This week we celebrate Christ the King. Most of us have some idea what a King (a ruling King, rather than a constitutional monarch) might look like. Words like power, glory, majesty, and rule come to mind. Power and authority are hotly contested in our world. We expect a strong man, with more than words behind him. Glory is less obvious; I might think of magnificence, but I suspect the re-discovery of the word “awesome” may be closer the mark. Majesty might imply the right person for the right job, someone with the necessary qualities, like wisdom, intelligence, experience, understanding . . We have an idea what a King might look like – but is it the right idea?
The reading is Luke 23:33-43, the story of Jesus crucifixion. It is no mistake. This is the enthronement of Christ the King, but we may need to take time to come to terms with it. Jesus as King has power. Here, on the cross, he does what only he can do, and offers his own life as a sacrifice to win our freedom and to win the victory over evil. While it may not be the sort of power demonstration we expect, this is the final showdown. There is no greater power than this.
The glory of Jesus is the glory of service. As king, he does not subjugate, but frees. If he has coercive power (remember the cursing of the fig tree?) he much prefers to heal, reconcile and liberate. This is real glory. In the same sort of way, his majesty is not expensive clothing, a luxurious setting and careful stage management. This scene is awe inspiring for what it is, not for how it is made to look.
This may be a surprise, or just a reminder that we all have to remind and re-educate ourselves, so different is the Christian understanding to what we are used to in our cultures. Yet all scripture points this way:
- the gospels all build up to a climax at the cross, recorded in detail. There is no “alternative ending”
- the gospels also record Jesus trying to warn the disciples, explaining what will – what must – happen, and his refusal to escape to personal safety.
- the early Christians preach Jesus death and resurrection as central to their story and their hope
- in that Christian story, the figure of the coming King (Messiah) is also the Suffering Servant prophesied by Isaiah
And it is not only scripture (or my interpretation of scripture!). Christians still, in different traditions, celebrate by remembering Jesus words of sacrifice at his last meal with the disciples – this is my body, given for you . . this is my blood of the new covenant. They still hold to the creeds, with their recital of Jesus death and resurrection as of central importance. Hymns and worship songs again and again return to the cross, Jesus death and sacrifice – for these are the source of Christian commitment and motivation.
Let’s celebrate Christ the King!