Christ the King
Today is Christ the King Sunday - the last Sunday in the Christian Year. Advent, which starts next week, marks the beginning of the new year. Shortly, we're going to do a reflective review of the year that's gone. But before that I'd like to say a few words about this 'Christ the King' concept, because I know that imagery of Kingship and Lordship applied to Christ is a problem for some of us. It seems to imply that Christ is authoritarian, controlling, remote, and to say that Christ is King seems also to to be saying that the measure of worthiness is to claim power or to have power over others.
I agree that this Christ the King image, together with the kingdom imagery that Jesus himself used in his teaching, is problematic for us in the 21st Century West. It's archaic. It probably had more direct meaning for those who lived in a time where kingship was accepted and revered, rather than suspected and rejected. We have a work of translation to do in order to figure out what 'Christ the King' might mean for us in our context.
One thing it's worth remembering is that the biblical writers, were being radical and risky when they applied the image of kingship to Jesus - if you take into account the political context of the Roman Empire. To affirm Christ's kingship is to say (and likely get killed for saying) that Caesar is not the guy that matters most. The earthly forces of dominance do not have the final word, no matter what violent and convoluted ways they have of demanding our obedience. To say that Christ is King is to say that the powers of our age, whether political, ideological, or spiritual, are not as ultimate as they might seem, or want, to be.
But it's important to note that Christ did not unseat these powers by an exercise of counter-aggression.
Read Philippians 2: 5-11.
For Christ, the pathway to exaltation was a path not of taking power, but of emptying himself. Only by pouring himself out even to death, could Christ enter into the full reality of what it means to be 'Lord' of all that is, seen and unseen.
What does it mean that Christ is King? To my understanding, it does not mean that Christ is sitting on a throne up in the sky controlling life here on earth and demanding people's allegiance. If that were the case, I think we might have reason to object that his 'kingship' isn't terribly effective, or at least, it's not very benevolent.
When I hear 'Christ the King' I hear a statement of conviction that there is nothing beyond Christ's reach - that there is nowhere that Christ is not, cannot be, or has not been. Through his self-emptying, loving submission to death, Christ has experienced the darkest darkness, and the deepest reaches of our fear, and our cruelty, the worst that humankind can be - he has entered hell. And he is exalted to the highest and furthest reaches of how glorious and majestic we may yet become - he is the firstborn into heaven.
Christ, not the things that humans do or fear or long for, is ultimate. Which is not to say that we can trash the earth and its creatures and people and it doesn't matter because one day he will come and set it all to rights. But that Christ would somehow still contain even that catastrophe within the depth and height and breadth of his love. And, I believe that it's possible to affirm this as a Christian without invalidating the hope in other religions, and if you want to ask me about that another time then feel free.
So. A tradition that we have here at Cityside that we haven't followed for a few years, is to take this 'end of year' time to look back over the year that's gone and name the things of significance that have happened in our lives and in the life of this world.
I invite you to take a short moment to think about events of the past year, since Advent 07, in three categories
- our own lives and the life of our church community
- more widely in our neighbourhoods and our country
- in the world
They can be events that you experienced as either positive or negative.
Those who want to can share their remembrance with the rest of us in a minute.
Collect up people's events on oht.
Now, let's take a few moments to hold this all in prayer, asking God to show us where God is in relation to these events, to seek the faith to see them all contained in Christ's fullness.
Pause. Track: Takk #1
At the End of the Year - John O'Donohue
The particular mind of the ocean
Filling the coastline's longing
With such brief harvest
Of elegant, vanishing waves
Is like the mind of time
Opening us shapes of days.
As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.
The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance of being here.
Surprises that came awake
In forgotten corners of old fields
Where expectation seemed to have quenched.
The slow, brooding times
When all was awkward
And the wave in the mind
Pierced every sore with salt.
The darkened days that stopped
The confidence of the dawn.
Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.
We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.
Sing - 'There's Something I believe' Mark Laurent