May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts always be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Today is the Feast of Christ the King, the climax of our liturgical year. Jesus’ ancestors passed down the scriptures from ancient times which we know as the Hebrew Bible. In those writings we hear many references to the kings of the past, particularly the great King David, and there are numerous prophecies of a great king and savior to come, a descendant in David’s line. Just after Jesus’ birth, the Magi arrive, led by a star and seeking to greet the newborn king. Of course, they go to Herod’s palace, but Jesus is not there. The star leads them further, to a humble stable in Bethlehem, where they first see the Light of the World.
Throughout much of his life, especially those three or so years of his public ministry of teaching, preaching and healing, Jesus seems to have heard the word “king” in reference to himself. One of his temptations in the wilderness is about having all power and authority, but he shuns that goal, knowing his call is to stay on the path God has given him.
When he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he hears the crowd singing, “Hosanna to the son of David,” a clear reference to the Davidic line. As he walks up the steps of the Temple, he turns at the top to look at the crowd who want to make him king. The temptation is there for him again, and it is real.
We tend to dismiss or diminish this temptation because we know the end of the story, but remember the person Jesus was while on this earth. A pastor’s heart, a shepherd’s heart beat in his chest. Remember all the times we hear of his compassion; remember him weeping at Lazarus’ tomb; remember him looking down from the Mount of Olives while he was praying, watching so many wounded and unhappy people and remember his words: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, I would have taken you under my wings, as a hen takes her chicks, but you would not let me.” Do you hear the deep sadness in his lament? So when the crowds acclaim Jesus as the Son of David and want to make him king that day, can you imagine that Jesus might have been tempted one last time? That’s the part of Jesus that may have been tempted by the power to heal all of humanity. But Jesus reaffirmed God’s order of creation rather than seeking to impose his own. Jesus looked at the crowd, turned and silently walked away. His silence said everything.
In the next week, the final week of Jesus’ life, the week we call holy, how many times is the word “king” used in speaking to Jesus or about him? At his trial, Pontius Pilate says, “So you are a king, then.” But Jesus says simply, “You say so,” in other words, I am not claiming that. Somehow Pilate is moved, for after Jesus has been nailed to the cross, some soldiers hang a sign above his head written in four languages: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The High Priest and the rabbis were furious and the High Priest said, “Do not say ‘King of the Jews,’ but that he said he is King of the Jews.” Pilate answered tersely and firmly, “What I have written, I have written.”
Jesus’ throne is not made of rare woods, precious stones and gold and silver; it is a simple wooden cross. What a way to treat a king! And how do we understand God’s asking Jesus to bear this, to endure such agony and anguish and pain?
There’s a collect in Morning Prayer for Fridays, that helps me to understand this, and perhaps it will help you:
“Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy before he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified; Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.”
The last collect in Morning Prayer goes one step further, as we address our prayer this time to Jesus:
“Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace;” [what a wonderful image, stretched wide to embrace the whole world, not merely the ones we want to include!]. The prayer concludes with a petition that we offer asking God to give purpose to our lives: “So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you.”
The ultimate recognition is that Jesus is the King of Hearts, the King of every heart, as in that great hymn:
“At the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow, every tongue confess him King of glory now; ‘tis the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord, who from the beginning was the mighty Word.
In your hearts enthrone him; there let him subdue all that is not holy all that is not true; crown him as your Captain in temptation’s hour; let his will enfold you in its light and power.
Christians, this Lord Jesus shall return again, with his Father’s glory o’er the earth to reign; for all wreaths of empire meet upon his brow, and our hearts confess him King of glory now.”
Today we are blest to have another baptism, John Bury Weld McLaughlin, and during this liturgy his parents and godparents will literally give John back to God, promising to be responsible to him and for him and with him, and promising to live prayerfully and witness their faith with and in their own lives to help him grow up in a relationship with Jesus. The language we use here is very strong, and imagine for a moment that we were baptizing John in a river or lake, for we say, “we go down into the waters of death and are raised up to newness of life.” In another prayer, to make sure we hear it and take it seriously, we paraphrase this, asking that “all who are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ your Son may live in the power of his resurrection.” Christ the King, resurrected!
Today is also Stewardship Sunday, a day when we pledge allegiance to the King of Kings and his Body the Church, which our Presiding Bishop ++Michael calls the Jesus Movement. This refers to the movement of God’s love into our hearts and the movement of God’s love through us into the hearts of those we meet along the way. It is not so much a movement of traveling, but rather a movement of gathering, the Spirit moving to gather us to be of one heart even when we cannot be of one mind.
This is a day of thanksgiving for all that we are, all that we have, all that we receive, and it is a day of thanksgiving for the blessed mission God gives us to reach out to the lost, the broken, the wounded, the grieving, the lonely, the forgotten, and to those who do not yet know their need of God.
From what I have seen in the pledges already received, there is a lot of gratitude among you, a lot of hope, and a confidence that we are walking with God. May those of us who have not yet affirmed our faith and pledged our loyalty be so moved as well as we make our promises. Amen.
+James L. Jelinek, Trinity Church