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Christ the King Sunday, 2022
Kingship has been in the news lately, as Queen Elizabeth II has recently died and her place taken by her son, Charles. The British monarchy somehow often elicits an odd fascination from Americans, maybe because we pine for that kind of traditionalism, or we have a fairy-tale version of kings and queens, princes and princesses, stuck in our heads. Of course, the British monarchy is far different from its former glory; kings in the modern world are largely figureheads without real authority. But we have our own kings, the self-made variety, of course; those who crush competition in corporate warfare; those who start wars in order to flex their power to the world; those who dominate their petty kingdoms in churches, businesses, politics, and families every day. Because it is the very nature of human kings to war, to dominate, and to acquire whatever glory those things can bring. And all of them, all of them, from the greatest conquerors to the lowest bully, are vain and pitiful attempts at true kingship.
What I mean is, all pales in comparison to Jesus Christ, and his kingship, as demonstrated in our readings today. We have two very different aspects of the same king when we take Colossians and Luke and put them in conversation together, different but ultimately complementary aspects that demonstrate the loving grace of God.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,” Colossians tells us, and “He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son. The mystery of Godliness, we might call this, that he is at once the invisible, immortal, uncreated, almighty God, and yet that fullness took on flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, visible, mortal, created, and finite. The mystery of Jesus’ kingship, that as Messiah he is in one person both God and Man, and the humanity does not drag God down, but rather the divine pulls humanity up, perfecting human nature and making it able to receive everlasting life.
Jesus, the Lord, the Messiah, the King. He has first place in everything, is head of the Church, and as God is sovereign Lord over all Creation. Because the fullness of God dwells bodily in Jesus Christ, it can be said that “in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.” That is why human pretensions to power and authority are all, ultimately, pathetic. Because no one and nothing can pretend to the almighty power revealed and exercised in Jesus Christ.
This is so amply demonstrated throughout human history. One of my favorite novels is All Quiet on the Western Front, a book written by a German who survived the war, a fictionalized version of his own experiences. In the book, we see the full horror of the trench warfare of WWI, the dehumanization and wanton destruction that ruined an entire generation of young men in the western world. The soldiers come to see that the authorities who encouraged them to go to war, their teachers, were just as big of fools as the generals who commanded them to their deaths to gain glory for themselves. This human authority they eventually reject, because: ”the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs. They surpassed us only in phrases and cleverness. The first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces.” That is what kingship looks like to so many: broken promises of the fools who so often rule over us, or as the author puts it, “It is very queer that the unhappiness of the world is so often brought on by small men.”
That is what should then shock us as we come to the gospel of Luke today. How is Jesus’ authority exercised? How does this king behave? How is it that through him, as Colossians has it, God “has rescued us from the power of darkness,” and “was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven”? War? Glory? Technological achievement? Let us read the Gospel again.
Our Lord, the King of all, derided, rebuked, shamed, scorned, mocked. Why? Because he chose to be. Because true leadership, true kingship, true lordship, is to give up one’s self, one’s very life, for another. God shows us what it means to have authority, and God’s very nature is unrelentingly self-giving, eternally pouring out for the sake of creation. Murdered by the state, the Christ died…But then showed his lordship in the most profound and utterly surprising way: By demonstrating not that he could deal out death like a general, or cleverly conceive a solution using technology like a captain of industry; Jesus demonstrated his Lordship by revealing his power over life itself.
Many want to use authority in a very different way. They want to hold it over others, to force conformity, and to rule like despots. Many, sadly, in the Church do this as well. How many churches have fallen apart in recent years because of abusive leadership? And how many of those leaders exercise their position in precisely the opposite way of Jesus, who even though actually almighty chose self-emptying for the sake of others? How many do this in their homes, over their children? Over their employees?
Anyone can kill, anyone can build, and anyone can compete for prestige; Christ is the only one who can say to the dying, “‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” Jesus Christ is the only one who can be “firstborn from the dead,” because he was the first and only to rise from death to glorified life on his own power, and is why we ourselves look forward to immortal life. What this means for us is this:
First, believe the gospel! Jesus is Lord, over history, our destinies, over sin, over death. The Lord is in control of our fates. The Lord has defeated the power of sin, so we can live holy lives. The Lord has killed death, so we can know we possess eternal life. The gospel is true because Jesus is Lord. The gospel IS that Jesus is Lord, over all things, everlasting. No sin can be too great for him if even death is subject to his rule. And all the evil of this world will rage, all the racism, exploitation, oppression, and violence. But all will end when the Christ’s kingdom is completed, which is the basis for our hope.
Second, since the king is the chief example to the people, we must seek to embody our king’s life in our own lives. Love your neighbor and even your enemy. Give your money and time to the work of God not expecting it back. Do the hard thing, turning from lust and murderous anger, not just in action but in the heart. Confess your deepest sins, and turn to Christ. Follow, in other words, your king, and combat the world, not with weapons and violence, but with the irrational love of those who are living for a God who is Love. May we continue to do so, as those who know their king leads them truly. Amen.
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