Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" 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." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. 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."
It is Reign of Christ Sunday, the final Sunday of the church year. Next week we begin Advent – and we begin all over again with the Gospel story or as one pastor called it, the “arc of salvation”[i] – following it through the scriptures from the announcement through the resurrection. For weeks and weeks, we have been pruned and shaped and taught and nudged into becoming disciples – and today we acknowledge that all that ever was or that is or that will be, belongs to God and that Christ is the one and true ruler over the universe – Christ is King.
The original name of this holiday is not Reign of Christ – some churches changed the language to make it more inclusive. Originally it was called Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, referred to as the Feast of Christ the King. Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in his encyclical letter Quas Primas of 1925, in response to growing secularism and nationalism. Just seven years prior, WWI had officially ended with the signing of the Armistice and now, war seemed once again possibility. It was in this context that Pope Pius XI published his the Quas Primas. The feast thus was to point away from earthly rulers toward Christ the King as the only ruler of the faithful; away from the reign of primes ministers and presidents and earthly kings – and toward the spiritual realm and the reign of Christ. This day reminds us that our allegiance is to a spiritual ruler in heaven, and not to any other earthly power. Without this designation as King, we limit Jesus to the role of a religious teacher and leader, someone who went around saying nice things and performing miracles. WIthout being called King, Christ becomes just another good man, like many others.
Although knowing Christ is King, it is difficult for many of us to really wrap our heads around the metaphor of king and kingship because we do not really live in a world of Kings and Queens anymore. While monarchies still exist, for the most part they have very little impact on us and our lives other than a news story here and there about the Queen of England or any of her descendants getting married or having a child. Monarchs are, for most of us, the thing of fairy tales and Disney movies and history books…and much of the time – short of Princess Diana and her children – they have not been seen as overly loving and kind. Our image of a monarch is often the wicked king or queen – mostly king - one of a patriarchy that suppresses women and the poor, of a heavy handed and from the top down type of ruling, and of big feasts and lavish banquets to whom only those who hold power are invited. Not the kind of images we think of when we think of Christ – the traveling preacher with no place to lay his head, who ate with the sinners and outcasts, and who fed 5000 not in a banquet hall but on a mountain side with a boys meager offerings of fish and bread in lieu of succulent roasts and heavy wine and piping hot sides prepared by cooks in an over sized kitchen. And the One who wore a crown made of thorns rather than gold and precious stones....
Yet– although our picture of Kings and our picture of Jesus collide, we cannot ignore that Jesus proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God and that he told parables about the Kingdom of God. And a kingdom comes with power – this much we know – and so the Kingdom of God must be about God’s power over us…or maybe even in us? In Luke 17:21. Jesus states that “the kingdom of God is in your midst”. A more accurate translation is, however, that the kingdom of God is “inside you”.[ii]
Inside of us? How do we feel about that? how do we REALLY feel about that?
We love to think that we are in charge, without a need for rulers or kings , but there is just no getting around the fact that although we all have our own free will, that somehow the glue that holds it all together and the final say – they are God’s. God’s Kingdom may not be like the kingdoms of earthly rulers but God is in charge. So – just what do we do with this image of Christ the King and God’s Kingdom in us, when the idea of trusting a ruling authority, our governmental leaders, makes many of us feel so very uneasy?
And easy way to deal with it is to see it as something ahead – somewhere, in a time to come. And yes, this feast day is not only about rulers here and now or during Jesus’ time, but, as you can tell from our reading from Revelation, there is an eschatological element. Eschatology stems from two Greek words meaning "last" and "study" and is the study of 'end things – thus pointing not only toward the end of life here or end of a month, season, year – but also the end of time – the second coming of Christ, when the “kingdom of Christ” will come to pass in all its fullness, making it quite a fitting observance for us - here at the end of this Christian year and leading into Advent, the beginning of the new church year and a time when the church celebrates the birth of the Christ-child just as much as it anticipates the second coming of Christ as it sings “O come, O Come, Emmanuel”…and so -yes, on this Christ the King Sunday, we can focus on the reign of Christ as something that is ahead, in the future, as something that will come from up high down to us..
…or we can broaden our understanding and think about our role as heirs of Christ’s kingdom here and now.
According to Professor Lucy Lind Hogan, our texts challenge “…us to answer important questions. Are we willing to accept Jesus as our king? We, too, are tempted by the allure of secularism and the power of the world. In the end, according to John, the Jewish leaders rejected their faith and bowed to the empire, “We have no king but the emperor” (John 19:15). In what ways do we bow to the empire?
Do we live in the reign of God following the servant king? Do we live lives that reflect that service? Do we reach out to the least and the lost? Do we seek to serve rather than be served? Do we testify to the truth of God? It is the truth that Jesus came to the world to bring love and forgiveness. Are we citizens of that kingdom? “[iii]
On this Christ the King Sunday, I invite us to seek the face and look into the heart and hands of Christ the King - the king who calls each one of us “beloved “even before we rise freshly cleaned and renewed from the waters of baptism and treasures us more than life itself; the one who has claimed us as sheep of his own flock and marked us as his own forever. What does it mean to be changed with keeping God’s covenant to be called to worship in God’s house and proclaim God’s teaching? When we embrace these questions and live our lives in pursuit of the answers, we bring Christ’s realm to earth, we allow Emmanuel - God with us to - grow and to multiply within us and around us. When we live these questions, we are no longer just praying “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done”, but we are living these words with the depth of our being. We no longer just ask for the living bread, but we become the living bread. We no longer just ask for forgiveness, but we do forgive. So – what does it mean to worship Christ the King, to follow Christ the King, to grow into becoming more like Christ the King?
Questions – oh so many questions…. Dear congregation and dear Gabriel – who will be baptized here today into the promises of the Kingdom of God and into membership into the body of Christ the King - living these questions is what makes disciples out of followers. Living these questions and pondering them in our hearts is at the heart of the journey of the baptized. Living these questions – that is the invitation of this holiday of Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday – and I think that is exactly why Pius XI enacted it, to ask us to stop and think and ponder
It is my prayer that we pause to remember where we have been, where we are and to anticipate where we are going – and may we be filled with gratitude and joy by the grace that has been lavishly poured out upon us – and may that gratitude show itself in our living of the questions and in living for those whom Jesus loves - the sick, the imprisoned, the hungry, the naked, the last and the lost – all who are in need. May we persist daily in growing in our own discipleship, remembering our baptism, always considering how ready we are to welcome the reign of Christ and aware of the preparations yet to undertake, while becoming more and more like the Servant King that we adore. On this Christ the King Sunday , may we recommit ourselves to Jesus, “the way, the truth and the life”.
[i] My apology; I misplaced my reference but will add it once I find it again.
[ii] The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament, Tyndale House (1990), p. 280