November 25, 2018 Reign of Christ Sunday
I am old enough to remember much of the fanfare that surrounded the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana in the early eighties. We have witnessed that again with Prince William’s and Prince Harry’s weddings. There is a fascination that surrounds the concept of royalty. Which, if you think about it is ironic. It was the first people that came over to America several hundreds of years ago that were trying to escape that very system of monarchy! And now you can buy collectibles to celebrate these weddings and the royalty that accompany it.
Our world is enamored with fame and the thought of being a celebrity. This can be easily manifested when we view the monarchy of our sisters and brothers in the United Kingdom. It is not just royalty that we look to, but anyone that we deem to be famous. And, it starts early! There are teenagers in the social media world that have become so popular, and have attracted so many followers, that their lives are changed and not always for the better. We like to lift people up and make them “king.” However, when we do this, we often forget that there was already one raised up for us. In Jesus Christ, we find a different way; a way that is not of this world but comes to love the world.
The idea of Jesus being made a king is not a random event in John’s gospel. In the first chapter, Nathanael is called by Jesus and Nathanael says to him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (1:49) After feeding the five thousand, the people are enamored with the power and authority that Jesus encompasses. It is at this point that Jesus knows he must make his way to a different locale. “Perceiving then that they were about to come and taken him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (6:15) When Jesus makes his final entry into Jerusalem, the crowd comes to welcome him, and “they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (12:13)
The trouble occurs when we try to make Jesus into something that he is not. The Israelites did this very thing. Jesus caught them by surprise. They were anticipating a mighty warrior that was going to come and banish the Roman Empire and make all things new at that time. They were not expecting the unyielding love that Jesus bore for them and all of humanity. They were not expecting the savior of the world to go to the cross and die a gruesome death that was only used for the worst criminals.
It is easy for us to avoid the truth when there are so many other options available for us. Pilate represents the Roman Empire and he exercises his power through force. Surely, force is the only thing that is going to stop him. However, the power that Jesus comes into the world bearing is one of love. In that love, we are called to change. Our perception of reality shifts and our idea of authority is tilted on its head.
As we were reminded last week in the gospel of Mark, there will be birth pangs along the way. The shift to kingdom of God thinking is not easy. As Jesus says, his kingdom is not from this world. What a blessing that is! If his kingdom was from this world, we would not experience the evil and suffering that we do. If his kingdom was from this world, we would not hear of war, poverty, hunger, mass shootings, or the fear of others. There is hope in his kingdom not being of this world!
The disciples knew that there was something different about Jesus. As Nathanael reveals in the first chapter, there was an understanding that Jesus was the king of Israel. However, it was not a kingship like they had seen before. It is not a kingship like we have witnessed today. He expected no special treatment and did not regard himself as better than anyone else. He did not seclude himself from the people and was quite often seen eating with those in society that no one else would break bread. The Reign of Christ is one that is expressed through love. The love Christ shows for the world is reflected in the freedom that comes to all of humanity. That freedom includes the freedom from sin and the freedom from death. This freedom is everlasting and is a freedom that will not be found in any country or monarchy. It is a freedom that comes only to us through the sheer grace of God.
The grace of God comes to us born in our own likeness and walks alongside us. The grace of God brings us to the cross where we encounter the ultimate grace and love poured out for all. We are invited to be a part of this in the waters of baptism and every time we come to the Lord’s table. It is in these gifts of the sacraments that we encounter our Lord, who is and who was and who is to come.