And behold! We’re at the end of the year, and Christ the King Sunday.
Here’s what I said.
Christ the King Sunday is an odd duck in the Christian calendar. It’s sort of like Trinity Sunday—It proclaims an idea, and a good one at that—the idea that Christ is king, that Christ is in charge and is more important than ANYTHING ELSE and ANYONE ELSE on earth.
It’s a good idea. It’s a good doctrine.
It’s such a good idea that by now, it trips off the tongue, as it has for over two thousand years, and we say it so fast—“Christ is the King.”
We name churches after it, schools after it. It sounds like the name of any midsize hotel chain in the world.
“Jesus is Lord.” “Jesus is the Lord.” We say it without a second thought, and it doesn’t strike anyone really, as ground breaking or earth shattering at this point, because why would it?
We say it so much, it’s lost its punch. Its jolt, its offensive quality that it had at one time. Christ, the king. Jesus the Caesar.
Because it was, at one time, deeply offensive. It got you in arguments, it got you thrown out of respectable places, it even got you killed.
This is what Jesus was killed for, after all. Jesus was killed for this, right here. Jesus didn’t die, in a strictly earthly, practical sense, because he told folks to love each other (Recall, please, Hallmark gets away with that and makes much money.)
Jesus was killed in a very practical sense, because he was given a title reserved for Caesar. Jesus was killed because he dared, and his followers continued to be killed because they dared, to publicly question the power of Rome.
When the first Christians said out loud “Jesus is king” they were killed, because they were also saying that Caesar was not. And that was betrayal. That was treason. You could do a lot of things in Rome—you can’t swear loyalty to another king.
But then something changed.
Constantine, even yet himself a Roman emperor, converted, and Christianity came out of the shadows, and into the halls of power.
And suddenly, the script changed. Suddenly, Christ wasn’t replacing the king—now, the king himself was invoking the power of Christ too. All of a sudden, this idea of the divine right of kings floats onto the scene, and now everything’s different.
Now you’ve got kings and governments and statuses quo everywhere claiming that they have their power because of God, and it’s a very different argument from what you had before.
After the rise of Constantine, you’ve got a whole line of people lining up, who when someone says “Christ is king” they raise their hand and chime in “So I am too.” Because if Christ is the king, if Christ is in charge, well, Hey, I’m on Jesus’s good side, so hey, I’m IN CHARGE TOO! Back off haters!
This is not a statement you get martyred for—but this is a statement that starts crusades.
It is a totally different script— It’s actually from that script that we get this feast day as a feast day.
Because it was only when the Roman Empire, which ruled the known world, shrank down into the Holy Roman Empire, which ruled half of Europe,, and then shrank into the tinier Papal states, which ruled some of Italy, that the Pope realized he was losing the power he once had, so in the mid 19th century he established this feast. Because he felt the need to remind the world that his boss was still the real king, and therefore, so was he. Even no current political map illustrated this with quite the flair the pope would have wished.
That’s what’s crept in when we speak of Jesus as Lord—visions of armies, thrones, governments, law and order, and power, and might, and all of the same systems that we repeat over and over today with our own systems of government. We sculpt them over again, and we hand them to Jesus, and we imagine that he is like us, as the Psalm says.
Yet look at the gospel. (When in doubt, look at the gospel)
When the Son of Man comes in all his glory,he does not come with armies, and military might on display. Instead, he aligns himself with the poorest, the weakest, the least, and the oppressed. He comes as the most un-kingly person in creation. Jesus-as-king does not appear as our earthly systems embody kings. Jesus does kingship entirely differently.
And that means that when we declare Jesus’s kingship IS radical. It IS groundbreaking, it IS startling. When Jesus is king, the status quo gets upended. When Jesus is king, a whole lot of things that we like an awful lot get shifted into second place.
When Jesus is king, your wealth is not. If Jesus is king, your privilege is not either. Neither is your intelligence. or how nice you were, or even how much you miraculously managed to get done this week, or last month. But, if Jesus is king, then what matters is not these things, but how much you cared for the poor, the sick, the marginalized, and those who have been cast off and set aside. What matters is the justice, love, and mercy you show in your life. And not any of the things we are used to thinking of as so important.
Because we can elevate other things. And we do, every day. But these empty kings we have, of fear, anxiety, pride, control, —they are not going to save us. We can buy all the weapons we want, we can arm ourselves to the teeth, we can stand all the armies up and stare at each other til Jesus comes home, and we will not have a moment’s more peace.
(All you need to do to figure this out is look across at Ferguson and watch the governor and the mayor turn a city into a militarized ghost town for days over something that hasn’t even happened and may not even happen, all because they’re terrified.)
What DOES give us a path out, is this different sort of king, with an inverted kingdom. Who draws us near as a shepherd draws in the sheep, and asks us to choose a different and unfamiliar way. We just have to follow.