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Jesus Christ: Superstar or King?: The Reign of Christ

The feast of Christ the King, or Reign of Christ, is one of the newer observances of the Church year. It came about in the 20th century; early 20th century for Roman Catholics and late 20th century for Anglicans. And yet the concept of Jesus as king, or even of kingship or a monarch in itself, might seem antiquated to us today (and maybe even back when this feast was established). In the late 20th century there is a strand of tradition that recasts Jesus as a “superstar,” a contemporary kind of king. But fast-forward a few decades, and even celebrity is different these days, thinking of reality TV and people who are famous for just being famous. Sovereigns have been somewhat humanized in recent years, themselves being redrawn more as celebrities, thinking of Oprah interviewing Meghan and Harry, or the popularity of The Crown on TV, or a movie and a musical coming out focussing on the life of Princess Diana.

This past week in the daily Church calendar we remembered two royals: Elizabeth of Hungary and Margaret of Scotland. But we remember them mostly for having distanced themselves from their privilege and caring for the poor, and the sick. It’s their everyday compassion, not their royalty that attracts us to them.

Nevertheless, today, the last day of the Church year, is important. Maybe because we have realized our need for a ruler worthy of our loyalty. And who expands our understanding of what a sovereign is, and does. There’s something basic and fundamental to today’s theme, in that it complements what some say is the oldest creedal statement we’ve got: “Jesus is Lord.” Every Sunday, in a sense, is a celebration of Jesus as Lord and Sovereign.

This is the basis and consummation of what we’ve been doing all year: In Advent we reflect on our need, as a people, for things in our world to be set right; we’re looking for our “Wonderful Counselor” and “Prince of Peace.” Then in Christmas he arrives, though not in royal robes, but in bands of cloth. Then at Easter we find that there’s no crown but thorns. And then in the long green season between Easter and today, we’ve delved back into the ministry of Jesus in which he proclaimed the Kingdom of God growing around us. And spoke with authority, yet lived as a servant, and continually included those usually cast aside.

And in the midst of this came Pentecost. A day of commissioning and empowering for all of us, where we realize that the Reign of Christ involves you and me, too. We’ve been made, our first reading claims, “a kingdom, priests serving [Christ’s] God and Father.” So there is an important aspect to our Christian lives that has to do with helping to connect this world to the world that Jesus spoke about to Pilate. It’s a kingdom that originates not in a bloodline, or prestige, or politicking, or the abuse of power, but in truth. In the deepest depths of reality; so deep that Pilate is using the same language, but isn’t even on the same page. And as Christians we’re called to wrestle with this riddle of Christ as King, clearly (as seen in his life) stirring up controversy and making a claim on the world, but not, as Pilate would expect, exerting his sovereignty in a predictable, worldly way. But it does make a claim on us, and our world. And in Anglican fashion our theology tends to be woven into our prayers, so our thanksgiving prayer will convey this, and I’ll give us a preview here:

we give you [God] thanks and praise
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
You exalted him as Lord of all creation
that he might present to you an eternal and universal kingdom:
a kingdom of truth and life,
a kingdom of holiness and grace,
a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.
Therefore at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow
as heaven and earth proclaim the glory of your name.

This, again, seems to me to be a clear and basic articulation of our faith. The love and humility and sacrifice we see in the Cross wasn’t a failure, but victory. And just as Jesus, as we’ll recall in our prayer, presented to God this world as an eternal and universal kingdom, that’s what we do, as a kingdom of priests, in our Eucharist: present our lives and our world to God, using the symbols of God’s creation. And our yearning and hope, today, and in the weeks of Advent to follow, are for Jesus’s kingdom of truth, life, holiness, grace, justice, love, and peace to make itself ever more clearly known in our world. It’s for this that we wait, and watch, and work. And at the core of our actions is the motivating cry that Jesus is our Sovereign. Jesus is Lord.

Many will recall the “what would Jesus do” movement from a few years ago. Today we might put another phrase alongside that one. When confronted with questions about what to do, we ask ourselves: “as subjects of Jesus’s kingdom, what will WE do?” Amen.

© 2021 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter