The Good News About Death – The Last Word

Grace Lindvall
(Ephesians 1: 15-23)

Our second scripture reading this morning comes from Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, a small 6-chapter long book in the Bible called Ephesians. Our passage comes from the first chapter of Paul’s letter which in its first few chapters centers on who Christ is and what it means to us as Christians. As you hear this scripture read, I encourage you to let the words pour over you as a hymn of praise and a prayer for you as God’s people. Listen now for God’s word to us this morning from Ephesians 1:15-23.

Ephesians 1:15-23

Will you pray with me? Holy God, you are God above all else, this morning we ask that through your word spoken and proclaimed we might come to that realization anew, that the knowledge and trust of you may renew and refresh our Spirits for our lives lived in this world. Lord, be with us now, that your words may enlighten and refresh our Spirits and our lives. Lord may the words of my mout h and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Between the first and second world wars, in 1925, when the world was still grieving from the tragedy, terror and losses experienced in the first world war, the world began clamoring and forces began aligning for the second World War. Powers of authority in Mexico and Europe were secularizing and minimizing the relevance and influence of the church. In this year the church decided to make a bold statement and begin the tradition of Christ the King Sunday in our liturgical year. The church made a powerful statement to all the powers that were threatening and terrorizing that in all things, Christ is King.

Now, this may seem to be a rudimentary statement, we’ve grown quite accustomed to this phrase from various hymns, prayers, and images of Christ enthroned in renaissance art. But it is in fact a bold proclamation. A statement that ought to take our breath away.

The church in which Paul writes his letter to, the people of Ephesus in Asia Minor would have known how bold a statement Paul was making when he wrote this letter to them. As Paul writes in verse 21 of the passage which we just read, Christ is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.” This statement would have been widely controversial, it says that the church and Christians of Asia Minor serve, fear, and ultimately bow down to the power and authority not of the political ruler Cesar, but instead bow down to the power and authority of Jesus Christ.

The Christians receiving this letter recognize the bold statement that they are making by confessing Jesus as Lord, and by claiming their allegiance to Jesus, not to Cesar. A statement that placed them in the religious minority and would have made them targets for persecution. So, it is indeed a bold statement, a statement that ought to take our breath away, and yet too a statement of hope and joy.

United Methodist pastor Brian Erickson describes Christ the King Sunday by saying, “Today we proclaim to the world that Christ is the firstborn of all creation, the one for whom the angels sang, the one through whom all that came to be. But in giving Christ the last word, we declare that in the here and now, Christ is our King.”

On this Christ the King Sunday we remember anew that bold and holy proclamation that Christ is the King. To say it with confidence and to say it to refresh and renew our Spirits anew as Christians.

Of course, Christ is King every other day of the year as well every other Sunday – and on Fridays and Saturdays, and even on Mondays. On Christ the King Sunday however, we boldly proclaim it and we gratefully remember it. For we so need the knowledge and reminder of this holy of truths.

On this Christ the King Sunday as we make the bold statement, “Christ is King,” might we remember and proclaim just exactly what that means, just how wonderful that is?

For Christ is King over all things, all fear, all powers that threaten, all faulty ideologies, and over all the false idols we often proclaim. Christ is King over these things which have withered and faded, these things which falter and misstep, these things which hurt and destroy, Christ is King over all these things.

Paul’s prayer for these Christians and for us, as Christians, brings to question, what false ideologies or faulty idols have we placed our trust in? What subpar idols have we bowed down our authority?  

Dr. Clifton Black is professor of New Testament studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, he writes of this passage from Ephesians and Christ the King Sunday, inviting us to consider the false idols we may bow down to or put our trust in. Dr. Black writes, “If the church’s witness is true, if in fact God has made Christ the King, then no other power on this earth is sovereign and deserves ultimate obedience: neither the United States nor its Democrats, Republicans, nor Tea Partiers; neither K Street nor Wall Street nor Goldman Sachs; no social or economic construction by this world’s wise and well-healed, however high-minded or mean-spirited. Before Christ the King, all our idols collapse beneath his feet as rubble before the One who has subjected all things to his Messiah”

And therein is the good news. This text is not a condemnatory text or a moralistic imperative. This passage is one of praise and good news, one we may rejoice and sing in. The good news is that all our idols collapse beneath the feet of Christ as rubble, for Christ in King, much more powerful than any of the other gods we may encounter.

This isn’t just a passage telling you to check your allegiances at the door and worship Christ alone. This is a passage telling you how good it is when you do. This is a passage that proclaims with beauty and praise the glory of worshipping Christ alone, of setting our allegiance and praise to Christ alone.

The good news is the one who is most powerful, the one whom all other gods and ideologies, and powers crumble at the feet of is the one who takes that power not with greed or pride but with goodness and mercy and love. The one who is most powerful is most ironically not one who seeks power but one who deserves power, not one who seeks greed but who gives generously, not one who holds pride, but one who humbly welcomes all. The good news is that the greatest power of all is power filled with love and authority, mercy and grace, healing and joy. For Christ is King.

What good news that is to hear and to know and to trust and believe.

Dr. Black continues his aforementioned commentary with a fervent reminder to us Christians that is filled with good news, he says “If Christ is King, then Christians are not helpless victims.”

If Christ is King, then Christians are not helpless victims.

For Christ, the one of love and truth, is greater than any power that may threaten that statement. Be it injustices, fear, grief, hopelessness, or any other host of powers that may seem to threaten that statement. We remember today that the last word is that Christ is King, Christ reigns in power, Christ reigns in love, Christ reigns.

Reformation Theologian Martin Luther wrote, Depressed or exalted, circumscribed in whatever way, dragged hither or thither, I still find Christ. For he holds in his hands everything in heaven or on earth and all are subject to him — angels, the devil, the world, sin, death, and hell. Therefore, so long as he dwells in my heart, I have courage, wherever I go. I cannot be lost. I dwell where Christ my Lord dwells.”

For we need to know the good news that Christ is King, Christ is King as we await test results from doctors, as we sit in the waiting room waiting on our loved ones, that Christ is King as we weep by the graveside, as we remember and grieve the love of one long gone, that Christ is King in the torrential downpour of terrifying news and politics, that Christ is King. Christ is King and Christ has the last word. Thanks be to God, thanks be to God this life is not left to us mere mortals who are prone to selfishness and greed, to us who are blown about by every new thing, thanks be to God that it is Christ and Christ alone who has the final word. Whose word is a word of goodness and love, of mercy and grace, of power and authority over all else. Thanks be to God, Christ is King.

92 years after the first Christ the King Sunday was proclaimed in the midst of war and grief, with threats of hateful domination looming, and fears of the irrelevance of the Church we need to hear the word again. We need again to hear that good news and to make that bold statement. Just as our ancestors in faith made that statement in the midst of fear and grief, we too make the statement.

We make the statement that Christ is King and let that pour over our hearts with gladness and joy. We make that statement as we check in with ourselves constantly asking if we might be letting any false powers rule our trust and hope. We make the statement with hope and joy for the good news it brings – Christ is King, we are not helpless victims, rather we are ones empowered to be Christ’s love in the world, ones reminded of Christ’s love, ones with joy and hope.

By making this bold and holy claim, we make dust of all the other false idols and powers that threaten.

In the name of God our creator our sustainer and our redeemer. Amen.