I am becoming my father: one of my lasting memories of childhood is of my dad falling asleep on the couch between 8:30 and 9 o’clock at night. Whether watching tv, or reading or sometimes even with company over(!) - his nodding off was like clockwork. On the flip side, he was the definition of a morning person, often already at work by the time my alarm buzzed. He said his best productivity hours were before anybody else arrived at the office.
Now, I can make it to upwards of 9 pm, most of the time. But like him, around 5 am, I am good to go. And at that hour most of the time, even with a toddler in the house, I have a few minutes to myself before anyone else wakes up. My favorite thing to do is get a cup of coffee and watch the sunrise. That moment is a beautiful, awe inspiring, prayerful beginning to my day.
To witness the darkness surrender to the light; to watch the sunlit fingers of the dawn stretch across the landscape; to see the mountains turn pink in the early morning light. The beauty takes my breath away. When the sun finally peeks over the horizon and bathes everything in brightness, a new day is upon us.
This coming Sunday, the church celebrates the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the Christian year. Every year the church tells the whole of the Christian story. Beginning with the month long season of Advent, we anticipate Christ’s birth at Christmas. Then we follow his life, death and resurrection through Easter, his ascension into heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the last half of the year is all about growth in our discipleship. The story culminates this Sunday, when we anticipate Christ’s promised return to bring about the fullness of the Kingdom of God.
And yet the gospel we hear this Sunday is very un-kinglike. Very un-triumphant. It is Luke’s account of the crucifixion. For Christ the King Sunday, the church hears the story of Jesus hanging on the cross, when the sun has gone into hiding and the earth is dark, the last hours of his mortal life. This is Christ the King.
We will hear him speak words of forgiveness to his executioners. “Forgive them father, for they know not what they do.” He holds his tongue when soldiers mock him, “He can save others but he can’t save himself.” And he speaks words of extraordinary and undeserved grace to the criminal executed next to him, “Today, you’ll be with me in paradise.”
This is Christ our King. This is the coming of the Kingdom. Not a triumphant descent in the clouds accompanied by an angelic host. No brilliant blinding light that has us shielding our eyes. No piercing trumpet sound that has us covering our ears. No overwhelming invisible force pressing us down on our knees before the King of the universe.
This is Christ our King, naked, vulnerable, beaten, in the dark, speaking quiet words of forgiveness, biting his tongue from revenge, and welcoming a criminal into eternal paradise.
Which takes me back to the early morning sunrise, and reminds me of the breaking of the dawn.
The Kingdom of God is coming in fullness. It is as sure and certain as the sun coming up each day. But the Kingdom’s approach is ever so gradual. As gradual as the darkness giving way to the dawn. As gradual as those long sunlit fingers of early morning light reaching across the landscape before the direct light of the sun peeks over the horizon.
The kingdom of God is coming in fullness, and Christ’s witness of the cross shows what it looks like in the wee hours of the dawn.
When we practice the hard work of forgiveness, when we guard our lips from hateful speech, when we open our mouths to speak courageous words of welcome and inclusion - we are that first glimmer of dawn at the end of a long dark night.
When the church prays, “let your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” we are offering ourselves to be early morning people. The work of the church is to be the first sign of Christ’s second coming. The witness of the church is to be the early illumination of God’s Kingdom in its fullness.
The Church has the power to make this world unspeakably beautiful. To be light in the darkness. Get up, Church. Let us rise from our slumber. It is time to greet a new day.
The Reverend Kim Seidman