Preaching Texts: Daniel 7.9-14; Revelation 1.4b-8, John 18.33-38 (Note: find verse 38 and make sure to read it - the pericope does not include verse 38).
“What is truth?” If you’d been in our house on Tuesday afternoon of this week, you’d have thought that the more important question was: “What is Christ the King Sunday?” Kristin is also preaching at Shalom this morning, and we nearly had an argument about what “Christ the King” means for us, if it means anything at all.
My beloved and I don’t often argue, but when we do, it’s usually because we have come to the place where our separate personalities can’t coexist peacefully. I am a dreamer, an artist, a philosopher-poet; my wife is a pragmatist, a realist, far more down-to-earth than I could ever be. We are who we are, and usually it makes for a delightful mix of perspectives on life and marriage. But when my poetry collides with her prose, she might as well be reading the news in English while I’m sounding out soliloquies in Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter. It’s like we aren’t even speaking the same language.
The main point of our argument was this: what do you say on Christ the King Sunday? Now for a poet like me, the possibilities are endless, especially considering our readings from Scripture this morning. The text from the book of Daniel is a poem, after all, one so loaded with imagery that any one sentence could be the inspiration for an entire sermon. But for a pragmatist like my beloved wife, these readings from scripture present far more problems than opportunities. For one thing, you cannot teach any of this stuff. What, precisely, is the scientific definition, including genus, family and species, of “an Ancient One, clothing white as snow, the hair of his head like pure wool, a throne of fiery flames and wheels of burning fire?” How is a realist supposed to preach on “a kingdom… not of this world?” For a realist, that dog won’t hunt at all.
So, here we are on Christ the King Sunday. The realists are wondering how we can talk about Jesus as King in an American context. Maybe, say the realists, we should talk about a comparison between ‘president’ and ‘king.’ Perhaps a historical lesson on the nature and qualities of a good king would be in order? Did you know, by the way, that Christ the King Sunday originated in the 1920s, when Pope Pius II established this liturgical holiday as a stand against rising nationalism and fascism in Italy?
These are the kind of things realists would like us to talk about today. Meanwhile, the poets are bored to tears. The dreamers want to play with the images of Jesus as the King of all Creation. The artists want to wrap their heads, brushes, and sculpting clay around the image of Jesus enthroned and coming with the clouds. The poets hear “the one who was, and who is, and who is to come,” and there’s a chill that runs up and down their spines. The musicians want fanfares and organ flourishes and lots of big, impressive hymns. But the realists can live on this kind of stuff – it’s like trying to live on cotton candy. The realists need meat and potatoes, good solid stuff that gets them ready for the work ahead of us. And thus the impasse continues.
It’s important to note that both the dreamers and the realists are right. After all, we are what God has made us to be – and God makes poets and pragmatists. Both are necessary parts of God’s creation. But sometimes there isn’t a lot of common ground between the two, and there aren’t many of us that can be both poets and pragmatists at the same time.
There is one thing, however, that we must absolutely recognize, today more than any other day. Christ the King Sunday is a day when we must acknowledge that Christ is the King of both the poets and the pragmatists. Christ the King Sunday is a day when we must remember that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human: the one being who bridges the gap between his Father the Creator and the world they have created together. Christ the King Sunday is the New Year’s Eve of our liturgical year, and both pragmatists and poets can recognize that we can all look forward in hope to the coming year and to the coming kingdom where Christ rules as Lord of poets and pragmatists and, as the visionary sees it in Revelation, Christ rules as the “faithful witness…firstborn of the dead…and ruler of the kings of the earth.”
But how do we get there from here? After all, Daniel and Revleation describe a king coming in glory, while our reading from John’s gospel shows us Jesus in conversation with Pontius Pilate just before Jesus was to be crucified. If being a king means having great power, it would seem that Jesus was no king: Pilate had the power, and Jesus was the one on trial. If being a king means being surrounded by majesty, it would seem that Jesus was no king: for what majesty is there in a death on a cross? For the Romans and most of the population of Jerusalem during that Passover celebration nearly 2,000 years ago, the death of Jesus of Nazareth passed with little or no fanfare. It may have been somewhat newsworthy, but in its day the death of Jesus was not the fulcrum upon which all of creation is now balanced. Whoever died on that day in Jerusalem, he certainly was no king when he went to the cross.
Yet today we celebrate the same Jesus as King. But how do we see our King? What have the poets and pragmatists said about Jesus through the years between his death and resurrection and our lives today? Well, we do a lot of things with Jesus. We thank him, depend on him, love him, serve him, and in some ways we do, in fact, worship him. But when we worship Jesus, we often worship him for those things he has done which we cannot and will not do for ourselves. We worship Jesus for the cross, for his sacrifice of himself as a sign of God’s unyielding determination to have mercy on a fallen creation.
These things are indeed worthy of worship. But Christ the King Sunday doesn’t stop at the cross. On Christ the King Sunday we acknowledge that Jesus Christ, the forsaken, crucified and risen Son of God will one day come again to judge us, living or dead, and that day will mark the end of the life we know and the realization of a kingdom God has been creating from the start. On Christ the King Sunday, we gather in the hope that the kingdom God is preparing for Jesus might come among us today – after all, do we not pray, “Thy kingdom come?” On Christ the King Sunday, we come to praise Christ, whether we are poets or pragmatists, because we believe that Christ is indeed the King of all creation.
Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” How I wish Pilate had known that when he looked at Jesus, he was looking at truth itself, face to face. Christ the King is God’s truth in living flesh, come to us to show us our sin and promise us redemption in his name. “Look!,” says the writer of Revelation, “He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.” Poets will see Jesus and realize that all our artistry cannot hide the ugliness of sin that holds us in bondage. Pragmatists will see Jesus and realize that there is no amount of work that can overcome the mountain of sin under which we struggle. Every subject of the coming King will tremble before him; even Mary, Jesus’ mother, was assured by the prophet Simeon that “a sword shall pierce your heart, too.” But Christ the King comes with truth in order to heal the world; to forgive sins, to bring us out of darkness into light, to end our sorrow with one astounding promise: “You, my child, belong to me – and I will never let you go.”
I think that Kristin and I argued about today because it is so important to the both of us. We do, after all, believe with al our hearts that we belong to Jesus and he is our King. What that means to each of us might be very different, as it is probably different to all of you, also. Whatever your vision of Christ the King may be, the truth is that none of us have the words, art, poetry, deeds or vision to encompass everything about Jesus. We can’t describe the majesty of the Son of God, even though he once walked this earth as one of us. We can’t put in plain words the mystery of how his body and blood come to us in bread and wine. We can’t explain the tremendous gift this King gives when he makes us his own in water combined with His word. In the end, we can only join the angels and praise Christ the King with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength.
The King is risen – Long live the King! We are his subjects, poets and pragmatists all, and we give thanks and praise that the coming kingdom is revealed in part to us today. Hallelujah! The Lord God Omnipotent reigns! The Kingdom of this earth is become the Kingdom of our God, and of His Christ. And He shall reign forever and ever, King of Kings and Lord of Lords!