Read the text here: Luke 23:33-43
“The Hollow Crown”
The title of this sermon is taken from a line from Shakespeare’s Richard II. If there was ever a writer who explored the nature of kingship it was certainly William Shakespeare. But these plays, and the history upon which they are based, are not exclusively stories of glory and celebration. They are in fact mostly dark and difficult stories about the abuse of power and the very human limitations of the individual kings (and queens) themselves. They are stories about the lust for power; that is, the overwhelming desire to be king, no matter what. In many respects the stories of the kings and queens in history are like a mirror, for if we look at them carefully we can see ourselves reflected back. For like the famous kings and queens of old, we too want to be the sovereign of our lives and we will jealously hold on to this power and entitlement no matter what.
What are some of the characteristics of the kings and queens that we can pull out of these stories of the kings and queens of old? Here is a list: An overwhelming desire for power; and, along with it, an overwhelming desire to command others and have others acknowledge this power; the need to give favors, and to receive special treatment – and conversely, the ability to withhold favors; the desire for glory and acclamation. In short – we like to be in charge, we like to have others fawn over us, we like to have others do what we tell them to do, and we like to not have to be accountable. So, we can say, “It is good to be king or queen!” But there is a dark side that we don’t often think about it. In order to hold this position we sometimes have to step on others and bring hurt and pain to others. And no matter how secure we think we are, deep down we know that there are others who are seeking to undermine and take away our power. This should all sound familiar – because what I am describing is nothing less than original sin: the drive to be the center of our own universe and have everything and everyone else orbit around us.
The Gospel text for this festival is a portion of the crucifixion from the Gospel of Luke. And it is important to be reminded that the description of kingship above is pretty universal. This in fact was what the people in Jesus’ day were looking for in their King, in their Messiah: a powerful, mighty warrior who would claim kingship and establish a kingdom by force, if necessary. They expected their king to be someone who would destroy anyone who stood against him. But what do we see in Jesus? Jesus enthroned on a cross; a crown of thorns on his head; a robe which is stripped and taken away. We see a King who in his dying breath offers a word of forgiveness and who promises salvation to the bandit on the cross next to his. What kind of king is this? Crucifixion, weakness, suffering, death!?! This is not the kind of king we expect! This is not even the kind of king we think we want! But this is the King whom God has graciously given to us, because this is the King we need!
And this is the King to whom we look for guidance and direction. If you want a full and abundant life then, Jesus says, you need to pick up your cross and follow him. And this includes looking in that mirror and seeing your own lust for power and privilege, see your own pursuit of your self-centered desires, see how you treat others who you feel have gotten in your way in some form or another. See all of this - look at yourselves honestly and then ask for forgiveness and hear the word of forgiveness from the cross. And then with the aid of the Holy Spirit, ask God to allow you to move forward in your life, offering forgiveness to others and living a life that reflects God’s overwhelming love and grace. This is what it means to be a disciple of the King – to step aside and acknowledge that Christ is the King of our world and of our lives.