11/21/2010 -- Anne-Marie Jeffery -- The Last Sunday after Pentecost, the Feast of Christ the King

posted Dec 5, 2010, 1:43 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Dec 5, 2010, 1:46 PM by Terry Brady ]

What lies behind the image

Jeremiah 23:1-6, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43

If you look at the front of your bulletin you will see no mention that it is the Feast of Christ the King.  And yet if you listen to the readings and the words of the hymns, you will hear that theme. I have a vague fondness in my mind when I hear that it is the Feast of Christ the King.  I have no doubt that it has something to do with the years I spent at Christ the King High School and the half day we would get on the Feast of Christ the King.  Back in high school, I did not pay much attention to the name Christ the King. It was the name of my school and just like names that get used a lot; I didn’t spend too much time thinking about this title for Christ.

However, as the years past and I became aware of the idea of inclusive language in the church, I found myself beginning to struggle with the name Christ the King.  It wasn’t just about the language, but also about my concept of who Christ is. I found I identified much better with Christ our Savior, Redeemer, Pain-bearer, the one who is always with us. Christ the King seems a little archaic and out of touch. Given the commitment to inclusive language here at St. Margaret’s, I suspect that there are others who struggle with the concept of Christ the King.  However, I wonder if calling the day the celebration of the Reign of Christ is any better. Being reigned over is not a concept we modern people easily embrace. We are self sufficient and self starters and for the most part supposed to be in control of our own lives. As Americans, we have long left behind the idea of kings and queens.  And yet here we are this morning celebrating the Feast of Christ the King.

I found myself turning to the readings to see what they had to offer with regards to the image of Christ as King. The Old Testament reading from Jeremiah refers to shepherds which in Jeremiah’s time referred to kings. The lesson begins with a cry of outrage against these kings and then goes on to the prophet’s expectation of a righteous king, a messiah to save his people – a very traditional idea of king. The New Testament reading from Colossians doesn’t specifically mention Christ as King. However, we do have a description of Christ’s divinity that is filled with images such as the firstborn of creation and the head of the body - all of which are not king, but still a high Christology as they say – images that are lofty, perhaps somewhat kingly in nature.  Both these readings could well describe what we might consider a typical earthly king. However, in the Gospel, there is no mistaking that the story of Jesus hanging on the cross between two thieves is very far away from a grand image of an earthly king or queen. 

However as I continued to read the first two lessons, I became aware of much more. In the reading from Jeremiah, the longing for the righteous king also describes the action of God. Jeremiah is describing what God will do in the future and what God will do in the here and now. He describes a God who is participating and will continue to be present in the people’s lives. This is a word of restoration to the people that does not limit itself to the past, but looks forward to a future, a different future that belongs to God.[1] As I continued, I found that Colossians was written to encourage believers in their community to continue securely established and steadfast in the faith without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that they heard.”[2] Our reading started at verse 11, but verse 10 speaks of the assembly bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. Then the writer talks about how this is possible. It is through God’s role and Christ’s presence that the community is given strength to endure and to bear fruit. Another thing to be noticed is that the language used is very visceral. Christ is the head of the body, the beginning, the firstborn of the dead.  This is not a King who looks down on us in heaven but one that acts and is present within the work and action of the community. With these images, we come to the gospel - Jesus’ ultimate expression of his kingship – not one in which he jumps off the cross and conquers the Romans, but one of sacrifice in the midst of injustice and humiliation.

So even if we begin thinking of Christ the King as a king with magnificent power and pomp, we also have something different offered by our texts.  Christ is present within the work of the community bringing about a future that is both not yet and at the same time in the here and now. The majesty of Christ is not revealed when we look up, but when we look down and around. The majesty of Christ is revealed in us when through our actions we work for the kingdom of God. Perhaps, if we pay more attention to the action of Christ rather than the images that are offered, we will have a better understanding of what our forbears were trying to say when it came to describing Christ.

A few weeks ago I heard Karen Armstrong, renown writer of books about God, speak, and she said something that has stayed with me. She said that the faith Jesus talks about does not mean acceptance of an idea or a belief. It means devoting your life to the coming of the kingdom, to the reign of God.  To have faith is to be committed to living in the ways that Jesus taught us. Faith is about our actions.  I think of how much time we spend in church worrying about the words, beliefs and concepts including the image of Christ the King.  What if we put all that down and said instead that to have faith means to love our neighbor as ourselves, to continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and the prayers, to persevere in resisting evil, to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in all persons and to strive for justice and peace among all people.  Sound familiar?  These actions are from our baptismal covenant, the promises that were made for us and that we in time make for ourselves.  It is in those actions that we live into the ways of the kingdom of God.

For our Adult forum today we will hear about the Charter for Compassion which was started by Karen Armstrong, the same writer I mentioned before. I won’t say too much except that the Charter describes the principle of compassion which lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. The Charter calls upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the center of morality and religion. What the Charter asks us to do is what we have promised to do in our baptism and I hope that you will find out more about what this movement is all about. 

The heart of what Jesus taught us was to live according to the kingdom of God, to love, to respect, and to care for one another.  So even if we struggle with some of the words and images that come with church including Christ as King, we can remember that our faith is found in our    actions, arising out of our promises that we made in our baptism.  Today we have two more who come to make these baptismal promises – Keaton and Parker. They will not actually make their promises today since they are only just over 9 weeks old, but will have others make them for them - their father and their godparents. I know that they will be brought up hearing the stories of the bible and the teachings of the church.  But one of the most important ways these people who stand up here for Parker and Keaton will teach them is through their actions – how they live into those Kingdom of God ways.  

So on this Feast of Christ the King, whether we love that image or struggle with it, let us remember the action of Christ which is behind the image of the King. Remember the Christ who loves us, who redeems us, who gave everything for us and who calls us through our actions to live into our baptismal promises so we can help the kingdom of God, the reign of Christ, to break into this world.

[1] Nelson Riviera, Feasting on the Word, Last Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

[2] Neta Pringle, Feasting on the Word, Last Sunday after Pentecost, Year C