Today is the final Sunday of the Church liturgical year – next week we arrive for worship and it will be the first of the 4 weeks in Advent. The Church in a move designed to pick up and present to us the whole year of worship and prayer and singing and scripture reading – the church designates this final Sunday of the year as Christ the King Sunday. Or as it is increasingly being called, “Reign of Christ”.
In our lectionary the last Sunday of the year strikes pretty much the same note as we will commence the new year – anticipation and expectation. As I am fond of saying you may by now be picking up – Christianity is far more future oriented than past oriented. It was born in an outpouring of barely containable anticipation of the return of Christ and has only taken on the role of genteel preserver of a revered past when it has lost its vision and urgency of the coming of the Lord of Creation who challenges every worldly pretender to authority.
There is no scriptural order to establish this day and to be honest I just can’t see Jesus urging his followers to establish a Christ the King Sunday to honour him. The one time he was directly asked if he was a king – when bound and brought before Pilate he refused to accept that title. It is actually a far more recent invention of the Roman Catholic Church –it only dates from 1925 as Europe attempted to arise from the wreckage of WW1 and the church rightly suspected its power to be a political king or queen maker was rapidly drawing to a close. You choose for yourself if you opt for the more cynical version of the story that Pope Pius was desperately attempting to cling to some imperial power for the church in inventing this festival where the church could retain the privelege of naming at least one King, or was it simply what it declares at face value – the theological truth that Jesus Christ is the one who shall reign for ever and ever.
Either way it remains an open question whether the church either in 1925 or today has fully grasped the audacity of what it was doing in calling its members to the very same declaration that got Jesus executed by the state as a subversive.
Let us be clear on this – Jesus did not get himself executed for feeding people, or healing the sick, not for walking on water or telling parables. The sign on his cross listing the charge against him was quite specific; it read, “Jesus of Nazareth – King of the Jews”.
One of the many things this story tells us is that Jesus was not brought down by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware of those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware of those who cannot tell God’s will from their own. Temple police are always a bad sign. When chaplains start wearing guns and hanging out at the sheriff’s office, watch out. Someone is about to have no king but Caesar
Issue for us on a Sunday such as Christ the King, or reign of Christ, is we are not yet Christian. By that I mean we do not allow Christ to shape our words, images, symbols, and then use that Christian language to critique the world.
Scripture largely unknown in Australia… Pointless is a game show with a twist. 100 members of the public are asked to answer questions in various categories. For instance words that end in “aer” or Australian Prim Ministers, or Olympic swimmers etc. Contestants have to give a correct answer but the most obscure of the 100 answers. And the aim is to get a “pointless” answer – that is so obscure none of the 100 people thought of it. I was astonished to see “New Testament” books was a recent category. And there were lots of pointless answers! Understandably the 4 gospels got the most nominations – followed bizarrely by the book of Revelation. You can look up the full list by googling Pointless.
What this means when we do not know the story of Jesus is we get an image of Kings or Queens, or Presidents, or power or whatever… and say Oh that is what a king looks like and how they act. And then along comes the bible or the church and says Christ is a King, and already having this idea in our heads we say, “oh yeah we know about that, we know what a king is like, so Christ must be one of those”. The gospel of John says precisely the opposite to what most people would hear when the church says, “Christ the King”. And if you have picked up during this sermon that I am pretty ambivalent about this day and its designation of Christ the King, my only justification is that I got it from John’s gospel which is hugely ambivalent about presenting Jesus in any way shape or form as a King. There is massive irony going on here as this bound and mocked lone pretender to kingship is arrayed before his earthly ruler who has power of life and death over him. John’s gospel is quite clear that you cannot link in the one phrase Christ and King without putting in a massive disclaimer.
Reading online in preparation for this week and ad breaks into the article. Was an ad for State Liberal Party (but that irrelevant) Get back in control. Matthew Guy
Point is the question about what authority, rule, power, is.
Let’s not take for granted what we went through yesterday – being able to choose our leader. Both winning and losing candidates usually mention that fact that the people have spoken, and we live a democracy. Let’s never gloss over the possibility of being able to say to our leader – well we have grown a bit weary of you, you’ve had a good run, time for someone else now. I think even Jesus would have been aghast at the thought of a people being able to do that.
Let’s not take all that for granted.
When John’s gospel puts Jesus and kingship together there is so much irony to the extent it would be far more accurate to call Christ the anti-King, in the same way some figures are anti-heroes. They challenge, overturn and subvert all we have ever known learnt about heroes or kings from other places. For instance the later church dressed Jesus up in the finery of kingly garb of crowns and gowns and scepters, mostly forgetting that this “king” had only the clothes he stood in and told his followers when out on his business to not even worry about the extra shirt.
So if this is what kingship, Lordship, leadership is about then every king, PM and leader will have to be assessed by how they measure up to this Jesus. If Jesus is King or ruler then kings and rulers and lords and leaders must be different to what we see around us. Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you. If Jesus is Lord then Barack Obama, Donald Trump Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbot, Bill Shorten, Sco Mo, Therese May, Putin, nor the Queen, nor Australia itself, nor families, nor the economy is Lord.
His strength revealed in weakness he is our saviour because he did not save himself.