St. George’s, Harbeson
Last Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (Track 1)
November 24, 2013
May the words I speak and the words you hear be God's alone. Amen.
Today is known in the Church as Christ the King Sunday. When we think of Christ, perhaps most of us have an image of him as a brown-haired, sandaled preacher or as the Good Shepherd. Other images of Jesus come from his titles: the Lamb of God, the Alpha & the Omega, the Messiah, and the Son of God, to name a few. All of these are appropriate ways to view Christ, but today we’re going to meditate on Christ’s identity as King.
When you hear the word “king,” what comes to your mind? Power? Palaces and crowns? King Henry VIII? For me, what comes to mind is the royal family of Great Britain. Many Anglophiles (myself included) have an obsession with the British Royal Family. Not everyone might have gotten up early like me to watch the royal wedding with their friends, complete with a breakfast of tea and crumpets, but most people at least saw pictures of the ceremony and maybe even a video of the wedding highlights. And nowadays there’s hardly a magazine cover that doesn’t have a picture of William and Kate with baby Prince George plastered on the front.
In our romanticization of the lives of the royal family, we may feel an affinity for them, perhaps even admiration or affection, but their positions probably don’t evoke feelings of loyalty or obedience in us, the way they do for their subjects. We Americans don’t really understand what it means to be subject to a king or queen. Here in the U.S. we pledge allegiance to the flag, not the crown. There is no prayer for the Queen in our Book of Common Prayer. We are proud of our heritage as an independent, go-getter, pull-ourselves-up-by-our-bootstraps country. We delight in the fact that we are self-reliant, and that our Protestant work ethic has led us to where we are today, from a nation of rag-tag settlers to this melting pot of a country that is currently the world’s largest superpower.
So when we hear of Christ as King, it may be difficult for us to truly comprehend what sort of relationship with God this is describing. And Christ is not a typical king. Born in a stable to a carpenter and his teenage fiancée, Jesus’ humble birth could not appear further from royal. There is hardly any record of his childhood and young adult years, and then all of a sudden we find him hanging out with outcasts and sinners and making enemies of the religious leaders. After three years of healing the sick, teaching, and preaching, he is put to death like a common criminal on a cross, the Roman equivalent of the electric chair. All of these things can make us wonder how we would consider Jesus a king.
But if we dig deeper, we will find several examples of typical kingship. As the Song of Zechariah affirms for us, Jesus was “born of the house of [God’s] servant David”; he was from a noble lineage (Luke 1:69). In one story of his birth, shepherds and the angelic host come to worship him, and in a different Gospel, three wise men come to pay him homage with expensive gifts that would be reserved for kings (Luke 2:8-20; Matthew 2:1-12). At Jesus’ baptism, in a scene reminiscent of Arthurian legends, the heavens part to reveal the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven booms, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased, ” confirming Jesus’ divine right as king (Matthew 3:13-17). Crowds follow him wherever he goes, hanging on his every word. When Jesus has his triumphant procession into Jerusalem, he rides in on a donkey, an animal typically used by kings in the Old Testament, and crowds line the road with cloaks and wave palm trees (In Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-40, and John 12:12-19). Finally, in a twist of irony, Jesus is robed in scarlet and given a crown made of thorns before being taken to “the place that is called The Skull,” where they place a plaque above the cross that says, “This is the King of the Jews” above it (Matthew 27:28-29, 37; Luke 23:38).
We have before us a King unlike any other. His power was not used to control; he used it to heal the sick, to perform miracles, and to forgive sins. During his lifetime Jesus lived simply and relied on the generosity of others to feed and house him and his followers. He practiced servant leadership, helping people whom society ignored and personally washing the feet of his own disciples. He put on himself the sins of the world and was put to death. But death did not stop him! Christ rose again, and his resurrection destroyed Death’s firm grip on us.
Christ was the example of how we should live our lives on earth, the embodiment of the kingdom of God. As God incarnate, Christ showed us how to be in relationship with God, and “through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things” (Col 1:20). At our baptism, we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. We are, therefore, subjects of the heavenly kingdom, and our loyalty and obedience is to Christ, the "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Revelation 19:16 and today's Collect). In celebration of “the tender compassion of our God” demonstrated throughout the course of history but especially in the person of Jesus Christ, we pledge our lives to the work of the kingdom (Luke 1:78).
Our King taught us that we are to feed the hungry, tend the sick and lame, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, and welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:34-40). We are to build the kingdom of God here on earth. This is no small task, but we are not alone! We are promised that God will “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). For now, we “endure everything with patience” (Col 1:11). But as we work, we await the advent of our King, confident that “‘The days are surely coming’” (Jeremiah 23:5).
Christ the King statue in Świebodzin, Poland
world's tallest statue of Jesus