Reign of Christ Sunday
Have you ever met a king before? Can you picture a member of some royal family, all dressed up in fine silks and bright colors, with a crown of gold studded with emeralds and rubies on their head? Perhaps trumpets announced his arrival and all bowed as he walked past. Maybe there were attendants surrounding the king, protecting him from any angry commoner or subject as he sat upon his huge throne raised above the level of the common folk.
Such an image is not an everyday occurrence for us in the United States. We are not ruled by a king; in fact, our forebearers were trying to escape the rule of a king. But we are still familiar with royal language. We’ve seen the royal family of England on tv or read about them in the newspaper. As a matter of fact, my childhood scrapbook contains a newspaper clipping of Prince William on his first day of preschool because it was also my first day of preschool. At the top of this page in my scrapbook there’s a photograph of me standing outside Little Preschoolers wearing a plaid jumper and carrying a little backpack, and at the bottom of the page there’s a photograph of Princess Diana walking Prince William into his preschool.
If you haven’t followed the real life royal family, then perhaps you’ve at least seen kings and queens, princes and princesses in movies and read about them in books. They are always dignified, sophisticated, regal. They have crown jewels and golden scepters and they rule their kingdoms with absolute power and authority. What they say goes – no questions asked and no hesitation. And everything they do is interesting. Scandal and lies in a royal family are worthy of a major motion picture, while death and deceit in other lives are just part of an ordinary day. Yes, the title of king brings authority. Authority brings power. Power brings intrigue. And soon all are watching.
This morning we are watching Pilate in his exchange with Jesus. Pilate is an earthy fellow. He knows how the world works. The strong rule the weak; the powerful judge the actions of the not so powerful; status can be used for intimidation, investigation and interrogation. Pilate knows that this weak, beaten man before him is no ruler in his world. Pilate knows that he holds the power of life and death over this prisoner of the Jews. He also knows that this power has been given to him by the chief priests who didn’t want to deal decisively with this intriguing man.
Pilate also knows something about kings. Caesar was to be honored, even worshipped, as supremely powerful. Ultimately, Caesar held the power of life and death over all persons, including Pilate, within his wide realm. Pilate knew that Caesar’s authority rested upon his own shoulders. What he didn’t get was that authority and power of another kind rested on Jesus’ shoulders.
It was easy to miss. During the preceding night, Jesus had been betrayed by Judas and arrested in the garden by soldiers and officers of the chief priest. Simon Peter cut off a soldier’s ear, only to get berated by Jesus. Later on that night he would deny Jesus. Betrayal, blood, denial – sounds like the making of a royal family scandal. Yet, Jesus did not react as one would have expected a king to react. Jesus was bound and taken to the high priests for questioning. In the early morning, Jesus was removed from the house of the high priest Caiaphas and taken to the headquarters of the Roman occupation force for interrogation by the governor of the province of Judea.
And Jesus didn’t shout out that he wanted his advisors and councilors notified, that he wouldn’t say a word until his lawyer was present, that all cameras must be removed. Jesus silently obeyed and was transported around and through the Roman system. So it’s easy to see why Pilate is confused about Jesus’ status as a king. He certainly didn’t look like or react like anyone with power and authority.
But that’s because Jesus’ power and authority are different. His life hasn’t looked like that of a king. If Pilate is trying to find evidence of Jesus being a king, he has his work cut out for him.
- Jesus wasn’t born in the midst of a grand celebration, a prince who would one day take the throne. He wasn’t lifted high for all to see as lion cub Prince Simba’s birth was honored by all of the animal kingdom in the opening scene of The Lion King. Jesus was born in a lowly stable behind an inn with not even a spare room for a pregnant woman and her husband. His first days were not spent in receptions but on the run in the cover of the night.
- Jesus didn’t receive the royal treatment as a child – golden rattles, tutors and nannies watching over him, stories being written about his first day of preschool. No, he ran around causing his own mother to search wildly for him and he had a thing or two to teach his own teachers.
- Jesus didn’t keep company with all the VIPs of the nations and towns. His schedule wasn’t full of appearances and speeches and benefit dinners. Instead he dined spur of the moment with sinners and tax collectors and lepers and fishermen – those at the very bottom of the hierarchy of society, those with whom a king should never have to associate himself.
- Jesus wasn’t the marshall of any special parades … well there was that one, but even then he was riding on the back of a donkey. It wasn’t really a grand entrance.
And Jesus replies to Pilate’s question in his typical fashion – with another question: “Why are you asking me about this? Have you heard what the others have been saying?”
Pilate is quick to deny any relation with the Jews. He tries a different question: “What have you done?” Perhaps he thinks he can sort this whole thing out by at least finding out what it is that Jesus has done to cause this uproar.
And Jesus declares “My kingdom is not from here.” The kinds of things you associate with a king are not the things I have done in my life. For I’m not concerned with having jurisdiction over provinces and soldiers. My concerns lie elsewhere. You may think that because I am here in this place I would be ruling here. But that’s not it at all. You see my kingdom is not from here. My people and I may be located here right now, but my kingdom gains it’s power from above, from God my Father.
And in his answer and its expanded meaning we see that Jesus is different than any king Pilate knows and any king we might know, and therefore his kingdom is different also. Jesus’ kingdom exists in the tension – the tension of his kingdom being “already” possible but “not yet” realized; the tension of his kingdom being made strong by its weak and marginalized members; the tension of his kingdom existing with more questions than answers. For all will be reversed in his kingdom by the power of the Word. And one day, this kingdom will be here on earth. One day this kingdom will come in this place in the way that it is in heaven.
And with Christ as King, the weak will become strong, the marginalized and oppressed will be lifted up and truth will reign. With Christ as King, we are all heirs … children of the King … part of the royal family. Like the children this morning, we get to wear a crown, too. And that means we can approach the throne of the king … because Christ’s throne is not one of brute force, high and mighty above the commoners; but of mercy and grace and strength, on exactly the same level as the people.
And all these things sound good, and they are good, but they are far from being normal and safe. Like the four children in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe realize, the king is not always safe. In the book, four children are transported to another world, Narnia, through the back of an old wardrobe; there the children hear about the perpetual winter that exists in Narnia due to the evil White Witch. Only Aslan can put things right; for Aslan is the King; he’s the Lord of the whole wood, the King of the Beasts, and the great lion. The children are excited to hear that someone can stop the White Witch but are frightened by the description of Aslan, the great lion. One child asks, “Then he isn’t safe?” Their host, Mr. Beaver, replies “Safe? Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.”
Like the lion Aslan, Christ is good and Christ is not safe; but Christ is King and Christ reigns. And because Christ reigns as a different kind of king over a different kind of kingdom, we are called to be a different kind of people. We get some of the same privileges as the king – a relationship with the Father, a claim as royal heir. But as part of the royal family, we also inherit some responsibilities: serving others, loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, being salt and light in a world where it’s not always easy to be salt and light … in general, we must enact the ways of the kingdom that is not from here and only give power to Christ.
Because there is only One who reigns in power over all – Jesus the Christ. Remember that as we head into a season of waiting expectantly for Christmas. Remember that it’s not the advertisers or the media or the shopping centers or the best deals or Black Friday that reign supreme. It is Christ and Christ alone.
So, come these next weeks to worship – to sing and praise and lament and pray and be in community with fellow believers as always, but come also, children of the King, to a kingdom that is not from here, a kingdom that is not maintained by the rules of this world; come to see and discover a different kind of King anew, so you may live as a different kind of people.
In the name of the One who reigns in power, forever and ever; Amen.