A Homily for the Feast of Christ the King
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the King, who comes riding on the clouds. Amen.
This is our King?
Arrested, standing trial, bound, headed for Golgotha?
It’s so far removed from our expectations. This does not look like the One Like a Son of Man who, in Daniel, comes with the clouds of heaven to receive dominion and glory and kingship from the Ancient One, standing before a fiery throne. Hours before his death, this does not look like one who will be served by all peoples, nations and languages, who will receive everlasting dominion and kingship that shall never be destroyed.
This is not exactly Alpha and Omega, Who Is and Who Was and Who Is to Come. This is not our picture of the Almighty.
This is not even our picture of an earthly ruler.
Days before, Jesus came into Jerusalem riding on a young donkey and was greeted by crowds waving palm branches, shouting:
Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!
And the Evangelist remarked with quotes from the prophets Zephaniah and Zechariah:
As it is written: Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.
Now that’s the image of a king.
But everything fell apart, and now on this final Sunday of the church year, when we should be focused on Christ the King, we are in Pilate’s office, watching a sham trial.
Pilate thinks he has the upper hand – the chief priests are yelling out the Emperor’s authority, they’ve handed over this uppity Jew to be lynched. Pilate takes Jesus outside and shows him the crowd, chanting against him, as if to say, Even your own people have betrayed you. You would be king? You would lead an army against the Roman legions? You shall be an example to your people of what happens when Jews dream of kingship.
Christ responds, “My kingdom is not from this world.” If he were a king like the Herodians or like David, he would have an army at his command. If he were like the Caesars, he would have his own legions. There would be fighting in the streets. “But as it is,” he says, “my kingdom is not from here.” Our Lord’s rule does not resemble the fallen powers and principalities.
Pilate pushes Jesus, dares him to claim royal authority – to admit with his own lips the accusation leveled against him. “So you are a king?”
Jesus responds, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Our reading cuts off here, but it’s worth noting Pilate’s response: he scoffs, “What is truth?” He’s challenging Christ: You say that you testify to the truth, but truth is determined by the powerful. I have the legions, I have the power to say who lives or dies. Truth is what I say it is on behalf of the emperor. For Pilate, truth is whatever Rome decides it is: the news of a law and order brought by Roman conquest recorded in annals and celebrated by triumphal arches.
But Pilate remains ignorant of the Truth with a capital T – that the Lord God reigns eternally. And because the Lord God reigns, the powers and principalities and their punk errand boys will eventually be brought to heel. On the last day, when all of the kingdoms of this world have fallen, the Kingdom of God will come. And those who belong to the Truth hear the voice of Christ – the voice of the Good Shepherd, the same voice that called Lazarus out of the grave, the voice of the Son of God. In this coming Kingdom, those who belong to the Truth will hear his voice calling them out of grave into the resurrection.
On this final Sunday of the Church year, we look for the coming Kingdom – not of this world, not secured by soldiers or militias or vigilantes, not a kingdom built war and bloodshed, not built on the back of oppression, not based on dominance, but the Kingdom of God brought by the One who emptied himself for the sake of others, who laid down his life for the sake of the world. This is the coming Kingdom of God, the peaceable Kingdom. This coming Kingdom is not of this world, does not resemble the monarchies and hierarchies of this world. Christ our King’s earthly throne is not gilded but is the wooden cross upon which he was killed.
Christ is King. Caesar is not.
Christ is King. Pilate is not.
Christ is King. Herod is not.
They might win out for a time. Acting on behalf of Caesar, Pilate and Herod will bring to fruition the plot to kill Jesus – they will nail the Son of God to the cross. In the name of law and order, they will torture and kill God. The powers of this world may shelter the unjust and the oppressor. They might neglect the poor and needy, condemn the innocent while lionizing the guilty, and turn the oppressed into footstools for the wealthy.
Throughout the ages, the powerful have gleefully embraced to the injustices of the slave trader, the lynching tree, Jim Crow, jackbooted thugs and sheeted Klansmen. In the name of law and order, the powers and principalities have tortured and killed those made in the image of God. Through the attack dog, the water hose, tear gas, and bullets, they have sought to build up for themselves new Babylons and new Romes.
When confronted with their sins, these same powers have scoffed, “What is truth?” protected the oppressor from any legal justice while condemning the victim, built monuments to slave traders, and written this history of oppression out of the history books.
But their power will not last. The cross, an instrument of sin and death at the hands of the Romans, that first century lynching tree, has become the very means by which the Lord our God saves humanity.
This is our King, arrested, standing trial, bound, headed for Golgotha?
Yes! This is our King! Our gloriously low-born King! The One Who Is and Was and Is To Come is the same One who is the descendant of runaway slaves, whose royal bloodline includes a prostitute, who was conceived by an unmarried woman. This is our King who was born in a manger under Roman occupation, who eats with sinners, who identifies with the stranger, the hungry, the sick, the naked, and the imprisoned! This is our King who was handed over to the authorities to be beaten and nailed to a tree, who was placed in a tomb under armed guard. This is our King, who shuns the trappings of earthly power and sides with the outsider – with us, poor sinners that we are, ensnared by the fallen powers of this corrupt age.
We are slaves to sin and death, but we have a King who is the friend of slaves, who has come to set us free.
This is our King, our glorious King, who cannot be overcome by sin and death. This is our King, who has the power to lay down his life and pick it back up. This is our King who has descended into the grave that the dead might better hear his voice and rise in his glory.
Yes, this is our King.
Christ is King, and this means that no corrupt judge, no evil king, no tyrannical dictator, no lynch mob or armed vigilante, can deprive the world of justice. The lawmakers who cling to power by oppressing their neighbors will be cast down. The public officials who serve wealth rather than God will not last.
Our King has conquered all of their oppressive tools. Our God is enthroned on the cross – not even death can overcome him.
The Babylons and Romes of the world will pass away with all the first things as a new heaven and a new earth descend. Behold, a new Jerusalem is coming! And Christ our King is descending on the clouds to take his royal throne.
The Pilates of this world will grasp for power – but their time is coming.
Christ is King, and when he comes again in glory as the Righteous Judge to establish his unending Kingdom, the proud will be scattered. The powerful will be brought down from their thrones and the lowly will be lifted up. The hungry will be fed and the rich will be sent away empty. Injustice inflicted by human hands will finally be set to right. The true justice of God, delayed and denied by human governments, will finally be delivered. And we shall hear his voice, calling us into newness of life.