The Rev. Suzanne Wille preaches on Christ the King Sunday.
Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne. Hold me down, Lord, that I may uplift you. Amen. We’ve been in a time of choosing leaders, making decisions in the midterm election, recently consecrating our new bishop, even, here at All Saints, of calling a new rector, then an associate rector! Before the midterms President Biden addressed the nation, not to stump for particular policies but to make a plea for democracy, for choosing leaders who ensure a country where elections are free and fair, where right, not might, is the order of the day. And, so, we must always be asking: What kind of leader do we want? What kind of priest do you want to lead your church? What kind of bishop do you want to lead your diocese? What kind of leader do you want . . . as your mayor, your governor, your president? This question of leadership is perennial, but seems particularly important in a time when the world is again watching a war in Europe, which threatens to embroil other nations, as Russia uses brutal tactics against Ukrainian civilians. What kind of leader we want seems particularly important when the economy is struggling, civil rights hang in the balance, a billionaire can buy a company and drive it into the ground mere weeks later, when the presidential race is already heating up less than two weeks after the midterms, and no matter what side you’re on, politics has become a life and death struggle. What kind of leader we want seems an essential question as “strong men” and nationalist movements rise across the globe even as benevolent institutions like the church recede in influence and power. So, what kind of leader do we want? In 1925 Pope Pius answered that question with a new feast, the Feast of Christ the King, which we celebrate today. At that time, The world was still recovering From the horrors of World War I, Which had promised to be The “war to end all wars”; The war that tore through Europe, as nations employed new technology, like mustard gas, And embraced futile technology, like trench warfare, causing untold terror, suffering, and death for the soldiers on all side; The war that ended Only after over 16 million had been killed. And, after that war, nations didn’t recover with Compassion and peace; many countries struggled economically and some of those struggling began to scapegoat others— immigrants, Jews— for their problems. Here in the US We launched into the roaring 20s, a decade-long party, but we also engaged in a backlash against immigrants, curtailed civil liberties, and targeted African Americans for increased violence, lynching on the rise, the destruction of entire black communities. And in the mid-twenties, After that terrible world war, We should have been suspicious Of powerful leaders and the promise of government; Instead, nationalism was on the rise In Europe and Russia, As were the secular ideologies Of Marxism and socialism. People placed their trust more and more in government and the economy, and less and less in God and church. And it was at that very moment that Pope Pius decided the church needed a new holy day, a day dedicated to celebrating that Jesus is the Lord, Christ is our King. Though this feast is less than a hundred years old, it seems to me that we are ever in need of it, whatever is happening in the world. For when are we humans NOT seeking to rely on our own powers? When are we NOT seeking to justify our mistreatment of one another by pointing to historical necessity rather than living the Gospel of Jesus Christ? We need this feast because we always need to remember that CHRIST is our king, our leader, and no other before him. We need that reminder now. And on this feast that provides the hinge between “ordinary time” that is ending as one church year ends and Advent, the time of preparing for the coming of Christ as a child, the start of the new church year, on this feast, we get ONE day to consider Christ not as infant, or miracle worker or teacher or even son of God, but Christ as KING. But on this day, we don’t get triumph. We could have had a reading from the Revelation to John with Christ reigning in glory in heaven, or we could have had a miracle story— Jesus healing the sick or raising Lazarus from the dead; or we could have had a story that definitively shows Jesus as Messiah— his baptism or the Transfiguration when God’s voice booms out: “This is my son; listen to him!” Instead, we get the crucifixion. What kind of leader do we want? Do we want this leader, this Christ on the cross, who is taunted over and over again, first by Satan in the desert and now on the cross to prove himself As a king, as a Messiah: The leaders scoff, saying, “He saved others; Let him save himself If he is the Messiah!” The soldiers mock: “if you are the King of the Jews, Save yourself!” One of the criminals derides him: “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” Save yourself! Save us by doing what we want! But he doesn’t; Rather, Jesus is crucified in shame, His only throne a cross, The only court attending him filled with enemies and criminals. What kind of king, what kind of leader, is this? What a sorry, sorrowful image On this last, triumphant day of the year. Following this King, this Messiah, Is not automatic, Not obvious. On the cross, He does not look powerful. Beaten, he is not handsome. A crown of thorns, He is not rich. It is from THAT throne, though, That we see what kind of King Jesus is, The one who, as Paul tells us, Is the “image of the invisible God,” The one who shows us What God’s judgment, God’s kingdom is like. And what do we see? A prayer. A promise. Forgiveness and mercy. Solidarity with the suffering, not the powerful. From the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Our King, in the midst of pain, Prays for his enemies, the very ones who harm him. “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” When the criminal hanging next to him asks merely to be remembered, Our Messiah promises That he will not only be remembered But will be WITH Him. What kind of leader, what kind of king, do we want? In a tumultuous, uncertain world, in a country divided, at a time when people around the world are tempted by nationalism and strong men for answers, will we follow the one who bids us to love sacrificially, the one who asks us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned, to care for the widow and the orphan, to shelter the stranger in our midst, to love God above all else and to love our neighbors as our very selves? For in the Gospel for Christ the King we learn, as one scholar says, that there is “no path to glory that sidesteps humility, surrender, and sacrificial love.” In His kingdom, there is no contempt for the suffering, only love and solidarity; in his kingdom, there is lavish mercy and forgiveness. In His kingdom there is true love, though a costly one. What kind of leader, What kind of king do we want? And whom will we follow? We know what happens to those who put all their faith in ideology, humanity, and government. What happens when we follow the One whose throne is a cross, the One who reigns not in might but in vulnerability, the One who uses his power, not to condemn and judge and punish, but to pray and comfort and show mercy? What happens when we follow The Prince of Peace, Light of the world, Christ, the King?
1 Thanks to The Rev. Tom Ferguson for a brief, clear reminder of this time in our history. “Crusty on Trump: The Cost of Discipleship?” http://crustyoldean.blogspot.com. Blogpost from November 19, 2016.
2 Thomas, Debi. “A King for this Hour.” JourneywithJesus.net. November 13, 2016.