In Jeremiah 23. 1-6 God laments leaders who have abused people, and promises a new order: God will gather God’s people like sheep and provide good shepherds to protect them.
Luke 1. 68-79 celebrates that God has fulfilled the Covenant to save us and establish a new realm of peace, and has chosen us to bring that realm, in the form of forgiveness, to all people.
Colossians 1. 11-20 describes Christ’s dominion: Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, who was present before Creation, and whose being includes all Creation. God is fully present in Christ, and in Christ all things are reconciled to God. God has rescued us from darkness and brought us into a new world of light, ruled by Christ.
In Luke 23.33-43 Jesus displays God’s disturbingly counter-cultural kind of sovereignty: not in domination and invulnerability, but in love, sharing our suffering and offering forgiveness.
The Christian liturgical year is patterned after the life of Jesus: his coming, ministry, death and resurrection, and his life through the Spirit in his followers. The cycle ends with the Reign of Christ Sunday, focusing not on the earthly ministry of Jesus, but on Christ as a cosmic figure, sovereign over all Creation.
The prophet criticizes political leaders who promote policies that hurt the poor. God promises to provide a gentle shepherd who will actually care for the people. Jeremiah has in mind a king over Israel. We Christians see in his promise an image of Christ’s gentle, life-giving reign over us.
Zechariah’s song is one of Luke’s two great psalms (the other is Mary’s Magnificat). The first half celebrates God saving us from all that diminishes life. The second half, addressed to “you, child,” is about the newborn John, who will become the Baptizer, and also, of course, about us. This is our calling: to go before God, paving the way by spreading forgiveness. The beautiful promise of the dawn of new peace doesn’t just descend out of the sky; it is born of God’s grace and forgiveness flowing through us.
Paul describes the Cosmic Christ: the whole being of God, the visible presence of the invisible God, supreme and eternal, in whom and for whom everything exists. Paul wrote this before the idea of the Trinity existed, but he sure describes Christ as the Second Person of the Trinity. Christ is the head of the church, and also reigns over all human power systems, dominions and empires.
King of the Jews. The fatal torture of a helpless criminal is not most people’s idea of a coronation ceremony. But we worship a pretty unorthodox sovereign. Jesus is a “king” not because he’s tougher than others, not because he exerts dominion, but precisely because he doesn’t. He rules in love, and love doesn’t coerce, manipulate, threaten or control. It doesn’t “insist on it’s own way,” as Paul says. So of course Jesus, who saved others, will not save himself. The power of love is to help others, not to escape suffering.Jesus is sovereign because he will not avoid entering into human suffering. His crown is a crown of thorns. Despite people’s cynicism, Love is the supreme power in the universe. Love reigns, even while evil and injustice abound. The world’s “power” is really just the power to destroy or threaten to hurt. The power of love is the opposite: is the power to heal, to create, to liberate, to give gifts. World power is power over; the power of love is power with, and even power beneath to lift, to raise. Caesar’s power is to extract people’s loyalty to the Empire. Jesus’ power is the power to promise paradise. Caesar’s power is to kill. God’s power is to raise. Though we’re pretty taken by worldly power, here we have the sum of it: Jesus’ love changes the world, and Caesar… well, he gets a salad named after him.
Today you will be with me in paradise. Jesus isn’t just promising the thief a happy afterlife. He’s saying today, right now, even in suffering, you belong to God and God’s delight. In the same way Jesus actually is the Son of God, even though people don’t believe it, the thief—and each of us—actually is in paradise, even though we don’t believe it. We are in God’s care, part of God’s royal family, and a source of God’s delight. This isn’t just a promise for the future; Jesus is actually, right now, even in his agony, extending love to this guy. Even as he’s being tortured he’s praying for the forgiveness of his torturers. Despite the onslaught of pain and shame in his torture, Jesus is still loving. Nothing can stop love. Nothing, not pain, not violence, not all the power in the world, not even death. Love wins. Love is sovereign over all the world. Christ reigns.
Call to Worship
1. (Colossians 1.15-20)
Leader: Alleluia! Christ is the image of the invisible God.
All: In Christ all the fullness of God is pleased to dwell.
In Christ all things in heaven and on earth were created;
Christ reigns over thrones and dominions and rulers and powers.
Christ is the head of the Body, the church.
Through Christ all things are reconciled to God, making peace by his love on the cross.
This is the love we adore, the love we worship, the love we serve. Alleluia!
Leader: In thanksgiving we gather to praise you, O God!
All: For all of your abundant blessings we thank you, O God.
For the love of Christ, who reveals your presence to us, we praise you.
For your grace and your love, and for the reign of Christ, we thank you, O God.
For your call to serve you, your cry for mercy and justice
that raises us to action, we thank you.
In the power of your Spirit alive in us, shining with your light, we worship you.
Leader: Christ our Savior and our Sovereign,
All: you wear a crown of thorns.
O Crucified and Risen One,
you reign in mercy, with a crown of thorns.
