Christ the King Sunday
November 24, 2013
Oh, those Doctors of the Church, those Lectionary writers. First they decide to celebrate Christ the King on the last Sunday of the church year, and then they give u this message of Jesus crucifixion. What were they thinking?
So let’s start with the King: it’s hard for Americans to really get the idea of a King, since our founding fathers went out of their way to be sure that governing power could never be concentrated in the hands of one person or group long enough to become a solo ruler. The Kings and Queens in our day are pretty decorative, not the actual ruling authorities in their country, so the image we have is someone like Queen Elizabeth who is the world’s best at small talk and making people feel at ease as she welcomes them to state dinners and participates in ceremonial events.
Perhaps a more effective image of a King is one of those African or Middle Eastern dictators who come to power through bloody coups and rule their people with secret police and other terror tactics. Even 10 years after the Peace Accords in Guatemala, the van driver who took us to Chichicastenango didn’t want to answer the pointed inquiries of my language school companion about what the issues were in the coming election for president and who he wanted to vote for. The days when you and your whole family could die horribly for voicing such opinions were still fresh in his mind. We have never experienced such terror in our country, so talk of kings doesn’t have much resonance for us.
But kings were not only about exerting their will on the populace. The trade-off is that the king will protect you from enemies of your kingdom, who in overthrowing your king in a power-grab will also probably kill all the men, women, and children (you included) in the kingdom or take them as slaves. So kings need to be strong, have the support of secondary leaders to go to war with them, if required, and the willingness of their people to fight in those wars. If kings are smart, they treat their landowners and workers fairly and generously; it’s a two-way street. Loyalty is rewarded with protection, and power is used to preserve the peace.
It’s easy to make the case for Jesus being a King. After all, we know that he is God, and that he gave up his God-ness to come and live among us with the same vulnerability of all humans. But that’s not how it happened. As today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel reminds us, Jesus died a brutal, shameful death through the machinations of his own people, at the hands of the Romans, who were only too glad to get rid of such a trouble-maker. Jesus was after bigger game than the authorities of his day. Jesus was looking to defeat death and its power to separate people from hope. Jesus was looking to finally illustrate that no power in heaven or earth could separate us from the love of God, who would go to any lengths to prove how much we are loved.
In Jesus, we see the grace of real power. We see willingness to suffer at the hands of a world that brutalizes and humiliates, marking forever God’s solidarity with those whose lives are lived at the mercy of others. We see forgiveness offered for those who deserve it least. We see Jesus’ generous acceptance of the confession of the thief next to him, a momentary change of heart that changes life forever. And when Jesus rises from death and walks out of the tomb, we see that our most ferocious enemy is defeated. Death no longer has the power to terrify us, to claim our history. Now we know that the kingly power of Jesus is all the protection we need to walk through life with trust. Not our sin, nor the powers of evil that cause disease and destruction, nor any enemy of our life or loves can finally harm us. We are safe in God’s promises to be with us, to defeat all that can steal us away, and to grant us a life with peace and joy at its heart. This is the King we claim. The work is done for us. It was done those thousands of years ago, once for all, and we live in the new kingdom of God’s love. We are at the same time citizens of a world in which all the evils are still at work, but that is not the Kingdom that claims us.
We hear this morning in the words of Jeremiah, God’s promise to a people who are about to be dragged away into exile, torn from the land which made them God’s people. They would be scattered because of unfaithful leadership and their own unwillingness to live by the laws which made them different from the rest of the world. “I myself will gather the remnants of my flock…I will bring them back and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing.” This then, is our King. The One who gathers, who gives us life without fear or dismay, the One who knows us each by name, and keeps us close, so that none may be missing. As we close out the church year we celebrate what we have learned again this year about God’s great love for us in sending us a Savior, the guarantee that we are safe with God every day and forever. May you treasure your place in God’s Kingdom, so different from the kingdoms of this world, and trust the promises that keep you a member of Jesus’ own flock. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.