Christ the King Sunday
25 November 2012
First Baptist Church, Lawrence, Kansas
I’m going to tell you something about myself that I’m not too proud of. I really like to get the last word in. Really like to get the last word in. In my family “Yeah But” is a common chorus heard as arguments, conversations, debates stretch on. The cacophony that builds as each of us clamors to get the last word in. I’m willing to see the other person’s perspective, but lest they think they’ve won, I retort with a “yeah but!” to re-emphasize and re-articulate my own thoughts, feelings, perspectives, justifying myself once again. Just so we’re clear, I’m still right. I really like to get the last word in.
Today’s scripture passages are full of last words. Much like the long-winded speech from Samuel we read a few weeks ago, in 2 Samuel, we hear the last words of David to the gathered people of Israel. David, too, reminds the people of their own identity as called children of God, and reminds them of God’s own faithfulness to them. Though Israel is now an established monarchy, he reminds them of their utmost loyalty and obedience to God and God’s kingdom: a Kingdom marked by justice and mercy.
These words from David, set us up for some other last words. Today, according to the church calendar, is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the church year. Though, it often gets a bit lost in the hustle of Thanksgiving, Stewardship conversations and Advent Preparations. This year, by luck of the Gregorian Calendar, we (thankfully) have an extra Sunday between Thanksgiving and Advent, so today we recognize Christ the King Sunday. We hear the last words of the liturgical year. Next week we start all over again with Advent – with hope, anticipation and held breath.
The 2 Samuel passage is significant in many ways for this Sunday, perhaps most notably because it prepares us for another kind of king, from David’s own lineage. In the Gospels we remember that Jesus’ own genealogy was traced through royal roots – from the house of David a king will rise up. Jesus is a King first because it is in his blood.
And yet, as we will remember in the coming weeks, Jesus’ royal identity is unexpected, humble and meek. From his very birth, through his life and death, he is a king unrecognizable by any worldly standards or markers.
It is customary, on Christ the King Sunday, to sing triumphant, victorious, coronation style songs about Jesus being King. Today we sang “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” Others of us are familiar with hymns like, “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” “O Worship the King,” and “Lead On O King Eternal.” See, the thing is, Jesus wasn’t exactly a King like most of the lyrics might suggest.
We hear him called King; he told us of God’s Kingdom, but we know that he never wore jewels or a fur-lined robe. He certainly didn’t have a mansion, a castle, or even a home to call his own. He didn’t keep servants or concubines or chefs. And the only crown he ever wore was a crown of thorns. A crown fashioned to mock any claims to kingship he ever had. A crown that turned a symbol of rule and power into a symbol of humiliation, vulnerability, and contempt.
We hear it said, and we say quite often, that Jesus’ Kingdom, that the Kingdom of God, is countercultural; it is subversive. Christ the King Sunday calls us to reflect on the challenging and yet comforting reality of the weight of these ascriptions. In Jesus’ conversation with Pilate, in some of his last words on earth, we hear the challenging, and even confusing dichotomy between kingdoms of this world, and the Kingdom of Christ:
Pilate, as an arm of Caesar, used his power and authority to manipulate others in order to maintain his position and power. He has little to no care for the community he serves – he distances himself from the people over whom he rules when he says to Jesus: “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over.” (John 18. 35) On the other hand, Jesus’ power is the radical power of love and truth. His power is the power of service and sacrifice, to which he attested when he commands us to lose our lives for the sake of others. His authority is divine. His authority to the Kingdom is in his very commitment and living out of the grace and truth, which characterizes it.
The result of Pilate and Caesar’s rule is a culture of fear and terror. Even in the midst of relative calm, as in the context of the Gospels, the people still operated in a culture of fear and suspicion. On the other hand, Jesus brings peace, even into the real presence of terror. Remember his words: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14.27) This is the culture of Christ’s Kingdom.
We can also look to how their followers acted as a measure of leadership: “Pilate’s followers imitate him by using violence to conquer and divide people by race, ethnicity, and nationality.” On the other hand, we know how Jesus expects his followers to behave, and how he expects his disciples to treat others. He commanded Peter to put away his sword. He commands us to look out and care for our neighbors. His Kingdom, then, is a Kingdom of hospitality and unity, not of violence and division.
The source of authority for Pilate is human. He derives his power from Caesar. Caesar derives his power from control and self-declaration. Even in a democracy, we understand the imperfection and tenuousness of authority that originates from human will. On the other hand, Jesus’ authority is derived from the will of God and is eternal. His Kingdom is not susceptible to coup or to conquering. Christ’s Kingdom is the Kingdom of eternal light and life, which originates from the will of God.
What has this to do with us?
What does this mean for those of us who profess faith in Christ?
I believe that the true countercultural call of God’s Kingdom, of Christ’s Kingdom is for those of us who call ourselves believers. It is easy to talk about the subversive nature of an eternal kingdom, but what does that mean for us?
When we talk about the Reign of Christ, when we honor and sing about Christ as our King, we are talking and singing about a Kingdom and a Reign already at work in the person of Jesus Christ. In our Incarnational declarations of Easter and Pentecost, we confess that God’s own self in human form dwells among us, cares for us so much that he lives and works among the human community. Jesus, as God’s Incarnation, established a kingdom of reconciliation, right relationship and true humility.