O Prince of Peace, you rule our hearts.
We surrender to your grace, your crown of thorns.
Grant us your peace, that we may be your loyal subjects.
Grant us, Christ, your reign of mercy, crown of thorns,
to serve you faithfully throughout this wounded world. Amen.
4. (Luke 1.68-7)
Leader: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for God has visited us and redeemed us.
All: God has raised up for us
a mighty savior from the family of David.
God spoke through the mouth of the holy prophets from of old:
to save us from our enemies
from every power that would destroy us.
God has shown mercy to our ancestors,
and has remembered the holy covenant.
This was the oath that God swore to our ancestors Abraham and Sarah:
to set us free from the powers of our enemies,
free to serve God without fear,
holy and righteous in God’s sight,
all the days of our lives.
Alleluia! God, you who are sovereign over all things, we praise you.
Christ, you who have conquered the world with your grace, we thank you.
Holy Spirit, you who rule in our hearts with love, we bow to you. Alleluia!
Collect / Prayer of the Day
God of power and might, we profess that Christ, your love embodied, rules over all Creation. Grant that Christ may rule over our own hearts: that we may belong to you alone, that our trust be in you, that our will be subservient to yours, that our lives are wholly in your service. God of grace, we pledge allegiance to you and to your Christ. Speak your Word to us and order our lives by your grace. Amen.
So many forces work woe in this world. So many powers vie for control. But you rule above all others. Save us, O God! So many leaders would claim our loyalty. So many voices would speak for our souls. Overrule them, O God! Take up your power and reign in our hearts. Call us and equip us to serve you for the sake of your Reign of Grace. Speak to us now that we may hear your word, be awakened and changed, and follow. Amen.
Eternal God, you have set Christ to rule over all the earth. He reigns with mercy and grace. Under his glorious and gentle rule, help us as we hear your scriptures read and good news proclaimed, to listen with humble hearts and to devote our lives to your service. We pray in the name of Christ, our sovereign. Amen.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
you who create,
who rule the world,
rule in my heart.
Shepherd the flock of my soul.
Reign in my life.
Prayer of Confession
Pastor: The grace of God be with you.
All: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
God of love, you are our Sovereign.
Forgiveness is your law, and mercy is your demand.
But we confess that we have not obeyed your law,
nor allowed ourselves to fully receive your blessing.
We bow to you.
Forgive us, transform us,
and write your law of grace in our hearts.
We pray in the name of Christ, the King of Mercy.
[Silent prayer … The Word of Grace]
Leader: I pray that you will lead lives worthy of the Beloved,
fully pleasing to God,
that you will bear fruit in every good work
and grow in knowing God.
All: May we be made strong with all the strength
that comes from God’s glorious power,
which prepares us to endure everything with patience.
Joyfully give thanks to the Holy One,
who has enabled you to shine with the light
all God’s beloved ones inherit.
God has rescued us from the power of darkness
and transferred us into the realm of the Beloved,
in whom our sins are forgiven
and our lives are made complete.
Christ is the visible appearance of the invisible God,
the beloved older brother of all creation.
All things in heaven and on earth were created in Christ,
everything visible and invisible,
rulers and powers and systems and empires—
everything was created through Christ and for Christ.
Christ came before anything,
and in Christ everything holds together.
Christ is the head and the church is the body.
Christ is the Source of life, and has turned even death into a birth:
so Christ is first in every way.
In Christ God is completely present.
Through Christ God reconciles us to God—
all of us, and everything on earth and in heaven:
making peace in dying on the cross.
Response / Creed / Affirmation
1. 1. Luke 1.68-79 may be read as an affirmation
(Colossians 1. 11-20)
Leader: Let us give thanks to God,
the Life-Giver, our Mother, our Father,
who gives us, with all the saints, the gift of God’s light.
All: God has rescued us from the power of darkness
and transferred us into the Realm of God’s beloved Son.
Christ has set us free, pronouncing the forgiveness of our sin.
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God,
the oldest sibling of all creation.
All things in heaven and on earth were created in Christ:
everything visible and invisible,
including nations and dominions and rulers and powers—
all things have been created through him and for him.
Christ before all things, and in Christ everything holds together.
Christ is the head of the body, the church;
Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
and is at the heart of everything.
God was pleased to live completely in Christ.
Christ brings everything into harmony with God—
everything on earth and in heaven,
by making peace through the blood of the cross.
Leader: May God’s glorious power make you strong.
May you be prepared to endure everything with patience,
the whole time joyfully giving thanks to God.
3. (from Colossians 1.13-20)
We give thanks to God, who has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the dominion of God’s beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.
We believe in Christ, who shows us God, since God lives fully in Christ. Christ is the elder sibling of all Creation. Everything in the universe was created through and for Christ, who has dominion over all power structures, all authorities, all visible and invisible forces. Christ provides the way we make sense of the world, for everything holds together in Love. Through Christ God has brought everyone and everything back into relationship, creating peace where there was bloodshed.
