The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King, (Proper 29b)
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in thy well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The feast of Christ the King is relatively new. It was introduced into the Roman
Catholic calendar in 1925 and it only became associated with the last Sunday after
Pentecost with the publication of the new calendar of the Roman Church in 1969. Our
1979 Book of Common Prayer does not even call this Sunday Christ the King,
although the lessons appointed for today certainly reflect this theme and it has become
a widespread practice through our church—and not simply among parishes of the
Catholic movement—to celebrate this solemnity.
While the feast dedicated to a celebration of the mystery of our Lord’s kingship
may be relatively recent, it is only surprising that it took as long as it did to develop.
Indeed, the image of Christ as King is as ancient as the church itself. It is an image rich
in theological insight into the very nature of God. It is so powerful because it is so
complex, for at the very same time as we imagine Christ as king, the notion of kingship
is turned on its head. Nowhere in scripture is this clearer than in the dialogue between
Jesus and Pilate that we just heard proclaimed.
Buy why are we reading a story from the Passion narrative today? One of the
interesting things about the lectionary is that at this time of year, as we are on the
verge of celebrating the great mystery of the incarnation, we are plunged into
discussions of the end time, we are surrounded by images of calamitous change, and of
the coming of the kingdom of God. Even our Gospel today brings us to the foot of the
cross, to the brink of desolation, to those days and hours when the disciples might have
thought that all was lost, that their faith in Jesus had been misplaced, and that it would
all end with the conviction of a criminal and his execution at the hands of the Roman
authorities. We are confronted with these messianic themes so that we may come to
appreciate the expectations we hold out for that time when God will reconcile all
things to himself, when God will fulfill his promise of Resurrection life for creation. We
are called to contemplate where God is calling us in the midst of horrible things, who
God is calling us to be, whose God is calling us to be. We learn that God is calling us to
lives of reconciliation and love as subjects of a king, subjects of a king so different from
any human king we might imagine.
It is the nature of this kingship that Jesus and Pilate discuss. The Pilate of John’s
narrative—quite different I am told from the Pilate we learn about in other
contemporary secular histories —is interested in understanding Jesus and sorting out
just why he has been brought before him. Pilate wants to know just who this criminal
really is. Pilate seems to understand that Jesus is some sort of leader, dangerous to the
Jewish authorities, seems to understand him, from his Roman perspective, as some
rival “king” to those in power. So “Pilate entered the praetorium again and called
Jesus, and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’” In turn, “Jesus answered” him
with his own question, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you
about me?” Jesus is asking Pilate in what sense he means “king.” The Roman one? that
is to say in the Political sense, or in some other sense? Throwing the question back at
Jesus, “Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have
handed you over to me; what have you done?’” Pilate says he is just using words he has
heard, but it is a term unlikely to have actually been used by Jews (1).
Jesus answers Pilate in terms he can understand, addressing the question of
temporal power: “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world,
my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship
is not from the world.” Pilate grasps onto Jesus’ acceptance of the term “king,” almost
ignoring the spiritual sense in which Jesus is talking, “So you are a king?” Jesus
answered, “You say that I am a king,” basically saying, “‘King’ is your word, not
Nonetheless Jesus goes on and says something of the kingship that he has
acknowledged: “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world,
to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my
voice.” The text is even stronger than the English suggests: Jesus was born into the
Cosmos in order to be a martyr to the truth. Jesus, who is the “the truth” according to
John, shows forth the true power of God into all creation.
The nature of Christ’s kingship is to be the bearer of the Truth of God, for, as
the Biblical scholar C. H. Dodd remarked, “authority ... belongs to one who knows and
communicated absolute truth [and] a Greek reader [of the text] would recall that
according to the Stoics the wise man is the only true king” (3). Christ’s kingship is not
temporal power over armies, monetary systems, international relations, legislatures.
Christ’s kinship is the sovereignly of the Truth: the Truth that the Word that was with
God from the beginning “became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth”
and “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become
children of God.” This is the power of our king, this is the truth of which he speaks: to
make us children of God.
Jesus exercises this power over us, this sovereignly, when we allow ourselves to
be united with him. Hearing the words of this truth is only a beginning. To “know the
truth” one “must in some sort be united with him who is the Truth” (4). We are united
with Christ in our Baptism. We the Baptised are united with Christ when we gather as
a community, hear his Word preached, and, most significantly, share in the Sacrament
of his Body and Blood. United with him in his Body and Blood, we go forth into the
world as bearers of the Word, ministers of the Truth, ministers of the power to become
children of God.
On this feast day of Christ’s kingship, we will share the sacrament of his Body and Blood, take Christ into our bodies and unite his flesh with our flesh. We will then place a consecrated Host into the monstrance and walk in procession around this church, carrying Christ’s very Body into the midst of his people so that we may behold, know, worship him with whom we have been united, him who we have become. We will then be blessed by that Body, that body we have shared, and sent into the world ourselves as bearers, monstrances, if you will, of Christ’s Body, so that we might take up his work, share in his ministry, his kingship as witnesses, martyrs, into the Cosmos, of the Truth. Amen.
Andrew Charles Blume+
[The Presentation of the B.V.M.] 21 November 2009
(1) C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: University Press, 1970), 88.
(3) Dodd 1970, 177.
(4) Dodd 1970, 178.
©2009 Andrew Charles Blume