During the presidency of Gerald Ford, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited the White House. While getting dressed for dinner with the royals, the President’s son, Jack, couldn’t find his cufflinks. In great distress he took out for his father’s room, hoping to find a pair there. When he stepped onto the elevator he was stunned to find the President and Mrs. Ford accompanied by the Queen and the Prince.
Mrs. Ford was deeply embarrassed because Jack had his shirt untucked and his hair was in disarray. But Mrs Ford introduced her son to the royals couple anyway.
Queen Elizabeth gave Jack a once over and replied very sweetly, “I have one just like that!”
Such gracious words. So gentle and even loving. Gracious, gentle, loving. Those are words directly connected to our focus this day.
Today is the last Sunday of the Church year. It is the Feast of Christ the King. Our Collect for today prays that we may “be freed and brought together under his [Jesus’] most gracious rule."
In Canada this Sunday the collect is very much the same, except it describes Jesus’ rule as “gentle and loving.” Gracious. Gentle. Loving. All words that describe our Lord. All words we seek from our Lord. All words embodied in this feast.
Our Gospel reading this morning, though, is a peculiar one for a focus of kingly power and royal reign; a day we proclaim Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords. We read not of majestic power, pomp and circumstance.
Instead we read of a broken man, hung upon a cross to die, and yet, even then offering gracious, gentle and loving words.
There is no crown, save a crown of thorns. There are not jewels save three nails that pierce Jesus’ flesh. There is no throne. There is a cross from which he reigns. Yet it is from this throne that Jesus makes his a royal pronouncement,
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” These are, according to Luke, the last words Jesus spoke to a human. In Luke’s Gospel this proclamation is made just before Jesus offers his spirit to God and breathes his last. Jesus’ last words to a human were gracious, gentle and loving and spoken to a criminal.
The Greek here says this man was a doer of evil, of wrong and intrinsically worthless acts. Yet there are moments in the Gospels when we can place ourselves in the narrative; when we can, and should, imagine that the story refers to us.
For instance, we are all the Prodigal Son. Who among us hasn’t wandered and squandered our gifts at one time or another. Yet we are all welcomed home by our loving Father.
Who among us isn’t this man hanging on the cross beside Jesus, suffering for mistakes and poor decisions we have made. Yet this King, this gracious, gentle, loving king, proclaims we will share paradise with him.
We are each a collection of errors and good intentions, misdeeds and misdirection, willfulness and willingness and yet our Lord looks graciously, gently, lovingly upon us each. and may say just like Queen Elizabeth, “I have one just like that!” Because he does.
© 2019, Tom Thoeni