We belong to the Church, which is Christ’s body; and Christ is our head. Love leads us in everything in life, and even in death and resurrection. Thanks be to God!
[The body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]
God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.
Blessed are you, Holy One God of Israel,
for you have looked favorably on your people and redeemed us.
You have raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of your servant David,
as you spoke through the mouth of your holy prophets from of old.
You granted that we would be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all that diminishes life.
You have set us free to serve you without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before you all our days.
You have rescued us from the power of darkness
and delivered us into the Realm of your beloved son.
Therefore with all Creation we sing your praise.
Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
in whom you were pleased to dwell fully.
Jesus embodied your visible image, before all things,
creating all things, ruling over all things,
in whom all Creation holds together.
In Christ we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.
Through them you have reconciled everything to yourself,
making peace by their blood on the cross.
(The Blessing and Covenant)
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ.
And you, children, will be called the prophets of the Most High;
for you will go before God to prepare the way,
to give knowledge of salvation to God’s people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us.
O God, give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and guide our feet into the way of peace.
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]
On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Prayer after Communion
God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. You have fed us with the the power that raised Christ from the dead. Send us to love, with trust and gratitude, to proclaim forgiveness, to serve as loyal subjects in the Realm of Love, in the name and the Spirit and the company of Jesus. Amen.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending
Gracious God, we give you these gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. You reign in love over all the world. Reign over our own hearts; fill us with your light; and send us out to work, to risk and to witness for the realm of justice and mercy you desire for all the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.
Gracious God, we give you our gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. Send us into the world with Christ reigning in our hearts. May your love rule over us, your generosity lead us forward, and your Spirit strengthen us to serve you in all that we do, to your glory, in the name of Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
Leader: You, children, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare a way for God,
to give knowledge of salvation to all people by enacting the forgiveness of their sins.
All: 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.
(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)
Christ, Ruler of All Things (Tune: ST. ELIZABETH – Fairest Lord Jesus)
Christ, Ruler of all things, what is seen and unseen,
your love reigns; your grace is sure.
Beneath our fear and strife, death fails to conquer life:
your tender mercy still endures.
Christ, Ruler of our hearts, come and reign within us.
Make us comrades, siblings, friends.
Your love be our life, our only power,
that gives us life that never ends.
Christ, Ruler of the earth, bring your gentle justice:
your Realm come, your will be done.
Heal all oppression; fill us with mercy,
as faithful as the rising sun.
Christ, Ruler of all things, of what is and is to come,
Risen One, our song we raise.
Rule in our living; guide us with tender love.
Your grace in us will be your praise.
Love Is Enthroned (Tune: Finlandia)
O, risen Christ, who once appeared among us,
you have ascended! Loud we sing your praise.
Though we may see no shadow of your nearness,
you have not gone; your loving presence stays.
You are no longer in one time or place,
but in all things, to radiate your grace.
Christ has ascended, reigning now above.
Love is enthroned at the Creator’s side.
All powers on earth are subject to Christ’s love,
who is our history’s unseen, gentle guide.
Though evil try to make this world its home,
Love is its Lord, and love shall overcome.
Go in the peace of Christ who is our Lord,
and gently heal, amid the fear and strife.
For we who eat and drink the living Word
are now Christ’s Body, and Christ’s earthly life.
We may not see the journey or the end,
but Christ still reigns, our ruler and our friend.
O Jesus, Wounded Sovereign (Tune: O Sacred Head Now Wounded)
Dear Jesus, you who suffer and walk among the poor
whose hearts and lives are broken, whose faith is still unsure:
despised, accused and battered, you do not say a word.
So powerless, yet loving!— you are my Sovereign Lord.
You bear no arms but loving, no threats nor flags unfurled.
You wear no kingly robes, but the sorrows of the world.
Yet your forgiveness conquers each worldly rule and reign,
and rises, whole, undaunted, from evil, death and pain.
While emperors abuse you, and people shrug or stare,
and dark injustice troubles the ones for whom you care,
your mighty grace arises, and hidden from our sight,
enfolds all living beings in your triumphant light.
O Jesus, wounded Sovereign, I pray, give me the nerve
without this world’s armor to love and bless and serve.
My master and companion, rule all eternity
with grace and deep compassion, and, Love, begin with me.
O Sovereign Love (Tune: Amazing Grace)
Beloved, you who guard and guide and give for every need,
reign in my heart, O Sovereign Christ; direct each thought and deed.
O Sovereign Love, my root, my sun, my purpose and my peace,
I spurn the world’s vain, anxious rule, and trust your Law of Grace.
The Empire of your justice, God, with mercy’s clear command
shall be my home; my loyalty is to no lesser land.
In humble and obedient thanks I pledge my life to you,
to join your work of justice, God, to make the world anew.
Reign in my heart, O Christ, my Rule. In faith I am compelled
to serve you, who by love alone have conquered all the world.