[Jeremiah 23:1-6, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43]
I found myself on a long car journey going to a new destination in the US for a critical meeting. I was driving and in the passenger seat was a Jeremiah. He, the Jeremiah was map reading and the whole trip was punctuated by doom laden pronouncements - not I hasten to add about my driving but things like: Well the traffic will surely mean we will be stuck for hours; I expect this hire car map is out of date; if the bridge ahead is not closed which I expect it will be, we could cross the river there; anyway it will probably snow and we will be stuck for months. It was by the way a bright September day!
Jeremiah, the biblical one, had a justified reputation for being doleful he was ever giving warnings to the leaders and people of Israel, but I am not sure that I agree he was always pessimistic. Today’s reading from chapter 23 is extremely hopeful and ultimately uplifting. Jeremiah has been having an argument with Jehoakim, the king of Israel who among other things has been condemned in Jeremiah’s eyes for building a grandiose new palace and for neglecting his people. In fact Jeremiah is a vigorous opponent of the king and he begins our passage “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture” a clear reference to those present day leaders who can expect nothing good. He goes on though to say
“I the Lord will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them and they shall not fear any longer nor be dismayed. I will raise up for David a righteous branch and he shall reign as king and deal wisely and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
This idea of a king and of God as king of Israel bringing justice and order permeates the Old Testament.
Jesus’ teaching was in some respects in line with the apocalyptic view of his contemporaries. They would have understood that they were waiting for the coming of a God who would exercise the right and proper functions of a king as they understood they should be and would bring justice to all and deliver Israel from its oppressors.
We can surely relate to this feeling, perhaps more so in these weeks when we are choosing , not a king of course, but a government at our ballot box. Do we long for the promised God given realignment of society, do we sometimes feel powerless to change anything? Do we, like the Jews, thirst for a different and better age?
As we celebrate the feast of Christ the King this morning, this Sunday which is the last in the church’s calendar we hear again the promise of this new order. And rightfully so for here we are at the pinnacle of the story with Jesus now in Paradise - The thief on the cross reminded us of that and Paul too reminds us who Jesus is:
“He himself is before all things and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body of the church, he is the beginning of the first born from the dead.”
He is Christ the king. Now the trouble with this vision, glorious as it is, is that it must exist in tension with other things that Jesus said about the kingdom, that it is here now, that it had come with him. As Paul said in the same passage we heard: “he has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his blessed son.”
So which is it that we celebrate today? The kingdom of Jeremiah , not my downcast navigator, but of the real Jeremiah, the hopeful one, the kingdom that we are yet waiting for or are we celebrating the the transformation brought about by Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection?
The answer is of course both - Yes at the end of the story, at the end of the church’s year we remember the promised kingdom but there is something to celebrate today, I mean now, this minute, for the moment that you allow Christ to enter your life and to be in charge of it - to continue the metaphor to be king of it - then for each of us a new way of being, a new society a new kingdom has already arrived.