NT: John 18.33-37
Christ the King
For the past two years, mom, Kerry, and I have gone to visit my sister for Thanksgiving. It’s a wonderful time to visit northern Vermont, because it’s literally like stepping into a snow globe for a few days! Winter takes hold there much earlier than it does here. The residents are wrapped in flannel, the streets are lined with snow, and Christmas lights make everything glow!
We’re not going this year, which has me a little disappointed because we won’t get to see my sister and brother-in-law and their son Ethan. But on the other hand, they’re vegan, which would mean another vegan Thanksgiving.
Now, I have nothing against that. To the contrary, I admire them for it. Kerry and I are trying to eat better and eat less mass-produced meat because animals are treated so poorly by the food industry. BUT…have you ever had celebration roast for Thanksgiving? If you don’t know what’s in it, then I won’t tell you, because I don’t want to ruin your lunch at Rudy’s! I have eaten it…for two years straight…and let me tell you…I have never been so excited for a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal as I am this year! We will have turkey. And mashed potatoes made with milk and butter instead of soymilk and olive oil. I can’t wait! Because I can already imagine that first bite tasting something like heaven.
Have you ever witnessed heaven come to earth? It probably wasn’t during a meal, but it may have been during a tragedy…or when you hit rock bottom…or when you thought everything was in its place. Sometimes the line between this world and the next seems especially thin (in those moments when heaven seems to be reaching down just as we reach up).
Unfortunately, the line between the two worlds often seems too big to ever bridge. For 10 days now, we’ve been bombarded with suicide bombings, shootings, and drug busts here in our little neck of the woods. As we look up to heaven and ask God how such things can be allowed to happen, I imagine God looking down at us wondering where we learned such evil. Certainly God did not intend the kingdom to look like this; we are supposed to make the kingdom come…to earth!
One of my colleagues tells the story of visiting a woman in the hospital who just came out of surgery. Her nurse warned him before he entered her room in the ICU that she was still confused after her anesthesia. When he approached the bed, she quickly grabbed his hand and said, “Am I in heaven?” He didn’t want to embarrass her, so he pretended not to hear. “What was that? How are you feeling?”
She repeated, gripping his hand more tightly, “Am I in heaven?”
He said, “Goodness no! Heaven will be much better than this.”
Looking a little disappointed she wasn’t in heaven, she asked him, “Is it alright to want to go? My life has been wonderful, but it’s time. My body is giving up. Is it ok to want to go to heaven?” He smiled, gripped her hand in return, and assured her it was ok. We all yearn for the comforts of Christ’s kingdom.
According to the Lectionary, today is Christ the King Sunday, which is always celebrated on the last Sunday of the year before the church calendar begins anew with the first Sunday of Advent next week. Our reading from John raises the question of what it means that Jesus is a king? What is his power? Where is his kingdom?
The story begins with Pilot asking Jesus a question. Most English versions translate the question this way: “Are you King of the Jews?” But the Greek says it differently: “You? King of the Jews?” It’s less of a factual question than a judgment, as if Pilot was saying, “You of all people are a king? You don’t look like a king. You don’t act like a king. Do you feel like a king under my control?”
If you contrast Jesus as king with Pilate as king, it’s easy to see why Pilate would scoff at the suggestion they were anything alike. Pilate controls the Roman nation. He has at his disposal the mightiest military in the world, the deepest bank account, and citizens who will do anything he commands at any time. Jesus leads no territorial nation. He has no army at his back. No money in the bank account. His own disciples fail to recognize who he is, much less follow his every order.
Pilate maintains his kingship through the fear of force. No one dares cross him for fear of death. Jesus maintains his kingship through the hope of peace.
What holds more power over your life--fear or hope? Anxiety or peace? The answer to that question shows if you follow Pilate or Jesus, because the difference couldn’t be any greater.
After going back and forth about the title of king, Jesus cuts to the chase: “My kingdom is not from this world.” I think he means that Pilate’s political power cannot determine his fate. I think he means that he condemns the way this world handles conflict. I think he means that he and his followers refuse to settle differences with the violence so commonplace in this kingdom. So he says, “My kingdom is not from here.”
To whose kingdom do you belong? Whose rules govern your life? Are you captive to fear or freed by hope?
Sometimes the line between the two kingdoms seems too big to ever bridge. How can we live in this world and pray for God’s kingdom to come? Because sometimes the line between this kingdom and the next seems especially thin (in those moments when heaven seems to be reaching down just as we reach up). This season is one such time.
By giving thanks to God, you choose your kingdom. You pledge your allegiance to a more powerful king than this world can offer. A king who rules not by fear, but by hope. A king who forces you to do nothing, but compels you to do everything worth doing. A king we proudly proclaim as our own. Christ the King. Amen.