Happy Christ the King Sunday! Hooray!
So, what does that mean, exactly? Anyone? Aside from being a kind of New Year’s Eve for the Church—next week is Advent and a whole new church year, you know—what’s Christ the King Sunday about? I mean, don’t we celebrate Jesus the Messiah as King every Sunday? Isn’t that kind of the point of the Resurrection and/or Ascension?
The Greek word for King basileus occurs 9 times in Jesus’ conversation with Pilate before he’s condemned—nine times—so, it’s kind of a big deal. Some history: Catholic Pope Pius XI established Christ the King Sunday in 1925
because he saw many of the Christian flock turning their attention and adoration to secular leaders,
dictators on the rise. See, at the time, totalitarianism was seen by many folks as a viable concept. A “sure, get the right guy in there, he could do some amazing things” kind of situation, and a lot of folks thought the whole world might soon be run by dictators. Pope Pius saw how folks were making idols of their national leaders and said, “NO, Jesus Christ is our king, not these folks. Don’t forget who brought you into this world and who can take you out.”
Let’s talk a bit about Jesus, shall we? What was he like? (invite answers—shepherd, truth, healing, etc.)
And now let’s talk a bit about kings—what are they like? (invite answers—rich, in control, despotic, figurehead, etc. Also consider other kinds of kings: political leaders, military leaders, economic leaders?)
What’s similar about these? Yeah, you get the point there—Jesus was and is not what we expect in a king. He’s not Prince Charles or even Queen Elisabeth. And he’s definitely not Mohamed Morsi of Egypt who is not a king, but who this week proclaimed that his office is no longer subject to judicial oversight—his decisions cannot be changed by other arms of government, he is above the law—this is precisely what kings have done in the past and what folks came to expect of them. And this is precisely the point—we proclaim Jesus as King and he’s nothing like those other folks we’ve called King.
Back in the day, the Israelites begged the prophet Samuel to ask God for a king because all the other nations had them. And Samuel said, “you’ll regret this—a king will lord it over you and take your money and make you miserable” and the people said, “nah, it’ll be okay.” And what happened? They got kings who lorded it over them, who took their money and made them miserable. Jesus is not that king.
Just a couple of weeks ago, we went to the polls to elect a new leader of these United States. Some voted for one guy, some for the other, all of us with an eye to making the country a better place And all of us, to some extent, thought, “if we just get the right guy in there, he could do some amazing things." Some sociologists have noticed that we so identify with a political party or ideology that any criticism of the ideology is a criticism of us personally. You don’t like liberalism? Clearly you hate me and all I stand for. You don’t like conservatism? Why don’t you like me? And so we focus inward, on only those we agree with, we lift up leaders who will further our agenda, try to elect folks who will fix everything once and for all.
Course, we know that’s not how it works. For one thing, no matter who is elected, they’re broken and human like the rest of us, prone to mistakes and pride. And President Obama and Mitt Romney were not our saviors—the job was taken already. So the night of the election, some of my cross-denominational clergy friends and I got together our congregations for an Election Night Communion—we gathered for word and meal and remembered whose we were. We remembered God as our President, Congress, School Board, and King. Jesus turns our idea of what Kings are on its head—kings give up their lives for their people, kings don’t eat spectacular banquets while others starve, kings give away both food and wisdom instead of hoarding them in the treasury, kings touch sick, coughing, oozing people and have compassion for the folks no one else will even look at.
But this king is not one to be a doormat. Anyone who says the New Testament is all soft and sweet Jesus hasn’t read it. Jesus our King will tell us NO when we’re going wrong. Jesus our King will turn the governments of the nations to dust if we but follow him and enact his command to love wastefully—Pilate and the Pharisees and all nations do well to feel threatened by our calling him a King. Jesus the King holds all things in his hands,
but not in the control-freak-despot kind of way, holding loosely, cradling, keeping us from falling completely apart. The true King is the one who lives with the people, who speaks Truth to both power and to the powerless, who dies for them both, who defeats death by rising again. The true King who we celebrate today is not our government or our retirement funds or our spouse or anything else we put in the place of God. He is Truth itself, he is humble to the point of death, he sees into the heart of us, our sin and our virtue, and, looking at us, loves us.
The King is dead. Long live the King.