Christ Our Crucified King

Christ the “King.”

The “kingdom” of God.

I wonder if we’re too used to these words, “king” and “kingdom.” They don’t unnerve us quite the way they should. They should be deeply unsettling.

After all, “kings” are absolute rulers. Each one is a single chain in a dynasty of absolute rulers. They rule over a “kingdom,” a geographical area inhabited by their subjects. The language of “king” and “kingdom” evokes power and privilege: servants at their beck and call, armies under their command, courtiers seeking their favour, their word the law of the land.

And kings have not had a good track record through history, especially not in ancient history. Their kingdoms have, by and large, been oppressive and unjust for all but those at the very top of the social pyramid, those closest to the king. Kingdoms are hierarchies of the strictest order, patriarchies of the strongest kind.

With ancient kings and kingdoms we’re a million miles away from Queen Elizabeth II, a million light-years from a representative democracy like Canada.

And it was into this jarring world of “kings” and “kingdoms” that Jesus came—and turned things on their head. Because Jesus was no ordinary king, and his kingdom no ordinary kingdom.

No king would be born in a barn, attended by the local riff-raff. But Jesus was.

No king would grow up in near-poverty, in a no-name village on the way to nowhere. But Jesus did.

No king would be heralded by a camel-hide-wearing, insect-eating, power-denouncing prophet. But Jesus was.

No king would choose both political insiders and political revolutionaries as his dinner guests, sharing bread and cup with them at his table. But Jesus did.

No king would heal sick peasants for free, or cure the daughter of foreign woman, or the servant of an enemy soldier. But Jesus did.

No king would promise their kingdom to the poor and oppressed and warn off the wealthy and powerful. But Jesus did.

A king would ride into the capital on a warhorse, armor gleaming and armies marching—not on a lowly donkey followed by religious pilgrims, like Jesus did.

A king would demand an audience with the powers-that-be and exact vengeance for his shameful suffering—not stand bloodied before them in dignified silence, exposing their injustice for all to see, like Jesus did.

Velazquez - Christ CrucifiedA king would be enthroned on a grand dais in pomp and ceremony—not lifted up on an executioner’s cross in darkness and storm, like Jesus was.

Jesus was no ordinary king, and his kingdom no ordinary kingdom.

We’ve seen this already in our previous text from Luke’s Gospel—God’s Messiah, the King of the Jews, dying on a Roman cross, making promises of paradise to a condemned criminal. But we also see it in the opening chapter of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

Here Paul talks about God’s kingdom this way:

God’s kingdom is the “kingdom of his beloved Son.” That sounds like ancient patriarchy—men holding all the cards in the game of life. But Paul’s point is to use these words to recall Jesus’ baptism—“You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” Which means Paul’s point is to use these words to bring to mind all those ancient promises about Israel’s Messiah—Jesus is the true “Son of God,” the “Messiah,” the one who will bring about God’s kingdom on earth.

God’s kingdom is a “kingdom of light.” It is here on earth—make no mistake about it. But it’s not about a geographical location. God’s kingdom is “not of this world”: it is from beyond this world of darkness and death. But it is coming “on earth just as it already is in heaven”: God’s kingdom brings heaven to earth.

Wherever the light touches—this is where God reigns. Wherever oppressive evil is banished—this is God’s kingdom. Wherever life blooms in the midst of inevitable death—this is God, reigning from his throne.

Wherever God’s will is done—this is God’s kingdom. Wherever daily bread is provided for all—this is God’s kingdom. Wherever sins are forgiven, both “us” and “them”—this is God’s kingdom. Wherever people are delivered from the time of trial, wherever people are protected from evil—there God is, reigning as king.

All this and more is what Paul means when he says that God “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.”

God’s kingdom is also a “kingdom for all creation.” All things, Paul repeats, all things have been created in Jesus and through Jesus and for Jesus. All things are sustained in Jesus, held together in him. All things, all things are reconciled to God through Jesus. All things: visible and invisible, both on earth and in the heavens. All things.

And so God’s kingdom is a “kingdom of reconciliation.” Paul’s words here don’t just mean, “There’s no more fighting.” When Paul speaks here of Christ “reconciling” and “making peace,” he speaks of restoring something broken back to a harmonious whole. All is justice. All is life. All is peace. Shalom.

And so this reconciling work of God overturns the human hierarchies of this world, whether based on gender or race or wealth or status. There’s a reason why the New Testament says that we will “reign with Christ”—the fulfillment of God’s kingdom is a communal reign, all of us gathered together around Jesus, fulfilling the promise of being created in God’s image. And this communal reign has already started: “in Christ,” Paul says, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female.”

Remember, Jesus is no ordinary king, and his kingdom no ordinary kingdom.

Excerpted from my sermon at Morden Mennonite Church on November 20, 2016, for Christ the King Sunday. Image: Velázquez, “Christ Crucified.” Cross-posted from © Michael W. Pahl.