Proper 29 B; Nov. 25, 2012
2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
The movie “Lincoln,” now in theaters, opens with a group of Union soldiers talking to the President. He sits in a simple chair, on some sort of a porch, in the dark night in an army campground, and the soldiers are in awe of meeting the great man. One of them says he enlisted just after the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery; his brother died in that battle, and then he speaks from memory Lincoln’s words on that day. Other soldiers come by, simple farm boys and even freed slaves, and slowly, from soldier after soldier, we hear the brief speech in its entirety.
In such a scene is how we Americans like to remember our kings: humble and fallible, yet brilliant and regal, powerful and complex, and standing on the side of right. That scene of Lincoln quietly and informally conversing with soldiers on the eve of battle is what comes to mind with later in the film Mary Todd Lincoln declares to a White House full of politicians, including those who would oppose him, “The people love my husband!”
We have ancient models of kings in our memories – of David, for example, the ideal king of Israel. We read his “last words,” today in our first lesson, words which remind us that such kings who rule with the justice of God bring order and prosperity and peace and beauty to the world.
That sounds good, of course, but is the figure of the king not an outmoded concept for us today? A king who cannot be elected or thrown out of office, a king who does not reflect the will of the people, who rules without the consent of the governed?
All true. All good reasons, of course, for democracy, and after all, even the Queen of England does not so much as rule as preside rather delicately at the will of Parliament.
So why Christ the King? It’s not a feast from the Bible, like Christmas, Easter, Pentecost or Ascension. It’s not an early church custom, like Lent or Holy Week, or something borrowed from folk religion, like All Saints. A King, and a Kingdom, are political terms. A king rules territory: a kingdom. Everyone within those boundaries is subject to the king. The boundaries of a just king, a righteous king, enclose a pleasant land, a land like that spoken of by David, where the people live in peace and prosperity. If you live in the kingdom of a just king, you get it all. You don’t have to join anything – you don’t have to register for one political party or another, vote a particular way. You are there; part of the Common-wealth.
Of course, for Christ the King, there are no geographical boundaries, as well as no political litmus tests. Say yes, step up to the font and get washed in the waters of baptism and you’re in. That’s all it takes to be one of the people of God’s pasture, one of the sheep of God’s hand. Everyone is welcomed into this kingdom, even those who can’t curtsey, or those who can’t pay, those who aren’t always good and those who are not nearly so bad as some people think.
No, Jesus tells Pilate, my kingdom is not from this world. I don’t have to fight for it with violence for I win it with love. Not even the death with which you threaten me, Jesus says to Pilate, can overthrow my kingdom.
On this last Sunday of the church year, we are reminded of the cross, and the death which Jesus will die. Next Sunday begins Advent, when we prepare for the birth of this same Christ in the humility of a poor family with only a barn for shelter. With such a beginning and an ending, no wonder Pilate, draped as he is in the trappings of the empire, cannot comprehend this Jesus as a king. Pilate has no idea why anyone would choose to follow this king.
But we, his followers all these long years after, still know the sound of his voice. We know it’s true when he says all are welcome here, at this table. We know it’s true when he says, eat this bread and drink this wine, and be part of my body. We know it’s true when he says follow me to the death, for with the love we share, even that death is turned into life.