Christ, the King.
What kind of king is this Jesus whom we lift up and celebrate and worship this last Sunday of the church’s year? Who is this king whose life ends in torture, hung in public to die, ridiculed by many, misunderstood, apparently alone?
What kind of leader is this king who wears no crown but thorns, who has no throne but a cross, who is taunted and teased to save himself to prove he is the beloved of God? Where does he lead, and how? Whom does he lead, and why do they follow?
Why is this Christ the King compelling enough to bring us out to this house of God on the coldest morning in many months? Does he indeed have a kingdom? And if so, where is it and who are its citizens and what are the marks of their citizenship?
The prophet calls him the righteous branch of King David, wise and just. The Colossians heard him named Son of God, Redeemer, in himself the forgiveness of sins who was before all else, who holds all things together, who is head of the church, and firstborn from the dead.
Weighty titles. Impressive attributes. But they are revealed and confirmed “through the blood of his cross.” Brought to the place called The Skull, stripped naked and bound to a death-dealing instrument of torture, there Jesus’ kingship shines in the darkness.
It’s rare enough in human history for a king to be put to death, executed. When it’s happened, the charge most often is treason. But here, on Calvary, it’s just the opposite. This king, Jesus the Christ, refuses to leave aside the motivating power of his conception, his birth, his teaching, his actions, everything he has revealed himself to be. That is, he refuses to stop loving, refuses to betray the Source of Love who sent him to live and die. Jesus loves consistently, he loves recklessly, he loves personally, hand to hand and eye to eye, healing to healing, until the kingdom of violence which claims to rule this world has, by its own logic only one remaining option: to put him to death.
And even there dying, apparently emptied and absolutely powerless, he continues to love. Of his executioners he prays: Forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing. To his fellow prisoner, dying with him and reaching out, heart to heart, he assures: Today we will be together in paradise.
This kingdom, as Jesus told Pilate according to John’s Gospel, is not of this world. But it is exactly what this world requires and in its sanest moments, what it desires. Unending unbounded love, calling peoples together, joined at a depth level beyond all division.
The Scriptures know and describe the power wielded in this world: the power to coerce, the power to influence, the power that maintains the status quo at the cost of truth and hope. These were Pilate’s power, and Herod’s, and the distant iron-handed power of the Empire. But Scripture knows another power as well. It’s known by the term ‘exousia.’ This is the power held by Christ the King. It’s the power of one who dares to lay himself open to love’s detractors. It’s the strength of one who dares to make himself completely vulnerable. It’s the authority of One who follows the harsh logic of absolute Love until even life is left behind, for the sake of taking it up again, for the sake of sharing it with all who are able to see and understand and say, “Somehow, somehow, in a way I can neither completely comprehend nor perfectly express, this Jesus Christ is king. He has authority over my living and beyond my dying. He teaches how to love without counting the cost, how to live right through death, how to hope after hope has died.”
Of all the things we’ll give thanks for next Thursday, more than all else we give thanks for him. Of all the gifts for which our hearts will long in the coming Advent season, above all we long for him. Jesus. Son of God. King on the Cross. The living power of the gentle embrace of God’s own love.