Year B, Proper 28, Track 2, 25 November 2018
Trinity Church on the Green
While reflecting upon kings and kingdoms this week, I was directed to the song sung by King George to the colonists in the hit show Hamilton. The song, entitled, “You’ll be Back,” contains the following refrain:
“Oceans rise, empires fall,
We have seen each other through it all.
And when push comes to shove, I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!” (1)
Today we celebrate a different kind of king and kingdom. Today we celebrate Christ the King.
Some of you may be surprised to learn that this Feast of Christ the King is a relatively recent addition to our liturgical year. It was first instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 as a response to growing secularism and nationalism. Makes sense, yes?
In between the end of the first World War, an end we commemorated just a few weeks ago here at Trinity, and the start of the second World War – as Mussolini and Stalin and Hitler were rising to power. Pius XI believed that it was the increasing denial of Christ as king and redeemer throughout much of Europe that was leading to the rise of these dictatorships. This feast day has been observed in our Episcopal Church on the last Sunday before Advent only since 1970. As the last Sunday of the Church year, Christ the King Sunday is a conclusion to our annual liturgical journey through the life of Jesus and the message of his Gospel. This Feast points to Advent -the start of the new church year, and the season of preparation for the coming of Christ again at Christmas, and for Christ’s second coming into the world. And lest we soften our continuing apocalyptic theme, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden does not: today, they observe what they call “The Sunday of Doom.” Isn’t that something? A day of judgment, and of destiny. Advent then follows with an emphasis on hope and expectation, the longing for the coming of the Kingdom of God amid the darkness of a sinful world. (2)
The rise of secularism and nationalism continues today. One can wonder if this Feast Day has changed anything. It can also make us pause and think about what we mean when we pray “thy kingdom come” each week. Who is Jesus the Christ to us? What is Jesus’ kingdom?
I for one am not always 100% comfortable with calling Jesus a king – the kings of our history have often failed us. The monarchs of our times have mostly been power hungry, hoarding wealth, while persecuting and occupying other peoples, especially indigenous peoples. Many of the world’s current leaders do not act like they are following Jesus. Kings, Presidents, prime ministers – whatever we may call them – isn’t Jesus better than that – more than that? How do we follow Jesus as our ultimate leader when so many other leaders attempt to lead us astray?
In our Gospel today, we have a scene from Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king, and he doesn’t get a direct answer. Jesus replies saying, “My kingdom is not from this world.” Jesus is not like any other king. Jesus’ kingdom is not like any other kingdom – it is not of this world. It is an upside down topsy turvy kingdom compared to the kingdoms of this world. Jesus’ kingdom could be said to be a spiritual kingdom – one that does not depend on strength, might, power, or wealth, but one that depends on love. Forgiveness. Redemption. Peace. Jesus’ mock coronation comes soon after our passage today: when the soldiers weave a crown of thorns for him, dress him in purple, and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” while striking Jesus on the face. In the other 3 synoptic gospels, when Jesus is asked, “are you a king,” his answer is always, “You say so.” Perhaps Jesus also knew how complicated that title is – how much baggage it carries.
Jesus’ kingdom – Jesus’ nation – Jesus’ community – is not a political one, but a theological one. Jesus and his followers belong to the truth. What makes Jesus the king is not political feat or might, but because Jesus comes from God, and testifies to the truth.
One biblical scholar (3) writes that one of the greatest challenges for Americans reading the Gospels is to understand the difference between the our modern day emphasis on the individual, and the emphasis in Jesus’ time on the community. In Jesus’ world, a person did not think of oneself as an individual who acts alone, but one who is always part of a community – one who is “ever aware of the expectations of others,” and who knows oneself through the group. One had to be group-embedded, group-oriented, and collective to survive. Therefore, Jesus’ kingdom is not about one personality. The reign of God is bigger than any one individual, even Jesus himself. (4) For us to belong to the kingdom, or community of Jesus, we too have to be community minded. We have to look beyond our own selves and our own needs, and be mindful of the needs of others. We have to live our lives as servants of Christ the King – striving for justice for all. We cannot count on any other kings, presidents, or magistrates – we cannot sit back and wait for the world to change. It is through our active service to others that Jesus’ kingdom can begin to break through. Jesus is relying on us to partner with him to bring the truth into this broken world. Jesus’ kingdom is therefore not a domain, but a way of being in this world.
Remember how the Swedish church calls today the Sunday of Doom? The Day of Doom is the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s Day is the day of Doom. As we enter into Advent, let us remember that we are both living in the last days of a broken world, and the beginning moments of a world that has been redeemed and restored. Thy kingdom come – may it be so.
1 “You’ll be Back,” by Lin-Manuel Miranda, in Hamilton.
3 See Bruce J. Malina’s quote in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4.
4 See Rodger Y. Nishioka in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4.