The Feast of Christ the King November 25, 2018

The Rev. Janet Campbell

THE FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4b-8;

John 18:33-37

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

Hardly a day goes by

without my two little dogs

Spike Jr. and Charley

having some kind of confrontation

over

treats,

or toys,

or who gets which dog bed . . .

 

over just who is sovereign

in our little kingdom

in a yellow house in Lakewood –

 

a small domestic metaphor

for the endless battle for supremacy

in and among the kings and kingdoms

of this world . . .

 

(Somehow Spike Jr. and Charley

fail to recognize that

there already is an alpha dog in our kingdom

and she is me . . . )

 

Why do they not bow down

to my every wish and command?

This failure often tries my patience.

I was thinking this week

about this Feast of Christ the King

amidst those competing canines

and the glorious images

in the lectionary texts assigned for the feast . . .

 

Daniel’s night visions

of “one like a human being”

presented to the Ancient One

in the heavenly courts,

given everlasting “dominion and glory and kingship”

over “all peoples, nations, and languages . . . .”

 

The psalmist’s praise of

the splendidly appareled God and King

whose throne

has been established from everlasting . . .

 

Revelation’s exultant announcement

of the one “who is and was and is to come,”

Jesus Christ the alpha and omega,

the firstborn of the dead,

and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

 

All that power and glory,

building up to John’s gospel

and the

inglorious interrogation

of the seemingly powerless Jesus

in the grim headquarters of Pontius Pilate,

Rome’s appointed Governor

of occupied Judea.

 

 

Jesus,

arrested

on fabricated charges

leveled by the religious authorities

of his own people . . .

 

handed over to Pilate

to be executed on their behalf

by the occupiers of their country,

with whom they co-existed

in an uneasy truce of appeasement.

 

Christ the King.

 

Jesus the soon-to-be-crucified.

 

 

The Feast of Christ the King

is not quite a hundred years old.

 

It was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI:

a liturgical proclamation

of the risen, ascended Christ

as sovereign over all things

in heaven and on earth . . .

 

In the origin of this feast

there was a political

as well as a theological agenda –

 

 

An uneasy Pope’s pushback

against growing

European secularism

threatening the Church’s

power and authority

in human affairs . . .

 

An embattled Pope’s pushback

against the unresolved

so-called “Roman Question:”

 

whether the Church could retain sovereignty

over the territories known as the Papal States,

(a considerable piece of the Italian peninsula,

including the city of Rome . . .)

 

or whether the government

of the gradually unifying nation-state of Italy

would claim them . . .

 

Wars had been fought . . .

 

for even the Papal States had an army . . .

 

Ironic . . .

 

the Feast of Christ the King

established by a Church

engaged in a struggle

to hold on to its own earthly kingdom.

 

 

It is an ironic and a political and

a paradoxical feast,

with much to reveal

about “kings” and “kingdoms,”

human and divine . . .

 

its ironic, political, paradoxical content

manifest

in the lectionary’s juxtaposition

of all that Scriptural and liturgical glory

with Pontius Pilate’s dialogue

with the problem standing before him

in travel-worn peasant clothing . . .

 

“Are you the king of the Jews?”

 

Pilate,

supposedly the one with the power,

was finding himself quite powerless . . .

 

caught between

the religious leaders of Jerusalem,

whose collaboration he needed

to maintain the peace . . .

 

and the Roman Emperor,

his brutal employer,

the source of his position and supposed power

whom he must at all costs please . . .

 

 

 

So . . . should he do the bidding

of the religious leaders

and sentence Jesus to crucifixion?

 

but . . . what if executing Jesus

became the catalyst

for an uprising against Caesar?

 

“Are you the king of the Jews?”

 

Was he trying to uncover

the truth of the situation

or just stalling for time,

looking for a way out?

 

“Why do you ask?”

Jesus responded,

“Do you really want to know who I am . . .

 

or are you just trying to verify

what others have said?”

 

This man

should have been trembling with fear

in the face of Rome’s power,

should have been on his knees

begging for his life . . .

 

His self-possession

was profoundly unsettling,

and Pilate himself

began to be afraid.

