God's Loving Embrace
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
“And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
- Luke 23:33-43
I was told that a little child had once asked about the meaning of the huge crucifix of Christ the King that hangs in the church. The child wanted to know more about the man tethered to that Cross, with his arms stretched out, his arms wide open. If you were asked that question, would we you say to that little child? I mulled over that question, too. I would probably simply say that it is God who stretched his arms wide open to give the world a hug. On the Cross is God who opens wide his hands and arms to embrace the world with love. Or God came to give you a hug. That is not something original. Episcopal Bishop Charles Henry Brent who once served as the missionary Bishop of the Philippines, has composed a prayer which we say at Morning Prayer :“ Lord Jesus Christ you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace…” Unfortunately, the Cross has often become for many a sign of intolerance, bigotry or even hate and not of love. Christians have often committed many atrocious things in the Name of the One who hangs on the awful Tree. Because of the behavior of many Christians, Christ the King has often been viewed not as the King of Love, not as King of Mercy and King of Grace but a tyrannical King and despot.
The readings today from the Passion story of Luke’s Gospel shows us the true Kingship of Jesus. We are reminded today that his rule is one of love. In great humility, he came not to be served or adored but he came to serve and to love; he came to give his life for others, for us, so that we might have life abundant.
We are subjects of this King; we belong to his Kingdom. And we are to follow our King in his way of loving service to the world. In a few minutes, we shall hear again the words of the Eucharistic Prayer: “He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.” Our life around the Lord’s Table reminds us to follow Christ the King by opening wide our own hands and arms to embrace the world in love. It is in this loving offering of ourselves that Christ’s loving sacrifice on the Cross continue through us. It is through our sacrificial offering of love that Christ’s work of redemption of the world that is hurting continues in us.
I must say that I see glimpses of that Kingdom in this place. I see many here who make great and small sacrifices for others. I see many stretch their arms in loving embrace- coming together on some mornings to pray for the church and the world, calling on and visiting those who couldn’t come to church and checking in on them, giving to those who have little, responding to the cries of survivors of that typhoon across the world, people you have not met but whose lives you choose to touch. These are just a few. We have people among us who open wide their arms to embrace others in compassion and love. Like the crucifix that hangs in the church pointing to the love of God on the Cross, there are many among us who by their love come to be living reminders or living images of Christ the King on the Cross who calls us to open wide our arms to hug the world. They ask us: how can we hug the world to make it realize that God loves it.
© 2014 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a queer Filipino worker-priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
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