Father Nicholas Lang
Christ the King
In the Name of our God who is all kindness, Christ who reigns in justice, and the Holy Spirit who recreates our every moment. Amen
The tag line today is “The Reign of Christ the King.” What kind of king is Jesus? Pilate wants to know because a king is a political figure and Pilate is the consummate politician. We see him going back and forth between his palace and the throngs outside both questioning Jesus and appeasing the loud crowds.
When we Americans picture a king, we typically imagine fairy tales, castles and royal courts like King Arthur and the Round Table or portly Henry VIII. In his Stories for the Christian Year, Stephen Lawless writes: “In the age of the microchip and space travel, kings have as much usefulness as signet rings and sealing wax; they are as irrelevant to the world as knights in shining armor.”
Kings and kingdoms were precisely what America was formed to escape. So here we are with a large gap in our collective consciousness where Christ is concerned. Lacking any fundamental understanding of kings, we possess no genuine understanding of what the kingship of Christ means.”
Unlike many church feasts rooted in ancient celebrations as early as the fourth century, this feast, originally known as “Christ the King,” was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in response to his perception that the world was becoming too individualistic and no longer accepting the authority of Christ.
He saw modern society paying ultimate respect to secular leaders like Josef Stalin, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler.
Despite the pope’s good intentions, the word “king” for most of us conjures up extreme wealth, assumed privilege and unquestioned authority. Even the modern royal family, much as they captivate and fascinate us, especially at weddings and funerals, reeks with assumptions of regal “untouchables.” The modern American version of this seems to be adulation and hero worship of sports figures, celebrities, and some politicians who might like to be king.
The king we meet in the Gospel today is a bloody, beaten Jesus. Here is a suffering king, a judged king, a king soon to be condemned and put to death—for speaking God’s truth. He stands before Pontius Pilate, the political and secular authority who thinks he has power of life and death over Jesus.
We probably should expect that a Gospel reading about Jesus as king would portray Christ in glory—sitting on the throne, attended by angels, and in charge of our destiny. But that isn’t what we get. The Gospel we heard affirms that Jesus is God’s Chosen One, but in very different terms. The kingship of Jesus is expressed through the Cross and through his ministry of compassion, reconciliation, restoration, and forgiveness.
The text asks us to do what Pilate did not do, perhaps could not do: look into the eyes of Truth, the Light who has come into the world to redeem it from its insanity, that is, all of its unhealthiness and pollution and corruption and to usher in the Reign of Godliness.
We have seen this king call sinners and outcasts his friends. We’ve seen him heal the hurts of people no one wanted to come near, let alone touch. We’ve seen him bundled in straw in a manger, walking the dusty streets of Palestine, teaching and curing people from all walks of life, riding on a donkey through the crowded streets of Jerusalem, washing the feet of his dearest friends, and now we see him standing trial in the palace of Pontius Pilate—soon after to hang on the wood of the cross.
“My kingdom is not from this world,” he responds to his judge. Jesus did not mean that his kingdom was other worldly, some sort of fantasy nation or land of aliens. He meant that his kingdom is different from the kingdoms of this world, that it does not rest upon the same power and authority.
We might miss the crux of the answer Jesus gave to Pilate when he said. “My kingdom is not from this world.” He was not talking about location but rather of its source—the love of God. The kingdom of heaven which Jesus talked about all the time, is, as he said, here. At hand. Right now. Wherever we are. In ways we might never expect.
Writing in The Christian Century, Lutheran Pastor Mary W. Anderson, offers this reflection on the feast we celebrate today: “We are Christ’s people—we share the same Eucharistic foods, we share the same story of faith, we stake our lives on the same hopes. Here at the end of the church year, after living through another cycle of hearing the story of Jesus’ life, of being taught by him in miracle and parable, we come to the coda of this hymn of praise.
After another year of living our lives, burying our dead, baptizing our babies, marrying and divorcing, struggling and thriving, we bring all of the year’s experiences to the climax of this day. We lay it all back at the feet of the one enthroned on the cross, giving thanks. It’s great to be a people ruled in love and mercy.”
As has often been said that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. No one is superior there; no one is inferior. And that is the kind of king we have in Jesus.