 

 

 

Jesus,

who loved everyone he met,

friend and adversary alike,

gave Pilate an opening:

 

“My kingdom is not from this world,”

he said,

meaning,

not won by force,

not maintained by oppression and exploitation,

meaning,

not like yours.

 

“If it were,

my followers would have fought

to keep me from being arrested . . .

 

“No, my kingdom is not a kingdom

as the world knows kingdoms,

and I am not the world’s kind of king.”

 

In that way he had

of puzzling people toward discovery,

Jesus offered Pilate

a new understanding . . .

 

while Pilate was trying

to fit Jesus into the categories

he knew.

 

 

“So,” he replied,

“you are a king?”

 

“Up to you,” said Jesus.

“For this I was born,

for this I came into the world,

to testify to the truth.

Everyone who belongs to the truth

hears my voice.”

 

The invitation is there . . .

listen,

and hear.

 

 

“Tell me about this new kind of kingdom,”

Pilate might have said,

“and about who you really are.”

 

(Inexplicably,

the makers of the lectionary

have left out Pilate’s actual, telling reply.)

 

“What is truth?”

he said,

political expediency

having been for so long

the reality

governing his life.

 

 

He knew

to whom he belonged . . .

first to Caesar,

and then to the religious authorities

who had brought Jesus to him.

 

He couldn’t belong to them

and to the truth . . .

they were mutually exclusive.

 

“What is truth anyway?”

he muttered,

leaving the room,

 

turning his back

on Truth standing before him,

 

 

Truth incarnate . . .

in the flesh . . .

 

Jesus,

God’s son,

God in human form,

telling and showing us

God’s true self,

humble, loving, merciful,

justice-doing, peace-making.

 

 

Showing us God’s true self,

and therefore the true human self,

made as we are in God’s image

to be humble, loving, merciful,

justice-doing, peace-making.

 

Showing us the true human self,

and therefore the true human community,

humble, loving, merciful,

justice-doing, peace-making.

governed by the law of love . . .

 

Our actual self

the actual human community,

somewhere on the way,

which is why

we must always pray,

 

as we prayed at the beginning

of the liturgy:

 

“Almighty and everlasting God,

whose will it is to restore all things

in your well-beloved Son,

the King of kings and Lord of lords:

Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth,

divided and enslaved by sin,

may be freed and brought together

under his most gracious rule . . .”

 

 

 

In this kingdom,

so unlike the world’s kingdoms,

the gracious ruler dwells among us

as one of us,

 

not a king as the world knows kings,

but a king whose majesty and glory

are found in his

love and self-offering for his people.

 

The gracious rule of Christ the King,

the model for every kind of human government,

is the way of stewardship and servant-hood

and self-offering

for the sake of the governed . . .

 

The power of king, governor, emperor,

president, prime minister, chancellor,

not power over, but power for.

 

Truth was on trial before Pontius Pilate,

Truth and the Life to which it leads . . .

 

and to all appearances,

Truth and Life

were overcome that day

by Fear and Death.

 

 

But Truth and Life had the last word,

as we know,

and that word is Resurrection.

 

Against that word

all the kingdoms of the world

cannot stand.

 

 

To belong to that Truth

we need only listen to his voice,

 

In each of our lives,

in the places we have of influence and power,

to follow where he leads.

 

It won’t be,

in this life,

to royal throne rooms

and all their pomp.

 

The journey is the way to humility and self-offering,

the glory found in acts of compassion and love

in the meanest and poorest of places,

 

the majesty in devoting all that we are

and all that we have

to serve the King of Truth and Life.

 

 

 

Let us return just for a moment

to the little kingdom

in the yellow house in Lakewood.

 

What is my job

as ruler of all

but to serve the creatures

whose lives are entrusted to me . . .

 

to be loving and merciful,

to supply food and shelter,

enough toys, treats and dog beds,

and, as far as is possible,

establish peace and justice for all,

 

not setting myself above them,

but providing for their well-being

as a creature among creatures,

 

to be worthy of their

allegiance

and

affection,

 

in the image of Christ the King.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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