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The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King, (Proper 29b)
22 November2009

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.

Daniel 7:9-14
Psalm 93
Revelation 1:1-8
John 18:33-37

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 mine” (2).

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.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Dodd 1970, 177.

(4) Dodd 1970, 178.

©2009 Andrew Charles Blume