Many of us are understandably a little or a lot uncomfortable with the language of kingship for many good reasons. And yet we can still find value in remembering that the Holy One we seek to follow, who suffered for his radically inclusive love of the poor and unimportant ones, is our ultimate source, home and reality, our teacher, savior and our Lord. (RCL Daniel 7:9-10. 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4b-8; and John 18:33-37.)
This week we mark the last Sunday of the church year so in some ways this is the conclusion and pinnacle of all that we have been experiencing and searching for this year. But it is both a strange festival and a challenging one this year (and many years beforehand) given the amount of suffering and struggle in our world. So what are we trying to claim for Christ and therefore Christianity as a religion and for us as followers of this Christ when we use this language and imagery for Jesus?
Firstly there are three things we are not claiming! I believe, in calling Christ the King that we are not somehow on the winning side of history or necessarily any conflict. Just think of the context of our gospel reading this morning. Jesus is not on the winning side of the situation in which he finds himself, not by any definition of winning we tend to know of. Secondly that Jesus’ kingship does not exempt him or remove him in any way from the struggle of life and the darkness of the world. He was born the child of a poor woman of an oppressed people and died at the hands of that oppressive force. He choose to spend his time with those who did not meet the criteria for a good life in his own time – the poor, the marginalised. Thirdly that Christ’ kingship was not for or of himself. He came to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God and he remained in his earthly life a servant of that vision and that mission.
So if these are the things I don’t believe are being claimed then what might the festival of Christ the King mean for us? Well I believe that Jesus the Christ is the Lord of all creation, the beginning and the end, the ground of our being, the Word through whom all that is created was created. And at the end of the church year it is good to remember the enormity of what we believe – that the one who joined us in human flesh was no less than the divine source of all life. It is good to humbly acknowledge that when we seek Christ we seek connection with the very life force that pulses throughout the universe. It is good to be reminded that when we say we worship Jesus as the son of God that we are engaging with the one so powerful and mysterious that we are arrogant fools if we think that we can order God around with our little theologies and understandings but that we have given ourselves over into the hands of the living God and that this is a wonderfully terrible thing. The language of Christ the King might remind us that awe, fear, excitement are appropriate responses to the nearness of God and God’s kingdom.
And yet on the other hand the example of Christ as a model for king should confuse and confound us as we look upon the one who was also ordinary or fully human, vulnerable, suffering and servant of all. If Christ is a king he was and is a king like no other. He did not claim for himself power, wealth, or even protection. He chose servant-hood and associated with those who were at best on the edges of society and often beyond ritual cleanliness. Whatever divine power Jesus had he invested it in healing others not building himself up.
And so if we try and hold both these understandings and experiences together what we find is that confoundingly while on our knees before the King of the universe we somehow find our self eye to eye with the fully human one, the intimate other who gave himself over and up to the most vulnerable experience of being human among humans, creature imbedded in creation, the anointed one of God among those least valued. We find that in the position of adoration and humility, with our foreheads bent to the very earth, we find ourselves in same posture as Jesus on his last night on earth when he took towel and water and washed the feet of his disciples.
Thirdly that in talking about Jesus as Christ the King we realise that we are speaking not so much of the past as of our future becoming (or his future coming): the sense that the kingdom of God is near at hand but not yet; that the way that the world is now shall not always be so, thank God!; and that our individual lives are informed by this sense of becoming and slowly living toward the fulfilment of time.
So how does acknowledging Jesus as Christ the King relate to the everyday reality we find ourselves in? When we are reminded that this Jesus we gather to remember and partake of is also the Lord of all creation the smallness of our worries and world view can fall into its place and proper perspective. It is not necessarily that our concerns disappear but that they shrink to their true size and once their true size they are easier to deal with. When we wrestle with the idea that the one who is king is also servant we are challenged afresh about our relationship with our self and others; we are reminded that we are utterly important – and so is everyone else! When we are reminded that what is now is not all there is then we are gathered up and shown a bigger picture, a longer view, that can teach us patience and hope.
And so the image of Jesus as Christ the King should both reassure us and stir us up; should both remind us of how above us Christ is and again challenge us with the inside out model of how to live as Jesus did; and remind us that how things are now is not all there is and that more is yet to come and so fill us with hope and longing for the realizing of the kingdom of God.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come.
This week the church year draws to a conclusion, which means that the new church year begins with Advent next week.
If you are looking for an Advent study to help deepen your experience please consider one of the two courses I have prepared for you: