chaos). 

Water, which usually symbolizes death in Hebrew, now becomes a symbol of salvation and happiness, the stream which makes glad the city of God. Interestingly, the name for God, here translated as the Most High, is Elyon, the use of a Canaanite god’s name as a name for the God of Israel. As the depictions of trouble end, we have a refrain at verse 8, “The Lord of hosts is with us…”. That presence is seen in YHWH’s works: peace and end of war. The noise of war gives way to a silence, “Be still then, and know.” The one who is lifted up above the fray is the God exalted among the nations.

Breaking open Psalm 46:
1.        What was your last victory in life?
2.        Who helped you in your victory?
3.        How have you given others success?

Second Reading: 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.

Our reading is composed of two parts, A Prayer for Knowledge and Wisdom (1:9-14) and a description of Christ as King and Redeemer (1:15-20). Paul prays for the Colossians and hopes that they will be filled with knowledge and wisdom so as to be able to live a worthy life in Christ. Paul notes a theme of “light” here, seeing the Colossians as being rescued from darkness. The idea is that the Colossians are members of a new community, kingdom, and family. It is a kingdom of light and awareness – full of the knowledge of Jesus.

Paul takes that theme and describes to the Colossians the head of the kingdom of light. “He is the image of the invisible God.” What an amazing statement and paradox. It sets up for us the mystical identities of the one who has saved us. Like John, Paul attributes to Jesus a role in creation, “He himself is before all things.” Jesus is seen as the entity that holds all things together. All things are reconciled to God through him. There is kingship here – a sovereignty that is born borne “by making peace through the blood of his cross.”

Breaking open Colossians:
  1. What knowledge and wisdom has God imparted to you?
  2. What does “Kingdom of Light” mean to you?
  3. How have you been light for others?

The Gospel: St. 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."

This lifting up of Jesus, his exaltation upon the tree of the cross, takes place in the midst of so much adversity. The company of criminals, his nakedness, the scoffing of the crowds, the derision of the soldiers, this is the context of salvation. We see it in Jesus’ response to the criminal who acknowledges his estate. The first sign of the redemption that the cross brings is in Jesus promise of paradise to the one who has deserved nothing. What is promised is community with Christ – “today you will be with me.” This is the kingship that Christ offers, one born in humility and selflessness. As we end the Church’s year, we look at this and wonder how we will follow him in the coming year. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.        How is the cross a throne?
2.        What are the reversals from a coronation in Luke’s crucifixion scene?
3.        How does glory shine in your adversities?

General Idea:              On being a shepherd

First Example:            Taking God’s example (First Reading, and Psalm 46)

Second Example:       Seeing God’s presence as a shepherd in history (Benedictus)
Third Example:          Enabling others in their life in Christ (Second Reading)
Fourth Example:        Extending God’s mercy in the midst of adversity (Gospel)

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hille


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