Christ the King Sunday
November 24, 2019
We’ve officially been on this journey together for a full year. My first Sunday with you all was Chris the King Sunday last November. And what a year it has been! I so am thankful to have been called here and to be walking this journey of faith together with you. Thank you for all the work that we do together. And today, as we conclude our first year of ministry together, we also conclude this liturgical year with Christ the King Sunday.
Christ the King Sunday is a day in which we reflect on what it means to proclaim that Christ is our King; and we boldly and loudly proclaim – against all the voices of this world – that it is Christ that reigns over us, over our nation, over our world. This is a radical and bold act. This world wants to tell us that the powers of this world reign. This world wants to tell is that it is our earthly kings, our politicians (on either side of the aisle), that rule and that bring about safety and security. The world wants to tell us that they are our saviors, that they will bring about peace, prosperity, and safety – and we hear a seemingly intensifying version of that each election cycle. This world wants to tell us that we can make our own way and our own salvation through physical might, through earning enough and hoarding enough riches for ourselves, through pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and making a name for ourselves. This world wants to tell us to be afraid of the neighbor and stranger, seeing them as a risk and a threat against our way of life, a threat against who we are and everything we’ve worked for, a threat against our very lives. The kings of this world are marked by hubris, by misuse and abuse of power, by trampling on the lowly, by stoking fear to further divide us from our neighbor – all in an effort to hold onto power for themselves. But today, in defiance of those voices and narratives of this world, we gather and we proclaim that it is Christ that is King.
On this last Sunday of the church year, just before the beginning of the Advent season and the celebration of the birth of Christ, it may seem odd to return to Good Friday, to return to the cross. But it is at the cross that God chooses to make Godself known; indeed, the cross is at the center of Christ and at the center of our lives as Christians. It is here at the cross that we see Christ as king. It is here at the cross that God reveals what it means to have Christ as our king. As I noted in my mid-week update, Christ the King Sunday is a relatively new festival in the Christian calendar. It was started in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, between the two World Wars, specifically to lift up, to remember, to lean into the kingship of Christ over and against the kingships of this world, especially pushing back against the rise of nationalism and fascism. This Sunday is inherently political; not partisan, but political. We recognize today that Christ’s reign has something to say about this world as it is and has something to say about our participation in it. That’s political. Today is a reminder that our faith is not just between me and God, but we have faith in a God that is breaking into this world, to bring light, life, and salvation to all people. We have a faith in God that says that Christ is our true king. There are political implications to Christ’s rule; a rule that transforms this world as it is to the world that God intended it to be.
As I think about our world, as we see its brokenness, as we see the ways Christianity is misused in ways that harm and exploit, as we see Christian nationalism rising again, it seems just as important to as in 1925 to lean into Christ’s kingship and into the Kingdom of God coming into this world. Here, on Christ the King Sunday, we point to a kingship and to God’s vision for the world – a world transformed and recreated as the Kingdom of God – a Kingdom with Christ as our King. It is a vision of the world as it is being turned upside down. It is a vision in which the lowly are lifted up and the mighty are brought down. It is a vision where the boundaries between people are broken, where those on the margins are brought to their rightful place within society and the community. It is a vision where the stranger is welcomed and the hungry find their fill. It is a vision for the world where peace is won not through violence but through Christ’s redemptive love. It is a vision for the world in which all are brought into right relationship with God, with neighbor, and with all creation.
This is a King who does not repay evil with evil, but repays evil with good, forgiving the very people who crucified him. This is King, by the world’s standard, would be considered weak and a failure. This is a king who shows power not in might or in saving himself but in service, in vulnerability, and in the act of forgiveness. All year, we’ve been talking about how, the Gospel of Luke emphasizes that Jesus’ ministry and Jesus’ inauguration of the Kingdom of God turns the world upside down. This isn’t what the world expects when we think of a King. This is not a king that this world would recognize. This is not a kingship that this world values. It turns our expectations of Kingship upside down.
It is here at the cross, we meet our King. Or probably more accurately, it is here at the cross that our King meets us. Our God stepped off God’s throne, becoming enfleshed in a real – and vulnerable – human body, as a baby, lying in a manger, totally and utterly dependent on those around him. God chose to step off the throne to be enfleshed in a human body that is executed on a cross – a horrible and torturous death – a death of the lowest, most dangerous criminal, the death of a convict.
What kind of God would do that? What kind of God would dare to step off their throne, choose to put on our bodies, and willingly experience death on a cross? This is a big deal. In Jesus, as we hear in our letter todady, “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” In Jesus, we meet the fullness of God who does not retreat, does not pull away, does not use power to save or to protect himself. Instead, we meet the fullness of God in Jesus that steps off his throne, dwelling with us, stepping closer to us, refusing to let even the worst evils of the world separate God’s beloved creation, God’s beloved people from him. On the Cross, Jesus makes Godself present, hidden in weakness, vulnerability, and dying. On the Cross, we meet a God in Jesus that is faithful even in and beyond death – in order to establish God’s reign in the world. A reign established not through violence but through the “tender mercy of God… to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79). And this is indeed good news.
What does it mean to proclaim this kind of king? What does it mean for us to have this kind of king? As Daniel Erlander, a Lutheran pastor and theologian, says in his book, at the cross:
“God finds us – in our darkness, our pain, our emptiness, our loneliness, our weakness. As God meets us where we are, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see… the Cross is God’s Embrace. God enters and embraces us with total and unconditional acceptance. Identifying so completely with the pain and sorrow of our existence, God woos us into a love relationship with himself. The Cross is God’s Victory. God enters our darkness and exposes and defeats the powers that reign in this world. By the death of Jesus, God liberates us from any person, thing, system or ‘ism’ which would enslave us by demanding absolute loyalty. We are free! Free to let God be God. Free to be human.” (Erlander, Baptized We Live, 4-5).
It isn’t our might, it isn’t our power, it isn’t our riches, it isn’t our earthly kings that bring about security and freedom. No, it is the God that makes Godself known on the cross that does that. On the cross, Jesus invites us into relationship with himself, embracing us, and telling us, “today, you will be with me.”
By the cross of Jesus, we are freed from the powers and the voices of this world that harm, divide, and destroy. In a world that points to the powers of this world as king, we are freed to stand up against the voices of this world, proclaiming Christ’s kingship and God’s kingdom. In a world that tells us that we should be afraid, we are free to be unafraid, to be bold in our proclamation and in our service. In a world that tells us that we should put up boundaries and that some people are “worth” more than others, we are freed to break down the boundaries between us and our neighbor, we are freed to welcome the stranger, we are freed to proclaim the value and dignity of each and every person in the eyes of God – especially to those that the world pushes aside and dehumanizes. In a world that where violence and hate are the norm, we are freed to show the love of God, that love that we first received from Christ, bringing Christ’s peace to the world. In a world that is so often lacking hope, we are freed to lean into, to live into the hope and the vision of the Kingdom of God as it breaks into this world.
Today, at the foot of the cross, we loudly and boldly proclaim: Christ is our King.