Two Rivers Pastoral Charge
November 25, 2018
Scripture: John 18:33-37
It feels a bit strange, perched on the threshold of Advent as we move towards Christmas, to have a reading taken straight from our Good Friday story. In the context of our Sunday-morning readings it makes sense. Ever since the middle of September, we have been moving with Jesus towards Jerusalem, and for the past couple of weeks we have been there in the city, hearing about the events of the last week of Jesus’ life. And now, even though we’ve skipped from Mark’s gospel over to John’s, we still have some continuity. We are there with Jesus standing before Pilate as the judge. Christ is on trial.
The church year doesn’t quite follow the calendar year. It starts with Advent and cycles through until today, which is known as the Reign of Christ, or Christ the King Sunday. We begin in Advent which is a season of waiting and preparing, then we move through the events of Jesus’ life – his birth, his teachings, his actions, his death, and his resurrection – and then we come to today which is also a time of waiting. We are waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled, for a time when God will fully rule or reign over all of creation.
But what does God’s reign look like? We talk about Christ the King, but do we really want a King ruling over us? What sorts of models of king-ship to we have in our world?
In the world that Jesus was living in, the rule was by the Roman Emperors, who were not known for their loving-kindness and generosity. The ancient Israelite people had had their kings too, beginning with King David and stretching on for several centuries until they were defeated and sent into exile in Babylon. But if you look at scripture, you will see that of the 43 kings, only 7 of them did good in the eyes of God, which leaves 36 of them who did evil from God’s perspective.
And then what about our examples of kingship that we have in our world today? We have the British royal family, who gives us weddings that we can wake up at 4am to watch, and baby bumps that we can follow on social media; but aside from supporting various charities, they are a pretty benign force in the big picture of things.
And so when we call Christ our King, or when we long for the reign or rule of Christ to come, what are we really longing for? Do we want Christ to be a king in the way that the Roman Emperors ruled? Do we want a benign and harmless king like the British monarchy?
I’m fascinated by the contrast between Jesus and Pilate in today’s reading. Here we have Jesus, who has been arrested like any other criminal. His followers have left him. Peter has just denied knowing him. He’s stood before the High Priest, and now he’s standing before the governor of the region. Almost immediately following the passage that we read today, he’s going to be beaten and nailed to a cross.
We used this image in our "Story for All Ages" contrasting Pilate and Jesus
"'What is Truth?' Christ and Pilate" by N. N. Ge
And then we have Pilate. Pilate was the prefect, or governor of the province of Judea. He represented the Emperor in the region; he ruled on behalf of the Emperor; he was the ultimate political authority in the region. He was probably dressed in fancy robes representing his status. He was probably surrounded by servants and slaves and soldiers, ready to do his every bidding.
So when we look at these two standing together – Pilate and Jesus – which one of them appears to have the power?
And yet we dare to call Jesus our king. We are choosing to follow a king who rode in to Jerusalem on a donkey rather than a warhorse. We are choosing to follow a king who wears a crown of thorns rather than a crown of gold. We are choosing to follow a king who is raised up on a cross rather than on a throne. We are choosing to follow a king who rules by love rather than by retaliatory violence.
The feminist in me wishes that we had a good gender-inclusive word that would convey that sense of absolute authority that “king” or “lord” carries; but we are constrained by the English language here. And the thing is, if we call Christ our King or our Lord, we are actually making a very powerful statement; because if we are subjects of Jesus Christ – if we give Christ the ultimate authority over our lives – then we can’t give that authority to anyone else.
If God-in-Jesus is Lord over our lives, then our possessions can’t be Lord.
If God-in-Jesus is Lord over our lives, then our political affiliation can’t be Lord.
If God-in-Jesus is Lord over our lives, then we ourselves can’t be Lord.
If God-in-Jesus is Lord over our lives, then celebrity and social media culture can’t be Lord.
If God-in-Jesus is Lord over our lives, then violence and anger can’t be Lord.
When we recognize and celebrate this Sunday as the Reign of Christ Sunday, we are proclaiming that we celebrate God’s topsy-turvy, upside-down kingdom where the first shall be last and the last shall be first. We are proclaiming that we have confidence that the time is coming when this topsy-turvy, upside down kingdom will be the only kingdom across the whole earth and throughout all of creation. We are proclaiming that we aren’t satisfied with the world as it is, because we know that something better is coming; and we are proclaiming our intention to live by the rules of God’s kingdom rather than the rules of the world around us. We are proclaiming that we intend to live in celebration of abundance rather than fear of scarcity. We are proclaiming that we intend to live by love and peace rather than by fear and violence. We are proclaiming that we intend to live in community with all of creation rather than in self-centered isolation.
I mentioned at the beginning that this Sunday is the last one in the church year, and that a new church year will begin next week with the season of Advent. Which makes today a little bit like New Year’s Eve. And so as we sit on the threshold of a new year, I would like to invite you to take part in the time-honoured tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions. How can we, as a church, resolve to be a community where this alternative, counter-cultural kingdom can bubble up into existence? How can we live our allegiance to Christ the King in the world that we live in?
Let us pray:
blow your Holy Spirit through our church,
and through our lives,
uniting us with one another,
and making us one with Christ.
Help us to be a place where your kingdom can come;
and help us to show the world
that there is a different way to be.
We pray this in the name of Christ the King.