Christ the King Sunday is a relatively new festival in the church calendar. It was begun in 1925 by decree of Pope Pius XI in response to the political forces and the rising tide of secularism that were sweeping the world in the aftermath of World War I. The Pope wanted to emphasize that for Christians, the ultimate king, the one to whom we turn for hope and guidance, is Jesus. Christ the King was originally a Roman Catholic tradition until 1970 when Pope Paul VI moved the festival to the last day of the church year and it was placed on the calendar associated with the Revised Common Lectionary, which many Christian churches share. That means that on most Sundays we hear the same lessons in Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Reformed and Methodist churches. It was at that time, in 1970, that many of the that use the RCL began to celebrate Christ the King. Here at Saint John confirmation has been held on Christ the King Sunday since 1982.
Our readings help us understand how Christ takes on the role of king, a title we normally associate with secular rulers. Our gospel is from the crucifixion scene in Luke, which is a powerful reminder that Jesus is the kind of king who makes the ultimate sacrifice for us. He offers direct access to salvation for the criminals being crucified with him, given the most extreme punishment for their sins. He responds to the repentance and request for salvation from the second criminal, but ignores the calls to save himself because it is through the cross that he will come into his kingdom. The promise that “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” remains a powerful source of hope for all sinners.
In his letter to the Colossians the apostle Paul offers a blessing that we may share in the strength that comes from the power of God, the strength that will give us patience and the ability to endure all that life may throw at us. This passage is a good example of what we call the Christology of the church. It is a glorious proclamation of all that Christ is for us, our beginning and our ending. Paul proclaims that Christ has all the power that God possesses and is the very essence of God.
Our readings for today are inspirational, but I would like to share with you the words of our young people who are about to be confirmed – Faith, Jessica, Nicholas and Thomas. For a few years now I have wanted to ask those who were about to be confirmed to write down their faith stories. This year I finally got around to it, and I cannot emphasize enough what a great experience this has been for me, and hopefully for them as well. Getting a writing assignment was probably not on their top ten lists; but it gave them an opportunity to reflect on their lives as children of God, one which they took seriously. I am not going to read each one in its entirety nor am I am going to identify who I am quoting. I am just going to share the essence of their heartfelt words. Each essay is as unique as the person who wrote it and they have given us permission to publish them in our next newsletter.
Three out of four of them began their story either with their day of baptism or a reference to their baptism. I never knew before that one of them was hospitalized as a baby and on the day of discharge went right to the church for baptism. That is pretty powerful. The fourth began with a concise but totally accurate description of what it is to be Lutheran, including our foundational doctrine that we are justified, saved, by God by grace alone through faith alone.
As they reminisced about their early experiences in church, they all demonstrated that they understand the importance of the Sacraments and the Word of God and their centrality to our faith. They understand this in a visceral way, not just as information they learned in Sunday school and confirmation class. We sort of joke around here at Saint John that coffee hour is the third sacrament, and sure enough, having food to share available after worship and giving the kids the opportunity to run off some energy has been really important to them. As one of them wrote after their first visit at Saint John, “the people are friendly and they have snacks after church.”
The most moving and satisfying revelations were that they have all experienced God’s love through the love of other people emulating God. Their families play a huge role – parents who accompany them to church, read Bible stories, say grace and pray with them. Cousins and siblings and older friends who they witnessed going through the milestones of church life ahead of them. Friends who invited their families to come to Saint John. Some of their fondest memories are of the fun they have had here; even when they got noisy or a little boisterous they still felt loved by the grownups who surrounded them. That sense of acceptance and belonging extends to the wider church as well. One of them wrote, “When I’m gathered together with people of the same religion, whether I know them or not, it’s hard to explain why but I feel like we’re all family.” A friendship was formed on the junior high retreat last year with a person who made a huge impact on that confirmand’s life, helping them through tough times, always reminding them to stay faithful. Remember, these are junior high kids speaking! Jesus always said that kids get it better than adults.
These young people have a true sense of being on a faith journey, one that began at baptism and continued through their formative years, when they were little kids running around church, playing together and being silly yet still absorbing what they were being taught and experiencing God through our love for them. I have to give credit where credit is due and name the two guys who rated a mention from the boys. You never know what will have lasting meaning for kids and apparently getting slapped on the back of the head with a bulletin by Tom Sargent and getting lifted up to the ceiling, pretend boxing and a high five every Sunday with Bill Schurade have been highlights for them. Kids just appreciate it when someone understands them and is able to relate to them where they are. And they also appreciate being given responsibilities to carry out in church, so when we see them serving as acolytes, assisting ministers, communion assistants, lectors, teachers and ushers it is out of their willingness to serve and their appreciation for being taken seriously and entrusted with responsibilities.
For them, confirmation is not in any sense the end of a journey but rather the start of the next part of the journey. They don’t know what the future holds but they are excited about it. They remind us how important it is to have faith and trust in God, to understand that prayers are answered when the time is right. So when we see toddlers break free and run up to the altar, or when someone gets a little loud when there isn’t music playing to muffle the noise, we can remember that these four young people were once little too, some of them quiet and some of them noisy, and now they have matured into young models of faith for the younger children, for their peers and for us.
Thank you for sharing your faith journeys with us and reminding us that Christ is our beginning and our ending. Amen.