November 25, 2018 — Last (27th) Sunday after Pentecost
Christ the King Sunday
Rev. Alison Quin
Christ the King?
It is Christ the King Sunday. I have to say that I feel deeply ambivalent about the whole idea of a king. After all, we fought a revolution in this country to throw off monarchy and govern ourselves. Our system of government was designed to limit the power of government as much as possible through the separation of powers and checks and balances. I even heard a lecturer say that our system of government is specifically designed to make it hard for the government to do anything. Even though there has been a rise in the power of the executive branch in the last 50 years, I still like the idea of limited government.
The Bible also reflects ambivalence about kings. Israel was never supposed to have a king in God’s original plan. They were supposed to turn to God as their king and otherwise govern themselves. But they begged for a king, because other nations had them. God warned them that having a king would bring forced labor and taxes but they insisted.
Sure enough, the kings of Israel were far from perfect—many of the historical books of the bible are taken up with their misdeeds and failings. Even David, who is remembered as the greatest king of Israel, who united Israel and was the ancestor of Jesus, was involved in adultery, murder and civil war.
The church also has a very mixed history when it comes to exercising power. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
So I come to this feast day and our parish’s name, Christ the King, with ambivalence. What does it mean to call Christ King? Does it foster a certain triumphalism, a will to power? Does it encourage us to try to rule over other people?
This is where we have to step back and remember that the Gospels are profoundly subversive. Jesus is not like the kings of this world—he turns the whole idea of kingship on its head
A story from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood illustrates this point. (If you haven’t seen the recent movie about his life, be sure to see it. He was a Presbyterian minister whose show was all about sharing gospel values with children and he was wonderful.)
In the first week of his show, in 1968, with the Vietnam War going on and all sorts of changes happening, Mr. Rogers took on worldly power vs. divine power. In the Land of Make Believe, King Friday (the 13th) decides that there is too much change happening in his kingdom and he doesn’t like it. So he posts border guards, enacts laws and builds a wall to keep everybody out, and to keep change out.
People in the kingdom are unhappy with this state of affairs and they eventually come up with a plan. They send balloons over the wall with messages of peace and love. Eventually, the messages of love break down the king’s defenses, both internal and external, and the wall comes down.
King Friday put the wall up to keep others out, but he was the one who was trapped, by his fear and desire for control.
We see Pilate trapped as well in his conversation with Jesus in today’s Gospel. Pilate is the most powerful person in Jerusalem. He is in control. But what if he doesn’t execute Jesus? What if there is an insurrection? Will he lose his position or be punished? He is afraid and trying to maintain control of the situation. What will happen if he lets down his guard and responds to Jesus from the heart?
Jesus invites him to do this. When Pilate asks “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answers, “Do you ask this on your own or did others tell you about me?” Jesus invites Pilate to be transparent, to share how it is with him, to utter the truth about his own life. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” Jesus says. Even to Pilate, Jesus offers to be the good shepherd who, when the sheep listen, leads them to abundant life.
But accepting Jesus’ offer means breaking down the wall and accepting the truth about himself—about his fear, his desire for power and control, his willingness to use violence. Pilate refuses—instead he dismisses Jesus saying, “What is truth?”
Jesus makes that same offer to all of us. If we are willing to let down our defenses and face the truth about our selves and our fears, he will set us free to live authentically and love wholeheartedly. His love for us is what enables to face the truth about ourselves and be transformed.
There is no force or domination involved in Jesus’ kingship. There is only gentleness and humility and sacrificial love. He is our inner guide, the light of our conscience that leads us through the fog and confusion of our lives. His is the soft voice of love that sails right over our defenses and liberates us from the fears that enslave us. He is the friend who laid down his life for us.
He is our king because we trust him. We freely offer our hearts to him and commit ourselves to follow where he leads, knowing that he loves us and makes us whole.
Jesus redefines true kingship as power used only for love and truth, rather than to defend power or privilege or ego. That is the kingdom to which he calls us—he made us to be a kingdom, and follow in his footsteps.
Christ the King Sunday was added to the church’s calendar in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. After the terrible bloodshed of WWI, there was great despair and many wondered where God was. The pope wanted to remind people of God’s promise that God’s love will ultimately reign over everything. As gentle as the power of love is, it is still the most powerful force in existence, mighty enough to prevail over all the ills of the world.
Today we celebrate both the gentleness and the mighty power of Christ our King. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He is sovereign over all of creation, and because of him, we can trust that, as Julian of Norwich put it, “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”