27th Sunday After Pentacost

Christ the King Sunday 2018
Pentecost 27 B
St. Luke’s Church-Granville Ohio

Texts:  2 Samuel 23:1-7 | Psalm 132:1-12 | Revelation 1:4b-8 | John 18:33-37

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”  Amen.

Today is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. The “long green season”, also known as “ordinary time” and “the Season after Pentecost” has come to an end. Throughout the liturgical year we have journeyed through the mysteries of our salvation. We have celebrated the birth of an infant king, as well as the Epiphany, the manifestation of Jesus, God made flesh to the world. We have traveled the long road to Jerusalem experiencing the mysteries and miracles of our faith on the way.  

We watched and waited with the disciples as Jesus was crucified, died and was buried. And we were at the empty tomb with the women on Easter morning finding not a dead body but a living Lord. We have been in the upper room seeing the risen Christ and experiencing the Holy Spirit coming among us, giving us power and strength to go out and do ministry in Jesus’ name.

Today we have come full circle. Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, also known as Reign of Christ Sunday. Celebrating a king may sound antiquated or even smack of triumphalism for some people. But I assure you, if it is anything, it is provocative and unsettling and very threatening to those in power. Christ the King Sunday is a new comer to our liturgical celebrations. It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. Pope Pius XI wanted to affirm the primacy of Jesus Christ in the face of rising nationalism and fascism in Europe. It was a reminder to the faithful that before country, that before race, that before political party, system or beliefs comes Christ the King over all creation. It is as needed a reminder today as it was back in 1925.

The symbol of this celebration is a Christus Rex, a figure that is older than the crucifix. A Christus Rex usually has a robed figure, a crown on the head with arms raised in blessing.  Personally, it is my favorite symbol of Christ. I have picture in my home office that is a photo of my favorite Christus Rex. It is at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University, my alma mater.   

This Christus Rex stands 60 ft. tall and is in back of an altar that has the symbols of the Alpha and Omega-the beginning and the end, in laid in marble on each end of it. This Christus Rex stands in front of stained glass windows that are ten stories tall that tell of God’s sweeping salvation story. Behind our table of Thanksgiving stands Christ the King. In the middle of all our history-the good, the bad, the indifferent, the horrifying, stands Christ the King.

I don’t know about you, but I need that reminder. I cling to that image. I desperately need to know that despite everything that has happened and everything that may happen, Christ reigns. Therein lies my hope and my courage to step into situations that are frightening or dangerous, or just plain ugly. Knowing that Christ reigns helps me not to give into despair when difficult times and circumstances arise.

This is not some Pollyannaish hope or courage. This is not some stick my head in the sand and pretend that everything is OK perspective. It is hope and courage born out of God’s love for me and you and for the world God created.

To say that we are living in challenging and difficult times is an understatement. To say that we are divided and angry with one another just seems to be stating the obvious. To say that fear, fear for ourselves, fear for our friends, fear for our country and its future runs deep doesn’t even begin to touch the wellspring of emotion that has been unleashed.

To see people targeted and discriminated against for their looks, beliefs, and practices is grievous. To read of case after case of assaults and harassment on women, minorities, and those of differing political opinions is overwhelming. To see the rise of white supremacy, extreme nationalism, and scapegoating not just in this country but around the world is more than troubling, it is horrifying. And, sadly, it is nothing new. It was against such a landscape that Pope Pius the XI gave us a reminder of who truly reigns and in whom the hope of the world lies.

A few years back I was with other pastors talking about Christ the King Sunday. We talked about Kings and how they were perceived and what they did. An army would go before the King to face the realm’s enemies and would literally fight to save the King. It was their job to do all in their power to make sure their King wasn’t taken by opposing forces. The King was not to be left vulnerable as any vulnerability would be exploited and the kingdom taken.

The Feast of Christ the King, the Reign of Christ, shows us something quite different. When we look at Christ as King we see a King who purposefully made himself vulnerable, who purposefully went before his foot soldiers in order to save them. We see a King who gave himself freely to save the kingdom. We see a king who met his enemies with love and compassion and not force or hatred.

Seeing Christ as King gives us a way forward. It shows us how we can move beyond our fear, our anger, our immobility. It will not be easy and it will require vulnerability on our part. It will require listening and learning and stepping out of our comfort zone. It will require courage.

But if Christ is our King, if Christ has indeed gone before us to save us, if Christ has shown us that there is a different kingdom, a different world, a different way to be in the face of threats and danger and ugliness, we will be given the courage to act in situations that require us to step up and out of our complacency and comfort and into someone else’s pain and suffering and harassment. Our Christian faith requires action, plain and simple.

At that meeting of pastors I mentioned earlier, a colleague of mine shared a quote from Archbishop William Temple. Next to Winston Churchill, Temple was the most influential person on the British people during World War II. He served his God, his Church, and his country in what was arguably one of the darkest times the world has ever known.  

I want to leave you with that quote that is from a sermon given at the Lambeth Conference in 1930. In it is our ultimate truth and hope.

“While we deliberate, he reigns;
when we decide, he reigns;
when we decide foolishly, he reigns;
when we serve him in humble loyalty, he reigns;
when we serve him self-assertively, he reigns;
when we rebel and seek to withhold our service, he reigns-
the Alpha and the Omega, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” (1)

May Christ the King reign in our hearts, our homes, our country, our world. 

Amen.

1 Richard Schmidt, Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality p. 258

Robin Whittington