It’s Christ the King Sunday. It’s also the last Sunday of the liturgical year. This festival day is relatively new to the church, instituted by Pope Pius, the eleventh, in 1925. According to Pius this day is meant to be a day of focus for the people: “If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.”
For many, Christ the King is a symbol of God’s reign over all creation. For others, Christ the King is a difficult image because many people don’t see Jesus as a king. Most people today see kings, or the office of kings reduced to an image of wealthy people, who may or may not do anything especially noteworthy, who live relatively comfortable and privileged lives, travelling around to public functions and waving and greeting the common folk. Their role as a national and symbolically patriotic symbol has dwindled in importance over the last 50 years.
So, today, Jesus says: “My kingdom is not from this world…”
Well, that seems…
It’s a pretty straightforward statement for some, but I often wonder if we really think about the words that Jesus says in response to Pilate’s question about the nation of Jews handing over their king.
“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here’” (John 18:36)
Traditionally, a king – a good one – was meant to be a leader who would sacrifice his life for his people, who would protect them, who would work constantly for their well-being and happiness, and even their spiritual health and salvation. This sounds like the kind of king people would want to fight to free. But Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world, so his followers won’t fight for him.
It’s fairly perplexing.
So an idea was put to me in my studies this week: What Jesus might be saying is that were he and his followers of this world, then naturally they would use the primary tool this world provides for establishing and keeping power: violence. But Jesus is not of this world and so Jesus will not defend himself through violence. Jesus will not establish his claims by violence. Jesus will not usher in God’s kingdom by violence. Jesus will make no followers by violence.
Now, maybe it’s the fact that my social media sites and news sites are saturated with the wounds of the world: the violence that humans can bring upon their fellow humans, the fear of the other, and the unquestionably dangerous events that are unfolding around the globe as more and more lights are shone on the victims of hatred, injustice, oppression, and war. Maybe it’s because I have recently come to the conclusion that a world of attacking only creates more and more death. A world full of hatred results only in death. A world full of violence results only in death.
So, maybe that’s why this idea sticks with me: Jesus will not make his point with the means of this world, specifically: violence.
What a poignant thing to read and reflect on this week.
Especially when you know that this gospel reading is usually and most commonly associated with Good Friday.
So, I think we are a bit like Pontius Pilate here: we want to know why is Jesus, the king of kingdom not of this realm here in this realm? Because Jesus is here to point us to the truth that the writer of John is so keen to point to throughout the book of John. We’re talking about THE TRUTH. That God loves each and every one of us. That God cherishes the life in each and every one of God’s creations in the world.
Which, to be honest, is both an incredibly simple statement and an incredibly difficult concept for us to understand.
Difficult to understand, because, our understanding of God is both corporate and personal. Our ways of defining God are complex compilations of our own interpretations of a number of resources and built on what we are told by the number of people who have led and taught us. Our creative vision of what and who God is, in our world, is heavily dependent on our own experiences in the world.
David Lose suggests that this is why we have a tendency to imagine God to be violent, rather than a God of love, because we live in a world of violence. And, rather than recognize the cross as the symbol of sacrificial love that it is, we are either puzzled by it or conflate what the cross was into this purely legal punishment of Jesus in substitution for each of us as lowly sinners because we have way too much experience with punitive relationships. And rather than simply believe that God’s grace and acceptance are absolutely unconditional, we assume God offers love, power, and status only on the condition that we fear, obey, and praise God – and despise those who don’t. Sounds pretty bleak as a way of being. But I think it’s all very human, this attempt to conflate what Martin Luther taught as two kingdoms into one understanding. And it gets murky when it’s done that way. So let’s talk about the two kingdoms a bit.
Martin Luther helps us understand this world of two kingdoms, also known as Law and Grace. We understand this world’s kingdom to operate from a world of Law, and it does in fact have its place: the rules of governments, law enforcement, military protection are in place in order to put order to the chaos’s of the world like the acts of terror against concert halls, soccer stadiums, universities, and relatively safe neighbourhoods. Because of this, we are bold to declare support for those forces who work against terrorism, and to call for the justice of those who bring hatred and fear into so many places of peace.
But, it’s not the only kingdom. Martin Luther shows us that there is also the kingdom of Grace. This kingdom is not of this world, like Christ is not of this world, but it does have a place in this world. We understand that there are limits to what the forces of Law can do in the world. We recognize that sometimes we reach the very limit of our own understanding when it comes to hatred and pain in the world.
There was a quote that started moving around in the periphery of social media when the attacks in Paris were helping to bring to light so many other acts of terror in the world in such a brief period of time. Martin Luther King Jr. said this: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” And that’s where God and God’s kingdom come in.
So, what can we do in the midst of the two kingdoms and a Christ crucified and a seemingly distant God of unconditional love?
Jesus said this: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37b)
Do you remember what I said about truth earlier? THE TRUTH – God’s truth for us is that God’s love is for the life of each and every one of God’s creations. We belong to that truth.
So, we come together. We pray for the kingdoms to overlap again and again, and we give witness to that reality as we see it in the world around us.
“We pray that God will comfort those who mourn, strengthen those who seek to thwart terrorists and bring them to justice, change the hearts of those who can see no other way forward but through violence, and equip all of us to work for a peace born of equity, for only such a peace will last.”
And we witness to the TRUTH, rather the reality of God, in the world. We speak to the presence of the God’s kingdom present for the people who are present in this world. We point to the one who came into this world and remained calm in the midst of incredible fear and terror as he was judged and sentenced to death on a cross. We point to the value of human life in the most terrible of situations through mercy. We remind those around us that the kingdom of God is a light is stronger than darkness, a love is stronger than hate, and that with God, all good things are possible. And we listen for God’s voice.
All of today’s texts are chosen to help us imagine what it looks like to have Jesus as our King. At the very least, they are to help us imagine the reign of Christ. But it is just a little more than that. This day is about seeing the reign and kingdom of Christ through time: the past through the texts and through our own looking back through the year. It is about seeing the reign of Christ breaking into the now. The future of Christ the King in the now. I had mentioned that this is the last Sunday of the year before we start the year over with the First Sunday of Advent. Today is the culmination of the liturgical year. Imagine looking back and saying: “How have we seen the reign of Christ throughout the church year?” It looks differently depending on the season of the year. Much like our world looks differently depending on what time of year it is. I started coming out here during the summer, and as we approach winter I am realizing that I’ve seen this countryside through a couple of seasons. And the land changes so significantly every couple of months. I think it’s important to remember that. I think it’s also important to realize that the Christ’s reign is going to look different at different phases of life, through different eyes, and through different people.
But, just as you can count on the countryside to change and reflect different times of year, so too you can count on Christ’s kingdom being presently here in the now. It is happening all around each one of us and in the places we live and move and have our being. The reign of Christ is happening now in the places of your neighbours, whom you might not necessarily think are members of the Kingdom. Now there’s an idea that bears some thought! Let this approaching Advent season be a time of listening and anticipation for each of you as we prepare for the birth of the One who came into this kingdom to show us all a greater way.
Let us pray…
Help us to listen O God, for the voice of Christ in all of our moments. Enable us to see the reign of Christ through our texts this day: David points us to the promised one; John’s Revelation offers hope in the promised one; Pilate both discovers and avoids the promised one. Embolden us in our journey of life that we might follow Jesus with confidence and courage and bless our journey into Advent. Help us to patiently wait and watch in those days before Christmas so that we can hear your message to us about life, about Christmas, and about our celebration of the Nativity. Give us joy, peace and anticipation in Advent’s delayed and counter-cultural movement toward Christmas. Amen.