The Reverend Imogen Rhodenhiser
The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King
November 25, 2018
I Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:24-28; and Mark 12:38-44
This morning we hear of an encounter between Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ, not too long before His crucifixion. And in the position of Pontius Pilate, we all might emphasize a little bit where this has been perhaps a matter to take care of and dispatch. For this official it is sort of unwieldy for Pilate to try and figure out who on earth this person is and what to do with them. And I imagine that on this ambiguous day, where we celebrate Jesus Christ as this utterly weak and humble person, God made human, and at the same time glorified and majestic in splendor and reigning at God’s right hand.
As we try and hold those two things together somehow, we might find ourselves somewhat frustrated and bewildered in the mind of Pilate. And so it occurred to me that if Rodgers and Hammerstein had decided to set the scene, they may well have put it something like this, How do you solve a problem like Christ the King? Why is a monarch in a manger’s stall? How do you find a word that means Christ the King, who is humble and lowly, and still yet is Lord of all? To be continued on your own time.
And when this feast day was originally lifted up, in 1925 as it happens, Pope Leo XI was grappling with a slightly different problem. He has no issue with the idea and the reality that Christ was and is the King of Kings and Lord of all, the Monarch of Monarchs. But what Leo XI saw is the problem was that everybody else, or at least the majority of people, had seem to have forgotten that. And so, he decided that it would be a very good idea for the church to have an annual observance wherein everyone was reminded that Christ was, and is in fact, the King.
And he thought that beyond just helping everyone to stay on top of their Christian faith that what this could do, and what he hoped that it would do, is that it would mean of all the nations of the world – if their leaders were to remember that however much power they had, that all of us were subject to a rule of humility and service above all other things.
Leo XI thought that there would be far more peace and there would be far fewer wars, if everyone were to remember that, and to live in a way that showed it. And unfortunately, when I think of the events that have transpired since 1925, Leo XI doesn’t seem quite to have gotten what he hoped for perhaps in lifting up this feast day. But I wonder if on the eve of advent, and eve of a season of wondering and waiting, if an opportunity is given to us by the Spirit to take this Feast of Christ the King, and even this celebration of baptism for Oliver today, not so much as a conclusion, but as a conversation starter.
And that rather than expecting to find in this set of readings and even in this baptism write, a quick answer and a substantive explanation, we might get our advent muscles moving by being a little more patient and a little more curious, perhaps, at what it is God is inviting us into. And when we hear the reading from Daniel this morning, there are a few things that are to be expected when we think of Christ as a sovereign. There’s a throne and we’re told there are thousands of thousands of subjects, all worshipping the one to whom Daniel refers as the ancient one.
And then there is a turn where someone who’s like a human being shows up, and we hear that to this one is given dominion and glory and sovereignty. And what is significant about that, for our morning and our walk with God, is that firstly it’s so easy to miss. But if this sovereignty is given to this one who’s like a human being, and as we reflect his morning, to Christ. If it’s given then we are invited to see two things. One is that that is so very different from the kings we’re accustomed to seeing, where power is grabbed by force, or by cunning, or by strategy; and it is always often at least power over someone else.
Power at the expense, and this case, if Christ is a King, then that kingship is a gift given to Him. And if we’ve realized that and we’ve noticed that, then our next question might be who is it given by? And that opens up to all kinds of things, because we would say that Christ’s glory and sovereignty is given to him by God. In the context specifically of that relationship, which is one of the main things that delivers us from this problem of Christ the King, because if we’re to look at Christ the King as this monolithic image where we have to figure out how to reconcile humility and glory we’ll tie ourselves in knots.
But if we look at that as being something you can only see in the context of a relationship, and the relationship that God has with Jesus, and is the context in which that gift is given, then we have some traction. And in that relationship we hear in Psalm 93, there can be this embodied portrait where strength and faithfulness walk hand-in-hand. And we hear then in the words from Revelation, what epitomizes more than anything else the nature of Christ’s rule in heaven and on earth, which is that He, Christ, God, loves us in the present tense.
Loves us now and always, and has freed us from our sins by His blood. And it’s such a different kind of reign than we might expect, or even be accustomed to dealing with. Christ has broken this feudal system which is all about what Christ expects in return, and instead, is all about what Christ hopes and desires to give which is love and freedom. Unless we think that Leo XI was totally misguided in raising up this feast day, the heart of his intent seems to me to have been oh, so right, which is the realization that if we are to worship a Lord, a God, whose hallmarks of majesty are love and freedom and humility and service, then that has to affect how we treat other people. And it has to affect the way we see the rest of humanity that God created.
And on this eve of wondering then, and advent, that we enter into with this beautiful line at the end of the baptism that says and will say, dear Lord, please grant to Oliver the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. I wonder if in these four weeks, on which we’re on the brink of celebrating, I wonder how it might be just for those relatively few days if you and I were to endeavor to bear that love, that freedom, that total acceptance of Christ in whoever me meet. Whether it’s someone we’ve never met before, or someone we know all too well. If we were to enter the mystery of what it is to be totally humble and to yet, have a spark of majesty within us that God has placed there so that it can shine in spaces that need light.
Where we could be more loving than we ever thought possible. More forgiving where we could be about liberating the ones standing across from us, instead of confining them to the little boxes we put them in. I wonder what that might do for someone else. I wonder what it might do for me. And for you. And fortunately, you do not need a crown or a throne, we are humble, broken, ever-loved bearers of that divine majestic spark. And we reaffirm that now and we see it before us as the Holy Spirit moves and embraces this beautiful child of God, and all of us.
[End of Recording]