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!
When Americans use the word election, we think of going to our local polling place and voting for the least bad choice of candidates for political office to lead us. But when Christian theologians use the word election, they mean something quite different. In a theological context, election is God’s choosing of a person or a people to lead the world to him. And in all three readings today, we get hints of such divine election.
The reading from Exodus is a clear example. God explicitly states that he chooses the twelve tribes of Israel to be a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” He offers to form a covenant with this ragtag federation of tribes. If they obey his voice, he will guide and protect them. And “the people all answered as one: ‘Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.’” Of course, they didn’t, in fact, do everything that the Lord had spoken! We are given no real reason why this group of people was chosen among all the peoples of the world. But more important than the question “Why were they chosen, and not others?” is the question “For what purpose were they chosen?” What does it mean to be a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation”? Well, to be a priestly kingdom is to be a united people under God that serves as an intermediary between God and the Gentile nations. To be a “holy nation” is to be a people set apart and dedicated for God’s express use. In other words, Israel was elected by God to be a light to the nations of the world, so as to draw them to the living God and to salvation.