THE FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4b-8;
Christ Episcopal Church
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
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
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
of the seemingly powerless Jesus
in the grim headquarters of Pontius Pilate,
Rome’s appointed Governor
of occupied Judea.
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
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
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?”
supposedly the one with the power,
was finding himself quite powerless . . .
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?”
“Do you really want to know who I am . . .
or are you just trying to verify
what others have said?”
should have been trembling with fear
in the face of Rome’s power,
should have been on his knees
begging for his life . . .
was profoundly unsettling,
and Pilate himself
began to be afraid.
who loved everyone he met,
friend and adversary alike,
gave Pilate an opening:
“My kingdom is not from this world,”
not won by force,
not maintained by oppression and exploitation,
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
“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 . . .
“Tell me about this new kind of kingdom,”
Pilate might have said,
“and about who you really are.”
the makers of the lectionary
have left out Pilate’s actual, telling reply.)
“What is truth?”
having been for so long
governing his life.
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?”
leaving the room,
turning his back
on Truth standing before him,
Truth incarnate . . .
in the flesh . . .
God in human form,
telling and showing us
God’s true self,
humble, loving, merciful,
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,
Showing us the true human self,
and therefore the true human community,
humble, loving, merciful,
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
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
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
in the image of Christ the King.