The Last Sunday After Pentecost: November 24, 2019
Today we have two theological threads woven through this liturgy. You are probably aware that this Last Sunday after Pentecost, immediately preceding the First Sunday of Advent, always has a theme, an emphasis, on Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords. We find this in the Collect as well as in the Scriptures for the day, each year bringing its own distinct biblical emphasis
The other is the anticipation of the feast of Thanksgiving coming this week, the highest volume travel day of any in the United States. We hear this theme picked up primarily in today’s hymns, yet also in the Scriptures if you look hard enough. I don’t believe, however, that these themes are mutually exclusive. Let me tell you what I mean.
A question for you: What kind of King, what kind of Lord is Jesus of Nazareth as discovered in today’s lessons? We do not today discover him enthroned in splendor, robed in glorious apparel and crown, with courts tending to his every need as in some visions of royalty. We don’t find another royal figure next to him—only two criminals. No, we discover him reigning from the wood of the Cross, the terrorist instrument of intimidation and death of the Roman government. The sign above him extolling “King of the Jews,” is meant to mock, deride and discredit. What does this teach us about what kind of King and Lord we have?
In Luke we have revealed to us a monarch anointed to be one of infinite mercy. Not only does he ask God to forgive his torturers “for they do not know what they are doing,” he also declares mercy on the thief who acknowledged his own brokenness, going so far as to say he will be with him that day in Paradise. This is no ordinary King. This is one not exercising his rightful power and authority, even when taunted to do so. This is a Sovereign who is emptying himself for the sake of the other.
Jesus, as described in Colossians, is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” They hold together because what emanates from him is mercy. What is declared from the throne of the Cross is forgiveness, costly love, and an embrace that knows no bounds. Hear Jeremiah’s words from the God of whom Jesus is the perfect image: “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 not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.”
Wow. What a promise. What a hope. No fear, no dismay, none missing. What do we do with such a vision? Colossians gives us a hint: “…may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while (here it comes) joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Gazing upon Jesus reigning from the throne of the Cross, our response is to give thanks.
Some years ago now I was in downtown Amman, Jordan. I had bought bread at a bakery and I noticed the bag had words on it: tak; tack; grazis; gracias; merci. One word, in Greek, stood out more than the others—eucharisto, used to say thank you on the streets of ancient Greece. The great prayer of the Church, offered here again in just a few minutes, is called what—The Great Thanksgiving, Eucharist.
As Christians we have “Thanksgiving,” Eucharist, every Sunday, some every day. Our offering of gratefulness is not a mere feeling or thought or sentiment. For us it is to offer our thanks to someone, God, shown to us perfectly on the Cross as King of kings and Lord of lords. When we say grace or offer a blessing over the meal this coming Thursday, and I trust you will, we are acknowledging the source from which it all comes and being acutely aware that everything is gift, that it all comes from our Creator God. Thanksgiving, for us who follow Jesus, is centered in our response to a concrete historical moment at the place of The Skull where the Lord of creation was executed.
Most of us cannot carry an intensity of awareness of a grateful heart every moment of every day, but we do set aside times to pay attention whether a sacramental celebration on this altar or a national day. Victor Frankel, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, relates his concentration camp experience and speaks of what he calls “the intensification of inner life” that came over prisoners—sunsets out a window, lines of poems and the most ordinary actions of the past, like riding a bus, answering the phone, turning on the lights, then becoming filled with a sense of beauty, longing, and thanksgiving.”
When has this happened for you? It often happens to me when I am fly-fishing out in the beauty of creation, sitting in quiet prayer, sometimes right in the middle of a Eucharist, a funeral, sitting around a table with loved ones, at the bedside of a dying friend. As Christians we gather this week to say “thanks be to God” for all that is, seen and unseen, our lives, the bounty we share, but most of all and uniquely for us for the gift of Jesus who lived, died and rose again, celebrated today as King of kings and Lord of lords.
As you gather around the feast of this Thursday, may it be a day when you find yourself called to live in the world in thanksgiving for the gift of God in Christ, and never forget who God says you are, who your neighbor is, and who calls you.
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.