Reign of Christ
We’ve come to Christ the King Sunday - the last Sunday of the church year. It is also an exciting time for Our Saviour’s, as we begin this journey of faith together. While the last Sunday of the Church year, it is a day that marks a new beginning and new relationships. Christ the King Sunday is a day in which we reflect on what it means when we proclaim that yes, indeed Christ is our King. Today, we boldly proclaim Christ’s rightful place as king over our lives, over our nation, and over our world. It is also a day in which Pastors need to make bold statements about Christ as the King. Fun for our first Sunday together.
Christ the King serves as this fitting transition as, next week, we run head-first into Advent. Advent is that time in which we not only await Christmas morn and everything that comes with it, but it is also that time in which we look around us and admit how we and how this world fall short of God’s dream for God’s people and God’s kingdom. It is that time of year in which we lean into the promise that Christ, our King, is coming again and is always reaching into this world to transform it, to create it into what it was always intended to be, from its very creation - a world with people in right relationship with God, with each other, and with all of creation.
This morning, as we gather on this Christ the King Sunday, I find myself asking what we mean when we make this proclamation that Christ is our King. On this Sunday, in particular, there is this temptation to envision Christ as a King modeled after our own worldly kings, rulers, or presidents. I know, as a kid, in my mind, I always pictured Jesus in medieval royal clothing - complete with scepter and crown. And I’m not the only one. If we look at art from various periods, we can see Jesus portrayed as a Knight, as a monarch or emperor, and as a 21st century politician. In other words, there is this temptation to imagine Christ as a king of this world, a king who functions how we expect our own rulers to function.
Perhaps the temptation is to expect a King in Christ who uses physical might, who wields power over others, who makes his power known in military victories or riches. After all, that is the kind of power that our society and our world value. Our society looks toward leaders who promise victory over our so-called “enemies” and who promise to use their power to protect “our way of life” at all costs. It is too easy to turn to political leaders on all sides of the aisle - the leaders of this world - as if they were our saviors. As if they were the ones who were going to right the wrongs of the world. It is easy to hope that through power, through force, through putting up boundaries, we can “win,” and through that victory in this world, we find freedom and end up on top. Luther, reflecting on his own time, in the Large Catechism puts it this way, “For no one is willing to be the least, but everyone wants to sit on top and be seen by all.” That is the kind of power that our society values: the kind of power that puts one at the top, no matter what the cost. The temptation, then, is to fit Jesus into that same box, making Christ into our own image - or at least the image of our own kings - a King that is on the top, seen by all.
This is the kind of king that Pilate expected when the “King of the Jews” was handed over to him. This is the kind of King that some of the Jewish people expected in their Messiah - a King - that would overthrow the powers that be - the Roman Empire - in an epic military battle on order to reestablish Israel as its own sovereign nation. It is the kind of King that Christians have expected over and over again throughout our history - a King that through military victory would bring Christendom to every corner of the earth.
Our Gospel reading today points us to a very different vision of what it means to have Christ as our King. In this somewhat cryptic gospel reading (in the Gospel of John rarely is anything straightforward), we hear that Christ’s kingship and kingdom are not “of this world.” In other words, it is not confined by our vision of what good kingship looks like. It is not the kind of kingship that this world values. It turns upside down all of our expectations of what it means to be King and to have power. As one commentator puts it, “Jesus is not a king that the world would ever recognize… He is a king unlike any other king and his kingdom is unlike any other.” That being said, we must ask ourselves, what, then, is our King like?
In Jesus, we have a King who was born among the livestock and laid in a lowly manger. In Jesus, we have a king that breaks down the boundaries that separate us from our neighbors - living out life in relationship with those whom society deems unworthy - lowly fishermen, women, lepers, tax collectors, foreigners, sinners. In Jesus, we have a king that cares for the lost, the lonely, the least - those that society has seemed to forgotten. In Jesus, we have a king that rides into the city, not on a horse after a triumphant victory at war, but a king that rides into the city on a humble - and likely very dirty - donkey. In Jesus, we have a king that comes to serve, rather than to be served, washing the feet of his disciples in humble, loving service. In Jesus, we have a king who stands up to the powers that be and who is executed for it.
Ultimately, Jesus’ kingship is made known, not in victory or political dominance, but his kingship is made known as he is lifted up on the cross, giving up his life for the sake of the world. His kingship is not made known with a golden crown, but rather with a crown of thorns. We have a king that dies a horrible tortuous death, reserved for criminals. And Christ’s kingship is ultimately confirmed by the empty grave on Easter morning - not even the power of death and the grave can stand against the kingship of Christ and against the power of the love of God found in Jesus the Christ.
Jesus’ power is made manifest in love to the world that God so loves - and to all people who inhabit the world. Jesus’ kingship is one that ushers in the Kingdom of God, the kingship that makes God’s dream for this world a reality. While his kingship and the kingdom are not of this world, it transforms this world here and now. And it transforms us wherever we encounter it. It is Jesus, unleashed in the world, that brings the ultimate salvation and freedom - not any earthly king or ruler.. However, no earthly power can bring about the life, the freedom, and the salvation that Christ the King brings. It is Jesus who brings about liberation for us, for the marginalized, for all people everywhere.
It is Jesus, through his own life and death, who breaks the bonds that keep us enslaved to anything that keeps us from living abundant life. He removes our fears of the unknown and those who are different from us. He shatters the human-made boundaries that threaten to keep us separated from our neighbor And he destroys the power of sin and death, while restoring our relationship with God - once and for all. In Jesus, God is at work in the world, making all things new - renewing and restoring creation to what it was intended to be - a creation in which all live in harmony with each other and with God.
The Kingdom of God, of which Christ is King, is always breaking into this world. As our reading from Revelation points out - In his life, death, resurrection, and continued reign in the world, Jesus frees us and makes us into a kingdom. We are invited into something that is bigger than ourselves, bigger than our own communities, bigger than anything that may divide us. We are entrusted, as we live into the freedom that we have found in Christ, to be the Kingdom of God in this world. We are entrusted to join in God’s work of restoration and renewal with our hands, our hearts, and our voices. We are entrusted to use Christ-like power, living out our lives in humble, loving, service to our neighbor and to the stranger. We are entrusted to break the bonds that keep our neighbors under the weight of their oppressions. We are entrusted to make friends with those whom society deems our enemies. We are entrusted to live out the love of God and the freedom we’ve found in Christ with all people and in all places.
As the church, we are a diverse group of people - with different beliefs and political views, different ways of seeing this world, different ways of life, different ideas of how to be the church - and that’s okay. The church will never agree on all things. There will be times that I preach a message that you don’t agree with or that may even anger you. Despite our differences, we are one under this King. We are united in the Kingdom of God. We are one because Christ is our King, and we are all caught up in God’s dream for the world with Christ at the center. And because we are one under Christ, we have the freedom to live as the Kingdom of God, marked by and modeled after this King.