I have to tell you that this week I have grappled with these readings and the idea of Christ the King. I wonder whether you grapple with the idea of Christ the King?
If I begin by asking you to describe what image you have of Christ as King I wonder how you might respond? What words or image come to mind?
It is really hard to think of the word King without thinking of worldly kingship royal palaces, fancy gold crowns, plush robes and all of the trappings? Is that who we think of when we think of Jesus?
The thing I have grappled with all this week is this? I have heard many sermons preached on Christ the King that want us to turn Christ the King on his head loose all of the majesty and focus wholly on the servant. On Wednesday in our afternoon Bible Study we talked about the Lord’s Prayer and came up with a similar challenge. If we reduce God, Jesus, or the Gospels to the ordinary, if we strip all majesty, all kingdom talk from Jesus we reduce Jesus to an ordinary servant and that can’t be right. However, if we focus on Christ’s kingship we risk getting caught up in the trappings and only seeing gold and robes and missing the Jesus who was born in a stable, to a woman of no nobility, we replace the crown of thorns with a crown of gold, we miss the point of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey and dying not a royal death but death on a cross, we focus on Christ the King and miss the mess, dirt and danger of advent of Christ the King.
The church faces similar issues. Last week we remembered those who died in battle in our world wars and prayed that we would focus on the way of the kingdom where war will be no more. How many times have we gone to war in some kind of crusade pretending that we do this with the authority of the king. Imagine that God is on our side as we bomb and kill in the name of our faith.
Do we use the notion of Christ the King to impose our own kingship? Do we demand, in God’s name , the power and respect that we long for ourselves? Do we impose our understanding of the world on those weaker than ourselves and tell them (and ourselves) that it is God’s understanding? I am afraid that in our history and still now the answer is all too often yes.
Daniel starts off with an image of power that is quite in line with our undisturbed non-Christian understanding of power. There may be an issue nowadays with calling our ruler the ancient one, we appear to like a younger ruler nowadays, but there are at least thrones and fire and plenty of bowing servants. Then what happens? An ordinary human being, who looks like the rest of us, comes to the awesome, majestic throne and instantly the fire and throne and bowing servants fade and we wait to see how they will fit with this unprepossessing human figure. Daniel sums up perfectly for us that both servant and majesty have their place in Christ the King and I wonder if the word we are missing is mystery. It is in the mystery that the service and kingship are brought together. It is in the mystery that the full humanity and full divinity of Christ become the Servant King.
John’s Gospel plainly tells us in the words of Jesus ‘my kingdom is not of this world’ this helps us to understand.
Pilate the ruler and Christ the King in a room together face to face. Pilate has the power over these squabbling people who he really can’t be bothered to understand. Pilate knows that Jesus stands before him on trumped up charges but he is the ruler that is not his problem. The only thing that matters to him is this: ‘are you challenging my power?’ He reads Jesus answer correctly – yes I am. He doesn’t wait to hear the how. Overconcerned with the word King if Jesus is King then Pilate is not! For Pilate Kingship means power and that is something he is unwilling to let go of.
In the verses immediately following this passage the Jewish authorities will say in order to seal Christ the King’s fate and force Pilates hand that they have no king other than Caesar! This is massive those who have followed one God: the scriptures, songs and revolutionary slogans of Judaism had spoken for a thousand years of its God as the true king. What would Isaiah have said to the chief priests?
These questions have not gone away for us, who is our true king? Who are we meant to follow? The government, state law or Christ the King?
This was tested for those Christians living in Nazi Germany and some of them give us hope to cling to. Corrie Ten Boom an Austrian watchmakers daughter knew when she saw the Nazi persecution of the disabled and Jews that she had to follow not the state but Christ the King. She hid Jews in a secret hiding place and was eventually found out. Did her faith diminish – absolutely not – she continued to follow Christ the King and her, her sister and father along with other family members all ended up dying or in camps Corrie and Betsie ended up in Ravensbruck concentration camp. They retained their faith in Christ the King throughout this ordeal, Betsie praising God for the fleas at one point because when there were fleas in the barracks the guards stayed away and they could hold Bible Studies in the camps. Betsie too died in ravensbruck but Corrie followed Christ the King on her release from the camps by the allies into a life of forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration.
What is this about? How does this relate to Christ the King? Christ the King did not hold to power but held to love. Following Christ the King does not lead us to riches and glory but to a stripping back in service of Christ the King.
Kingdom and cross, King and servant rightly belong together for us. We must never take the majesty out of Christ the King but we must always remember that Christ the King never got caught up in the trappings. Christ the King was willing to let go of power and hold lightly to kingship in front of Pilate and we must be too.
A challenge on Christ the King this week before advent are we willing to examine our hearts and admit when we use the authority that we feel we have in Christ the King to oppress or diminish others?
Are we willing this Sunday before advent to hold lightly to the trappings that we have. I have been on a journey with robes and beautiful churches since I began my curacy here and I can see the value I truly can but am I willing to wear these robes and use this beautiful building to equip others to see Christ the King to point to the glory of God and not hold tight to any authority or power that is bestowed on me through them? Will we all look at the witness of the Ten Booms and allow Christ the King to take us outside this building into our communities and world in order to point to the kingdom of the king, not a kingdom of wealth, of royal treasure in any worldly sense but a kingdom that is costly that fights for equality, justice that is built on love and will never turn away? Will we follow our king not into righteous authority and claiming power but into costly love?
This Christ the King will we proclaim the Good News of the Gospel that Jesus, the living God has become King of the whole world. A King who welcomes everyone. A King whose majesty and service join in mystery to give us Christ the King. Will we take the time as we leave this place and explain the kingship of Christ to others to neither reduce Christ the King nor to make him a King in the worlds image? Will we follow Christ the King as disciples into the park, those areas where people are suffering to reveal the glory of justice, equality, glory and hope which is revealed in and through the kingship of God.