Christ the King
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It’s not very often that I follow the lectionary. Not that there’s anything wrong with the lectionary, it’s just not been my practice or the practice of a church of which I’ve been a part. The lectionary is a four-year cycle of Sunday readings on which a church’s corporate worship is based. It goes hand in hand with the church calendar, which we pay some attention to here at Blythwood. We mark it with the colours of the church season. We mark it in our church bulletin each week. On days like Pentecost, we mark it a little more intentionally. In seasons like Advent and Lent we mark it even more intentionally and in a more prolonged way. I look forward to these seasons and I like marking time by church time. There’s a significance I believe to ordering our lives through a calendar that is different from business cycles or academic cycles or just the regular calendar.
I wanted to mark Christ the King Sunday this year. It’s the Sunday before Advent and provides a sort of bridge from Ordinary Time (which we’ve been marking since way back on Pentecost in May) to Advent – our season of waiting, of eager anticipation.
The person we are anticipating is Christ our King. In our first reading, we are reminded that we are part of something that was long in the making and long in the planning. We look back and remember that a promise was made to Abraham that he would be the father of a nation. We remember that the promise was that through this nation, all the nations of the world would be blessed. We remember that God spoke to David and said “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Sam 7:16) We’re reminded of these words in the Psalm – “One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne.”
Whatever might this look like? One may have wondered. One of the details I love about the Christmas story is when Gabriel is speaking to Mary. He tells her that she will have a child and that “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33). Rather than saying something like “What is that supposed to mean?”, Mary (ever practical) asks “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” How can this be? Amazing love, how can it be? What a great question, and may we approach our King with awe and wonder. The one who was promised so long ago has come. Let’s sing praise to Him! Sing “Jesus Is Lord”
Sometimes I think we need to recapture the meaning of some of the words we use around the Christian faith. They bear interpretation and they bear explanation. The word “apocalypse” has taken on a singular meaning in our culture it seems. “End of the world destruction” is how I would put it. Scary thing. Often paired with “zombie” but maybe that’s just the stuff I’m paying more attention to in the culture. The Revelation of John. The Apocalypse of John. What the word means is “uncover” or “unveil.” If you like to visualise you can picture the drawing back of a curtain. The thing that is very often lost when we consider the book of Revelation, is how the curtain is being pulled back and we are given descriptions of worship of God. We are taken not only outside of ourselves but outside of time itself. It’s written as a letter “John to the seven churches in Asia” but the language is the sort that would be used in a worship service – “Grace to you and peace.” It’s the same kind of greeting that I like to encourage people in when we have our greeting time here – “Peace be with you.” “And with you (or and with your spirit).” All of this founded in the one who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before the throne and from Jesus Christ.
The faithful witness – the one who was faithful to the message and work given him. The one who was obedient even to death. The firstborn of the dead – the one who goes before us, the one in whom his followers even now share new life. The one in whom God’s new creation is already a reality. The ruler of the kings of the earth. This whole thing goes beyond the church, of course. The one who is in control. I’ll always remember seeing the Blind Boys of Alabama at Massey Hall with many of you. Toward the end of the show, their spoken message was “God is in control.” Someone has put it like this when it comes to powers and principalities (whether human or spiritual) - “…whereas human rulers like to claim total dominion over the world and have themselves celebrated as rulers of history, and whereas demonic powers like to afflict the community of God, in truth it is God alone to whom dominion over the world and history belongs.”
The good and fitting and proper response is one of praise. “To him who loves us, and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Rev 1:5b-6) This king is one who loves us. This king is one who has freed us, forgiven us. This king has made us to be a kingdom of priests serving his God and Father because this is not all simply about some otherworldly vision. Wherever we are, as someone has said, something of God’s end-time new creation is being realized. Wherever we are, the kingdom of God is. Grace and peace has been extended to us that we might extend grace and peace to every single person we encounter as we go through our days. Because the Prince of Peace is our King.
At the end of this short passage that we read this morning, we hear God’s voice directly. This happens twice in the book of Revelation, and the other time is Rev 21:5-8. Here God says “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” The first and the last. Says the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Note that it’s not who is, and who was, and who will be because it’s not just about who God is, but what God does. And who is to come. It’s about what God has done, is doing, and will one day do. We look forward to the day when Christ will return (and we’ll talk more about this next week as we remember Jesus’ words to stand up and raise our heads for our redemption is drawing near).
