I think some of you may have heard this story before but it has been some years and it is a good story. My mother who is now in her 90s tells of the time when she and Dad lived in Wheaton, Illinois. Dad and mom were newly married and they and my aunt and uncle shared an apartment while dad and my uncle went to college. One day while both husbands were at class, my mom and aunt decided to do two things. They were going to paint the living room and they were going to bake a pie from the apples they had picked. So first they made the pie and put it into the oven. At that point they realized they did not have a timer. So they decided they would just keep reminding each other so they would not forget to take the pie out of the oven. As they started painting one said to the other, “Don’t forget the pie.” Then the other replied, “Don’t forget the pie.” Pretty soon they made up a melody and sang it back and forth to each other. And before long they were harmonizing. According to my mom, it was really quite nice. And then all of the sudden they smelled smoke; something was burning. They ran to the kitchen and pulled out the pie. It was burned. They had forgotten the pie.
Sometimes as Christians we are like my mom and aunt. We get so busy with life and activities and even though we are saying the right words we actually are not remembering what it is that we are supposed to be remembering. Today is Christ the King Sunday. We set apart this Sunday, the last Sunday of our Christian year to once again remind ourselves what is the most important as Christians; and to focus on what is the most important. We are remembering the pie so to speak.
So then what is the most important thing about our faith? We are called Christians because our faith is centered upon Jesus. And what is the most important part of the life of Jesus? It is his death on the cross. The gospels all spend more time discussing that event than any other event in the life of Jesus, more than his birth and more than his resurrection. So if for no other reason, the sheer amount of ink it receives indicates that the crucifixion is the climax of the life of Jesus.
But we may think, “The cross; How, why?” As we read through the gospels we might come to the conclusion that dying on the cross may have been a tactical error on the part of Jesus, on the part of God. After all before Jesus died on the cross he was a man of power and authority; he could speak and hundreds and even thousands would listen to him for hours. He showed people a whole new concept of who God is. He uncovered a new deeper understanding God’s Law. Not only was he a remarkable teacher, he was powerful healer—he healed blind people even those born blind, people who were deaf, people who were sick who were paralyzed, who were bent over, who had leprosy; he healed those possessed with demons. He was not only a teacher and healer he even had power over nature itself; he could tell the wind to stop blowing and it did; he could walk on top of water; he could make pieces of bread and pieces of fish replicate themselves so that thousands of people could eat and be satisfied; he could change water into wine. He was a man of power and the aura of his power flowed from him and people could sense and feel it. And then at the height of his popularity he was crucified.
This powerful man was dragged down into the depths. In today’s gospel reading we see Jesus at his lowest as he was hanging on the cross. He has first been beaten practically to death and then he has been staked up on a cross. Our pictures of the crucifixion do not do it historical justice. He did not have a little stand for his feet. When they crucified a man they bowed the legs out, laid one heel flat upon the other and then hammered a large nail through the heels into the wood and then a nail each through the hands. Hanging there on a cross the lungs were compressed. In order to take a breath and speak he had to push up on the nail in his heels or pull on the nails in his wrists either of which would cause excruciating pain. So each of those words Jesus spoke upon the cross cost Jesus unbelievable physical pain. So when he said, “Father forgive them they do not know what they are doing.” When he said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”, it hurt. Each word he spoke cost him waves of pain.
He was also humiliated. Death on a cross is a humiliating death. He was humbled through the pain he had to endure and he was humiliated through his exposure. When we see Jesus on the cross or on a crucifix we put a piece of cloth over his private areas. But the Romans certainly had no regard for anyone’s sense of privacy. They delighted in this humiliation. It was designed to be part of the painful death. One does not die with honor or dignity on a cross. The body parts and the body fluids are all exposed for maximum humiliation in order to show Rome’s disdain for this person.
And at his weakest physical point he was the butt of ridicule, scorn and jokes. His body was not only wracked with pain; and it was weak with blood loss, oxygen deprivation, and shock. But on top of all that he had to put up with the scorn of society’s dregs, his executioners, wicked people, and his religious enemies.
So why in heaven’s name do we make such a big deal about this event? One would think that we would spend much more time dwelling on the times that showed Jesus great, popular and powerful. Why consider and celebrate his time on the cross with crosses on our buildings and jewelry and crosses we carry about?
The reason is because while Jesus was at his lowest and weakest, while he was literally dying; Jesus was doing battle with his enemies, the World, Satan, and death and coming out victorious! God takes that moment in history and wrenches it around 180 degrees so instead of the crucifixion being defeat of Jesus, instead of being the ignoble end of Jesus, instead we see Jesus defeating death, trampling down death by death. Hell takes a body and discovers God! It is here on the cross as Jesus is dying that we see Almighty God humbly bending down to be reconciled with the lowest dregs of humanity, the murderers and thieves, the slave traders, the adulterers, the faithless, the cruel, the gossips, the slanderers, the liars, the unkind, the impatient, and those who lose their tempers, in fact all of us, all of humanity! And it is as Jesus is at his lowest that God lifts him high above all other powers on earth and in heaven. It is here on the cross in his utter physical weakness we see the mighty power of God’s immeasurable love that is even beyond our comprehension. It is here on the cross he ransomed his people and rescued us from the clutches of death and hell and it is through the defeat of death and hell that he brings us new life through faith in Jesus. All this was through the cross. That is the point of this cross here hanging over the altar isn’t it? It is to remind us that Christ is the King, the victorious ruling King; He is ruling the universe through his work done on the cross, through his wonderful love for his people shown on the cross.
Do you see? This love of God that is shown to us by Jesus suffering on the cross is why we are Christians. That is why we follow Jesus. This is our motivation for changing our lives, for wanting to become better people, more loving, more kind, this is the motivation for serving God and others, this is why we work in the food pantry and thrift shop, the altar guild and as greeters and all the other ways we serve; and this is the reason why we give our money back to God, why we tithe. We do all this out of a response of God’s great love for us. And this is why we have Christ the King Sunday. It is so we don’t forget the pie; it is so we don’t forget the why; we don’t forget what is the most important. Amen