Picture it: a silver coin a little smaller than a quarter with the rough image of the emperor stamped into it – and not one but several titles surrounding the rim. Throughout the empire, images of Caesar proclaimed his glory through a series of lofty names:
Princeps Civitatis – First Among the Citizens Princeps Senatus – First Among the Senators Pontifex Maximus – the Chief Priest of the Roman Imperial Religion Imperator – the Conqueror Pater Patria – Father of the Nation Divi Filius – the Divine Son Augustus – the Exalted
This is how the emperors saw themselves – and made sure their subjects saw them this way too. From temples and government buildings to the very coins in used to buy bread and wine, the empire proclaimed Caesar’s glorious lordship far and wide.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, our King who hung upon the tree of the cross. Amen.
This is not what we expect from our king.
We turn to our rulers looking for certain things: elegance, a sense of power, safety, a show of force. We expect them to do mighty works. We want them to be great and to make us great.
How odd it is, then, that as we celebrate the reign of Christ our King, we don’t read about his miracles. Or the Transfiguration. Today, there is no holy dove descending from heaven, no voice of God proclaiming:
This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, our coming King. Amen.
It’s a bold claim, isn’t it? To stand, bound and on trial, before the imperial governor, the embodied representative of the Roman Empire, and to claim kingship? The Romans had conquered the entire Mediterranean world, from Spain to Turkey, from Tripoli in North Africa up to the limes in Germany, from southern Egypt to as far away as Britain. The Romans had vanquished the fractured Greek rulers and kept the Parthian Empire at bay in Iran. Rome made and broke kings. They commanded entire legions to keep rebellious territories in line. The Romans knew how to shatter the spirit and will of defiant kings and mutinous militias: through the strength of arms and torture. Lay waste to the city, crucify the leaders. Roman authority was rooted in a mighty brutality. Continue reading “What Kind of King?”→