This is the kingdom to which we belong. This is the king to whom we belong. What else could we do in the face of such wonderful truths but praise God?
Sing “Revelation Song”
Read John 18:33-38
It’s always important to define terms. While we are celebrating Christ the King today, the question must be asked, “What kind of king is this?” The concept of a king can be a negative one, as history is littered with rulers who have used power for their own ends. History is littered with people who have been subjugated by rulers who have used and oppressed them for their own benefit. The more things change, the more they stay the same. What kind of king is this Jesus? What kind of kingdom is this? We have this remarkable scene where the man who represents Roman power (speaking of subjugation) is face to face with an itinerant rabbi whose face is out to here after having been struck in the face by the police. Roman rulers were known to get up very early to attend to local business and legal matters. Pilate has been told that this man is a criminal and deserving of death. We’re often at our most fresh in the morning and Pilate is likely freshly shaved and dressed in clothes befitting his office. Opposite him is Jesus. Frederick Beuchner describes the scene like this – “The man stands in front of the desk with his hands tied behind his back. You can see that he has been roughed up a little. His upper lip is absurdly puffed out and one eye is swollen shut. He looks unwashed and smells unwashed. His feet are bare – big, flat peasant feet although the man himself is not big. There is something almost comic in the way he stands there, bent slightly forward because of the way his hands are tied and… (looking) down at the floor through his one good eye as if he is looking for something he has lost… If there were just the two of them, Pilate thinks, he would give him his carfare and send him back to the sticks where he came from, but the guards are watching…”
“Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asks. “Are you asking on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Jesus replies, because we have to make sure we’re defining the question, and Jesus is in control here, asking questions of his own. The arrest, trial, and execution are not things that are being done to Jesus. Both here and on the cross, Jesus is sovereign. “What have you done?” asks Pilate, but the better question might have been “What are you going to do?” “My kingdom is not from this world,” says Jesus. If it were, his followers would be fighting for him because kingdoms from this world hold on to power by force and violence, and self-interest. Those things would claim our allegiance, whether we’re talking nationalism or consumerism or materialism or the kingdom of the self, hold onto power through violence and force and oppression and self-interest. “My kingdom is not from here,” says Jesus, though it is definitely for here. Jesus’ kingdom is rooted somewhere else. At the same time, Jesus’ kingdom is most definitely for this world. Jesus is God for us.
“For this, I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” This is what our King came to do. To speak truth. I am the bread of life. I am the light of the world. I am the good shepherd. I am the door. I am the Good Shepherd. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the way, the truth, and the life. I am the true vine.
And Jesus came to show the truth. To be truth. Pilate will ask, “What is truth?” The question might be better put “Who is truth?” We don’t know how Pilate asked the question – cynically, despairing, hopeful. I like to think he really wanted to know. Someone has said that truth is humanity’s deepest legitimate quest. Jesus has made this whole conversation intensely personal when he starts speaking of truth. “Everyone (each one) who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” To belong to Jesus is to belong to the truth. The question for us is “To whom or to what do we belong?” “To whom or to what do I listen?”
I belong to this King. To belong to Jesus – to name Christ as King - is to belong to the truth. To name Jesus our shepherd means to hear his voice and follow, the same way sheep hear their shepherd’s voice and follow. So let us stop and listen. I am the bread of life. I am the good shepherd. What does this mean? What kind of King is this? The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus doesn’t answer Pilate’s question in our text with words, but he’s going to show Pilate (and the world) what truth looks like on the cross. Self-sacrificing love. Self-sacrificing love was the thing that was going to save the world, and is saving the world, and will save the world. The one who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” has opened up the way to life eternal – life lived in connection with God for now and for always – in the truth that is God’s self-sacrificing loving act in the person of Jesus on the cross.
This is Jesus who we are invited to call King. This is Jesus who has issued the invitation “Follow me.” May this be an invitation each and every one of us accepts today, whether it be for the 1st time or the 10,001st time. We’re going to have a chance to affirm our acceptance of the invitation in song too. Let’s sing together.
Sing “Amazing Love- You Are My King”