Fr. John Allison
2 Samuel 23:1-7
November 21, 2021
Christ Church, Hudson
Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, which has the distinction of being the only major feast on our calendar that was added in the twentieth century. It was added in 1924 by Pope Pius XI in response to what he saw as a growing secularism and nationalism that was occurring in various European countries in the aftermath of WWI, especially in Italy and Germany. Church attendance was falling and more and more people were placing their trust in secular authorities, in particular in dictators and authoritarian rulers. Pope Pius saw the need to emphasize, to remind Christians of who our king truly is—Jesus. I don’t think that is a need that has gone away. It wasn’t until 1970, with the development of the Revised Common Lectionary, that we began widely celebrating it within the Anglican Communion and today that need to be reminded is as strong as it’s ever been. Last week, in our final reading from Mark, Jesus warned his disciples, “beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ And they will lead many astray.” Indeed, so great is our yearning for restoration, for hope, and so great the many “solutions” to the world’s problems that we must be reminded that as Christians our lives, our very being, is in Christ and that as the church we are called to bear witness to God’s peace with compassion and justice.
While the language of kingship may seem a bit outside our experience as 21st century Americans we can perhaps ask ourselves, on whom, or what, do we depend? Where do we seek comfort or relief or sustenance? In the secular age in which we live the answer is more likely to be science or government or commerce, or, as someone said to be recently, ourselves, than it is to be God.
This is not to say that we have not benefited from technology or human effort or that living conditions haven’t generally improved throughout history but that as religious people our faith can easily be distorted and misplaced when we forget that life is a good and gracious gift from God. Everything else is predicated on that knowledge and our task is to understand how we are to live in a way that allows us to be good stewards of that gift. How are we called to be faithful to the one from whom all life flows? That’s the question I’ve pondered this week as I’ve considered what it means to celebrate Christ the King.
The recognition of Jesus as king is elaborated on in our reading from the Book of Revelation: “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.” But what does that mean for us today? We still yearn for restoration. We still experience hatred and violence and oppression much as did those early Israelites to whom David speaks in our reading today from 2 Samuel. We still live in a world where, as Pope Pius observed, people pin their hopes on the rulers of the world rather than our Heavenly King. We still need to be reminded.
In our Gospel reading from John, Jesus stands before Pilate in what we might today call an arraignment. Jesus’ opponents have brought charges against him and Pilate seeks to verify the legitimacy of the charges: “Are you the king of the Jews?” The question seems simple but it points to two different things. For those Jewish leaders who brought the charges it was a challenge to their authority; for Pilate and the occupying Romans any king, any aspiration to power, was a challenge to Ceasar.
Jesus responds, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from the this world my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But, as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate can’t quite get this. I think it’s hard for us too because, like Pilate, we have earthly conceptions of power that are contrary to the kingdom initiated in Christ. Jesus is not the king who entered Jerusalem triumphantly on a great war horse; he rode in on a borrowed donkey. Jesus is not the king who vanquishes his enemies and seizes control of the city; he dies on a cross with criminals on either side of him. The kingdom brought by Christ is like nothing the world has imagined. As we’ve seen in many of our readings over the last several weeks, the kingdom of God is a kind of reversal of our commonly held expectations. William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during WWII said it this way: “Power in complete subordination to Love—that is something like a definition of the kingdom of God.”
Pilate couldn’t quite grasp that and for many of us it is a truth that is hard to hold on to. But, it is the Truth to which Jesus leads us. It is the Truth of being raised to new life with Christ and in Christ. Jesus says, for this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
What is truth? We didn’t hear it in our reading today but that’s Pilate’s question and I think a question that looms large for many today, still. For John in his Gospel, truth is not of this world; it’s not a set of propositions that are proven through logic and argument. It’s not the truth that Pilate seeks in his arraignment of Jesus. The Truth of which Jesus speaks is the recognition of that greater responsibility to which we are called as creatures made in God’s image. The theologian Karl Rahner says, “the world is darkness which shuts God out, which will not receive the light.” The Truth is the opposite of this. The Truth is the light of Christ that comes into the world. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” says Jesus.
For us, the question then is to whom do you belong? That question is always before us but on this final Sunday of the Christian calendar it’s more obvious than ever. We face a point of completion on this last Sunday of the Church year as we ready ourselves for a new beginning and it’s time to look back at the last year and ask ourselves some searching and honest questions: During this past year who, or what, has been my king? Whom, or what, have I served through my thoughts, words, and deeds? To whom have I paid allegiance? Who sits on the throne of my heart?
These are questions to ponder. The light has come into the world. We are no longer in darkness but we must make that choice. We must recognize the one who calls us, the one who is our king. Amen.