In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is the last Sunday of the church year. Its official title is “the Last Sunday after Pentecost.” But it’s more commonly known as “Christ the King Sunday,” and it’s treated as a sort of unofficial feast day. Not surprisingly, we find repeated references in today’s readings to divine kingship, in particular the divine kingship of Christ.
Of course, the first reading from the book of Daniel was written centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ. It recounts a vision that Daniel had of the divine throne room. Rarely in Holy Scripture is God the Father physically described, but here, in an instance of blatant anthropomorphism, God is portrayed as an old man with white hair and white clothing seated on a flaming throne. Before him is presented “one like a Son of Man.” And to him God grants “dominion and glory and kingship.” Since “Son of Man” is one of the titles of Jesus in the Gospels, Christians have, from the very beginning, understood this vision as predicting the Kingship of Jesus.
The reading from the Revelation to John, like the reading from Daniel, recounts an apocalyptic vision. Here Jesus Christ is explicitly identified as “the ruler of the kings of the earth.” And his kingdom is said to be a priestly kingdom, composed of “priests serving his God and Father.” Now, to make things perfectly clear, John is not talking about ordained ministers when he speaks of priests. He is referring to all the baptized; in other words, he is talking about you!
Then we come to the Gospel reading from John. Jesus is on trial before Pontius Pilate. He has been accused of sedition against Rome for claiming to be the King of the Jews. When Pilate asks him point blank, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus refuses to directly answer the question. He responds instead, “My kingdom is not from this world.” From this enigmatic answer, we can glean that Jesus is a king, but not the sort of king that the world has ever known before.
The people of Jesus’ day were accustomed to kings and emperors who lorded it over them, who taxed them cruelly, who pressed them into military service, who demanded bribes in return for justice, who served themselves and not their people. But that is not the kind of king that Jesus was, or is. For this king came into the world to serve others, to “testify to the truth,” and ultimately, to offer up his very life, so that the world might be saved.
Now, for Americans, all this talk of kingship seems quite foreign. We are taught early on that we live in a republic and that, as a consequence, we acknowledge the rule of no king. Not so! Those of us who call ourselves Christians do, in fact, have a king—Jesus of Nazareth. And if we “belong to the truth,” we will listen to his voice and obey his commandments: to love God and to love our neighbor.
Next Sunday, we enter the liturgical season of Advent, and we will begin to hear more than we may find comfortable concerning the topic of judgment. We find the topic uncomfortable, I suspect, for the simple reason that none of us merits acquittal before the great judgment seat of God—and we know it! Fortunately for us all, the heavenly king who will judge us is “full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness.” Jesus Christ, that Humble King who took the form of a slave and was born in human likeness, will hear and decide. Jesus Christ, that Servant King who stooped to wash the feet of his friends, will sit in judgment. Jesus Christ, that Crucified King who gave himself up to death that the world might know life, will declare the verdict.
“To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”