BIBLE READINGS:      Colossians 1:11-20      Luke 23:33-43





"The time has come," the Walrus said,

"To talk of many things:

Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--

Of cabbages--and kings–

and why the sea is boiling hot,

and whether pigs have wings."


In the story of Alice in Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll provides a wonderful little poem about a walrus, who goes out for a walk with some very cheery little oysters. In the end, the power of the walrus supersedes the lives of the little oysters, and they are no more. The power of the largest wins, and the most naive and gullible seem to lose.


On this special Sunday - the Festival of Christ the King - I want to look for a moment at Kings and cabbages.


Have you ever read Mark Twain's classic - “The Prince and the Pauper”?


The story is a simple dramatic plot of switching places. The king’s son, Edward, encounters a poor boy, Tom Canty. The resemblance between them is uncanny. Once the pauper is cleaned up, It is impossible to tell which is prince and which is pauper.


Edward, the prince, dresses up Tom in princely clothes then puts on Tom’s rags and goes out the back door, leaving Tom to act the prince. As the story unfolds, Tom Canty learns what it is like to be the son of a king, while Edward, the true prince, learns what life is like for those who are poor, those who are abused, those who do not have enough to eat.


At one point Tom the pauper king says “Kings should have to live by their own laws at times, and so, learn mercy.” Twain tells of Tom enjoying a celebration at the royal court, when he sees the real prince, down in the streets, proclaiming his rights and his wrongs, denouncing the impostor, and clamouring for admission at the gates of Guildhall! The crowd enjoyed this episode and pressed forward and craned their necks to see the small rioter.  


Presently they began to taunt him and mock him, trying to goad him into a higher and still more entertaining fury. 


While this is going on - news arrives that the King is dead. Tom Canty, the impostor prince, now soon to be the impostor king, summons a Lord and asks, “If I give a command, will it be obeyed?” The answer comes, “Thou art the king--thy word is law.” And Tom, the peasant king, proclaims:

"Then shall the king's law be law of mercy, from this day, and never more be law of blood!”


The switch or reversal is a common dramatic device. By switching characters, having them trade places, the writer can illustrate important ideas, which, were they to simply state them, would be as interesting as watching paint dry. That kind of reversal, that truth which emerges from paradox, is woven throughout the Bible, and nowhere is it more evident than in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


On this last Sunday of the church year, Just before we begin to prepare our hearts once again for the coming of the baby born in Bethlehem, We are confronted with this Sunday of Christ the King. 

The Prophet Jeremiah proclaims, 

“he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

The Song of Zechariah exults: 

“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”


And then the reading from Luke slaps us in the face with the horror of Jesus on the cross, Tormented, mocked, his clothes torn from him, hung like a common criminal on a stinking heap of smoldering garbage, between two thieves. The crowd shouted “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” The thief on one side said, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”


Like them, the world sees this God hanging on the cross and sneers, “Some king!” Some God, the skeptics shout - A God who can’t even save his own skin.

A God who doesn’t lift a finger to stop typhoons, starvation, earthquakes.

A God who is a friend to lepers and prostitutes and tax collectors, a friend to illiterate fishermen and women who don’t seem to know their place.


“Some Savior,” the world scoffs, as the King of the Jews dies on the cross.


But the story doesn’t end there. Because in this tale of reversal, events are not predictable. The pauper hangs on the cross between two thieves,

And one of them taunts him, “...kept deriding him,” the gospel says - “Aren’t you the son of God? Why don’t you save us, and yourself?” But the other thief rebukes him, and says to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Reversal upon reversal.


“Your kingdom come, your will be done,” we pray to the pauper king. But which is the impostor? We’ve set up for ourselves two images, at least, of this King. In one, he sits enthroned in a golden palace, blond-haired and blue-eyed, smiling all the time, No longer his raggedy human self, but just back to being God Almighty, pavilioned in splendour and girded with praise.


He especially likes people who dress nicely and act right, who know all the noble words of the kingly court. He loves most the people who go to huge fancy churches 

with espresso stands in the foyer, he loves them better, it seems, if they send in money and buy the books and hang out with the right people, he blesses them with land and nice houses and money and new cars; with happy marriages  and wonderful children who never do anything wrong, And with successful businesses.


In the other image, he is both human and divine, Son of God and Son of man. He looks like a street person. His friends are not the sort of people we’d invite to dinner, Probably not the sort we’d even invite to church. He doesn’t look like a king at all, and his kingly court is the most dejected, scraggly, motley bunch of drop=kicks you can ever imagine. His empire covers the face of the earth, where he walks away from sumptuous banquets and sits down in the houses of the poor, sharing their meagre meals.


Theologian Catherine LaCugna describes the empire of this King:

“In Jesus Christ, God heals divisions, reconciles the alienated, gives hope to those who have none, offers forgiveness to the sinner, and includes the outcast. In the end God’s love and mercy are altogether inclusive, accepting the repentant master as well as the repentant slave. If anyone were to be ultimately excluded from the reign of God it would be because they have set up themselves as the final criterion of who should be included in God’s reign. Still, the exclusion of even a single person is contrary to God’s providential plan. In the end, only the barriers to eternal and universal communion are excluded from God’s reign: sin, death, and despair.”


In Twain’s book, at the last possible second, the Prince is restored to the throne and crowned King.

Twain writes:

“The King sought out the farmer who had been branded and sold as a slave, and reclaimed him from his evil life with the Ruffler's gang, and put him in the way of a comfortable livelihood. He also took that old lawyer out of prison and remitted his fine. He provided good homes for the daughters of the two Baptist women whom he saw burned at the stake…


He saved from the gallows the boy who had captured the stray falcon, and also the woman who had stolen a remnant of cloth from a weaver; …

As long as the King lived he was fond of telling the story of his adventures, all through, from the hour that the sentinel cuffed him away from the palace gate till the final midnight…


He said that the frequent rehearsing of the precious lesson kept him strong in his purpose to make its teachings yield benefits to his people; and so, whilst his life was spared he should continue to tell the story, and thus keep its sorrowful spectacles fresh in his memory and the springs of pity replenished in his heart.”


In this ultimate tale of reversal, this story of Christ the King, It is not a  child’s tale, but the proclamation of truth and salvation for all humankind,

A story for all eternity, Christ our King is doing this and more.


In the lives of his people,through the turning and reversals of our hearts, through the workings of our grateful hands, through our actions which reflect his merciful love Christ’s kingdom is coming, even as his will is done.

"Then shall the king's law be law of mercy, from this day, and never more be law of blood!”


Thanks be to God that Christ is King!


Acknowledgements: Catherine LaCugna, Christina Berry, Mark Twain!