What do we mean when we as church proclaim Jesus as Christ the King? (Luke 23:33-43; Jeremiah 23:1-6; Song of Zechariah; and Colossians 1:11-20. Christ the King.) It is one of those occasions when we might be tempted to start by saying what we think it does not mean and then work our way toward defining kingship in such a way that we can celebrate the festival and claim the title for our Lord. And given history and current affairs we should be hesitant to claim anything that looks like worldly power for our Lord.
Christ the King is a festival of the church I and many others are a little ambivalent about. Only because we have such narrow understandings of kingship and I am not sure I always recognise the human Jesus of Nazareth in the hymns and golden icons of Christ the King. Indeed it is a very recent festival in the church having been introduced into the Roman Catholic Church in 1925 and then adopted by Anglicans, Lutherans and others in 1970.
In the years after the Great War you can imagine why the church would want to assert that Jesus was Lord and King, not world leaders who had led their people into such horror and destruction, or failed to protect and defend; that there was a true leader who was outside of and beyond the divides of class, nationality and political allegiance. And yet for many of us the language of king keeps us mired in the same divides of power and oppression as the church originally wanted to critique.
However this week we have a kaleidoscope of readings that help broaden and deepen the image of king, or I prefer sovereign, so that we might recognise as our Lord the Jesus we have come to know. These readings can help us to reflect on Jesus as sovereign from a number of different perspectives which together lead to an image of Christ as King in a way that no other world leader has ever been and as an understanding of power as not seen in this world. We proclaim him King as the prophets understood, not as the power brokers of this world recognise power.
From the letter to the Colossians comes the beautiful language of this “hymn” which describes Jesus the risen Christ as the image of the invisible God, the one in whom all things hold together. We have here an understanding that reminds us that Jesus in his divinity has been at the centre of the creation since before time began and who is the ground of all our being – that we live and move and have our being, are held together, in him. That the divine spark in each of us and all living things began in him and to the oneness that he is we will all return. This is ultimate sovereignty.
In the prophecies of Jeremiah we have this promise and image of Jesus as the good shepherd, a shepherd or king who will actually lead with righteousness and justice and compassion; who will be tender with those in his care; who is passionately for those in his domain and not against or over those in his domain.
And in the gospel account, where so close to Christmas we are alarmingly taken to the central image of Easter and his brokenness and suffering, we see what being King of the Jews meant. No glory or worldly power, only self-giving emptying love that made him seem a fool and a victim of others power. That in becoming who the prophets, history, his followers needed to him to be Jesus became the carrier of our sins – individual and corporate; the bearer of our fears, delusions and failures to love, forgive and live as we should; the scapegoat for our failures. Only then to rise again as the first fruit of new possibilities.
But all of that is out there, above us, beyond us. What does celebrating Jesus the Christ as King mean for us here and now – this year, this particular place and community in which we find ourselves? Jesus, the long awaited one, the one who was to be King of Israel and restore things to how they should be, demonstrated the failure and irrelevance of power as it was known. The world of that time, and to this day in many ways, associated peace with power. Peace was possible – political, national, personal – when someone had the power over all others, the power to enforce and require that there be peace. But Jesus came offering hope, forgiveness, healing, and communion with God to those who had the desire and the need without any formal power. Jesus sidestepped any offer or invitation to political or religious power. And he gave away even the power to determine what would happen to his own life. Jesus exercised the power to love, to companion, to set people free by healing and forgiving them, to bind people together by bonds of mutual love, and to invite people into the oneness of God. This was power upside down, inside out.
In our world where we see and feel the power of economic security to make us feel anxious, the power of celebrity to make us feel dissatisfied with our lot, the power of technological gains to make us feel left behind ... we are reminded that power as we experience it in the everyday does not bring the peace that we hoped for or the contentment our forebears might have imagined our relative wealth and health would bring.
So when we celebrate Christ as King we celebrate the power of love, forgiveness, healing, hope and life new again. The power that is to be found in forgiveness in the midst of defeat, love in the face of hate, life in the midst of death. To celebrate Jesus as King is to be a people that practices welcoming strangers even when others are fearful of difference; to be hopeful for ourselves and others even when we hear of disasters national and personal; to be forgiving even when we have been hurt or humiliated; to find the joy that is not overwhelmed by life’s events. The small and everyday ways in which we vote with our hearts to serve a God who comes to us in the wonders of creation and the humility of broken humanity.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ our King, rule in our hearts.
You may wish to consider what I wrote last year for Christ the King.