On this Sunday, we are time warped, as Christians, back to scene we would rather forget: Jesus on the Cross, abandoned and broken. The last place we want to imagine Christ the King. And yet, his last conversation with another human being, stripped of the context of Holy Week and Good Friday, carries a special resonance. For us and for this man, the final act of Jesus will always be this: forgiveness.
We will get back to that.
But Jesus had other many other lessons to teach. In fact, as we come to the last day of the church year, and look ahead to the season of Advent to come, with all its bling and pressures, we would do well to remember them.
Consider this then, the Gospel’s self help guide to surviving the season ahead: seven lessons we all know Jesus would want us to remember this advent.
The first, Find strength in your friends, your community, and your family. Jesus was a master at friendship. He managed to lure the disciples into giving up everything to basically hang out with him. He protected his friends when it was within his power, he sought their advice, and he offered his own. He understood that more than possessions, more than power, the people he chose to surround him, would be the real treasure, if the gospel was meant to carry on.
Be true to yourself: Friendships comes with certain contracts, an exchange of time and treasure. Sometimes, it leads us to try to keep up, or to make choices, that go against what we feel ourselves. Jesus valued friendship, but he held to his own idea of what was right and wrong. He spoke the truth in ways that sometimes made the disciples uncomfortable. He hushed them when they fussed about the feeding of the 5,000. When Peter tried to dissuade him from his path, he had none of it. He could do that because he knew himself.
Find your quiet spot to listen loudly: You know one of my favourite stories of Jesus is his conversations with the devil in the dessert. I like to imagine the devil, probably a little Al Pacino like, with all the dramatic flourishes. But really, this was a conversation that Jesus was having with himself: What did he want? How far would he go? Would he stand strong for what he believed against all temptation? This needed to happen when Jesus had the silence to hear his own voice, when he was away from all the hubbub that followed his ministry. Jesus demonstrated a practice of mindfulness as intentional periods of quiet that can bolster us against temptation, against distraction, and against false prophets. We won’t go to the desert for 40 days, but we can do the same.
Remember to listen softly: The lessons of the gospel come from unexpected people and unexpected places, as Jesus was constantly reminding us. His parable of the Good Samaritan taught us one of the most important lessons about power and neglect in the Bible. When he conversed with the woman at the well, we learned that when our minds are open, someone else’s wisdom can make our ideas larger. Even Martha, worrying about being forgotten in the kitchen, reminded us to take the perspective of another to see the full story. The world is noisy, Jesus was saying. It takes nothing to hear the people shouting the loudest in the public square. The skill is listening softly for the quiet voices.
Be loud when it counts: The story of Jesus trashing the temple, in a rage against the tax collectors, goes against everything we understood about him, as a rational, calm, teacher. Trashing the temple, on the surface, is an irrational deed – for what does it achieve? Surely the temple will just be restored and tax collectors will carry on. But Jesus was perhaps not intended for them. Rather, it must have made an impact on his followers, as a unifying act of open resistance. I believe Jesus is making the point that there are times when, even if the results are uncertain, when it is important to stand up, to resist. To let those who have less power than us know that we have their back, that we see them and support them. Sometimes, when it counts, we must be loud.
When you might otherwise be churlish, be charitable. Time and again, Jesus offered us parables where we had every right to be outraged: the prodigal son who comes home after throwing away his fortune, is the best one of these. The sheep who wanders stupidly off from the flock. Those people, in a more human story, should be cut loose, sent packing. At the very least, we might say: they should get what they deserve. Jesus, as it happens, says the same. What the returning son deserves, is a party. What the lost sheep deserves is the shepherd to go on a long search. What they deserve is our charity. Jesus is a master at this: fanning us into outrage, only to call us out to be charitable. And indeed, if we look deeply at the times we have truly felt outrage, we can usually find a way to charity, with a little effort.
Forgive. At the very last, forgive. In the season ahead, we will all spend time with family and friends, some we love and some who really irritate us: go easy on them. We all carry grievances and slights that chafe at us, and some of them are very real: work hard to let them go. We all know people who may look unforgivable; try your very best, to forgive. On that cross, for his very last hours alive on earth, Jesus enters into a conversation with the man beside him. A man who admits that he deserve to be on the cross, for whatever crime he has committed. And yet Jesus does not reject him. He accepts him, and he forgives him. Ultimately, this final act is the one that truly counts. Jesus forgives him, as each us are forgiven. As each of us would want to be forgiven.
So there, seven lessons on Christ the King Sunday to carry us all for the seven days to advent and beyond. Find strength in your community, but remain true to yourself. Find your quiet spot to listen loudly, and remember in the noise of life, to listen softly. Be loud when it matters. When you might be churlish, choose charity. And in the end, if you can, try to forgive. You will be lighter for it. Even on days that feel more like Good Friday, and less like Christmas.
Christ the King Sunday isn’t about celebrating Jesus at a distance. It means remembering that he walked among us, that he was human and divine, a King but also a carpenter. To honour him, we must bring his lessons alive. We must be the lived experience of the gospel.