Ephesians 1:16-23, Revelation 5:11-14
November 26, 2006
Today is Christ the King Sunday. As I know I’ve mentioned before, Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. The liturgies and celebrations of the Church year were developed long ago. And those who developed them wanted the various celebrations throughout the year to tell the story of Jesus. They wanted the Church calendar to reflect the story of God’s interaction with the human race from the point at which God himself stepped into history. That was the most important and the most influential moment in all of history.
So it makes sense that the Church year starts with the celebration of Advent – which begins next week, believe it or not! (Ready or not!!!!) Advent is, of course, the celebration of Jesus’ coming into the world. But it’s more than that. It’s also the celebration of the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It’s the time we often read the story of John the Baptist, who announced his coming. And it’s also a “full circle” kind of thing. Because it’s also the time of year the Church has set aside to think about Jesus’ coming again. It’s kind of like “Back to the Future.” Unfortunately, that message of Advent often gets lost in the whole “preparation for Christmas” message.
So, the Church year begins with Advent. Then it moves on through the life and ministry of Jesus, his passion, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and the celebration of the Saints through history on “All Saints Day.” Then the whole liturgical year reaches it’s culmination here on Christ the King Sunday. This is the time we celebrate Christ being, as Paul said in Ephesians, “seated at the right hand of God, with all things under his feet, as head over all things.” This is the celebration of Christ reigning in power as King.
I know that’s hard to get straight in our heads sometimes. Because we might be thinking, “What about God the Father.” If his son is king, what does that make him? Is God not “king of the universe” like our Jewish friends like to say in all their prayers? Well, this is one of those “Trinitarian” kinds of thing. And it’s hard to deal with because we humans tend to delineate things. We tend to think God, Jesus, Holy Spirit. Different “persons,” different functions. “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.” But it’s not as simple as that!
Jesus is one of the three “persons” of the trinity. He is, as we say, one “expression” of God. And though they were separated for a time when Jesus was here on earth, he and the Father are still one God. I know, that sounds confusing. It sounds confusing even in the words we use – “they” are “one”! But again, we’re not “tri-theists.” We don’t worship three Gods. We worship one God, a God in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
That’s hard to fathom. That’s hard to “get our minds around” as the modern expression goes. I don’t know about you, but it boggles my mind! But it’s one of those things we have to deal with in trying to understand God. And that’s hard enough as it is! Remember, God is infinite, and these images and words are things people have used over the years to try to understand God – which is not really possible. I’ve often said that theology is the only “ology” where we begin knowing we will never fully understand it! We should never forget that we worship a God who is way beyond our comprehension!
So, as the prologue of John’s Gospel tells us, Jesus was there at creation, since he was part of God. And he was instrumental in the Creation. John tells us, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” Jesus was there at creation because he was part of God – even then. Sometimes we think that Jesus was “born” at Christmas, but he didn’t exist before that. (Just like sometimes people think there was no Holy Spirit before Pentecost.) That’s not the case! Remember, God is eternal. He has no beginning or end. And so it is with all three expressions of God.
So then, here on Christ the King Sunday, we have the culmination of the story of Christ. We know that he was always part of God, but was “incarnated” – that is, he “became flesh,” or he “became human, some two thousand years ago. And now, as well as in the future, we proclaim his Kingdom. And if you think about it, we proclaim it every week as we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We proclaim that “The Kingdom of this earth is become, the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ… And he shall reign for ever and ever… King of Kings, and Lord of Lords! Hallelujah.”
Do those words sound familiar? (Right, that’s “The Hallelujah Chorus.”) Over the years there has been a kind of debate over when we sing the Hallelujah Chorus. It’s often sung at Easter time, which I think we do. But as I remember, I think it was actually written as part of the Christmas portion of Handel’s “Messiah.” And some people sing it at Christmas. So which is it? People have differed in their traditions over the years. Well, there’s a real sense that this Sunday – Christ the King Sunday – is the time it should be sung! This is the day we celebrate what that song proclaims! Christ the King!
The other scripture we read today was from the Revelation. That seems appropriate because Revelation is sort of the last word of the Bible. It’s the end of the story, if you will. And this is the last word that it proclaims – Jesus shall reign!
In this passage we have this vision of John, where he sees the heavenly throne of God. And there surrounding the throne are the elders and the living creatures and the angelic host, and the lamb of God. And the lamb receives this scroll which represents the ordering of the last days. And when he does, all of the angels and the elders and the living creatures proclaim that the lamb of God is worthy to take the scroll and open it. It is appropriate that the ordering of all things are in his power.
Then, in these words Handel so wonderfully set to music, we hear the voices of all the myriads of angels and heavenly creatures singing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” What a wonderful tribute to Christ the King! I hope those words and these images help to solidify in our minds today this idea of Christ the King. I hope that we can believe even more what we celebrate this last day of the liturgical year. And I hope this gives us an even bigger picture of what Advent is really about, when we think of the incarnation, and of God himself stepping into history.
But all of that is not the real issue on Christ the King Sunday. The real question in all of this is about us. Is Christ our King? In other words, are we his subjects? I know those are medieval kinds of terms. They evoke images of castles, and courts, and thrones, and banners. But think about it. In the whole realm of the universe – and in our lives too, who rules? As Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ used to ask, “Who is on the throne of your life?” Do we really want God’s will when we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…” That’s one sentence, you know. Those two go hand in hand.
When we insist on our own will only – which we often do – God cannot work with us very much or at least very well. It is only in giving up our will to God’s will that we find the peace in our lives that only he affords. That’s the historic Christian message. But do we do that? Or do we struggle against God, insisting on our own way, giving only lip service to his kingship?
I can’t answer that for you. I can lead you in the Lord’s Prayer. I can write prayers that reflect that, and have you read them with me. But only in your heart does it really matter. And again, this is not a matter of “head knowledge.” We can talk about this and think about it – which we should! We can learn all there is to know about Christ the King, but only when we translate that into our hearts does it really matter to us!
So, as we close the liturgical year and prepare for a new one, I ask you. Is Christ the King? Is he King of your lives, of your minds, and most importantly, of your hearts? We start to celebrate his birth next week. But what does it matter if he is not who he is – Christ the King.
Eternal God, help us to see more clearly your kingdom in our midst. As we look to the coming of Advent, help us to see more clearly that the baby we celebrate is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And help us to give him our allegiance. For this we pray in his name, Amen.