Christ the King

Lamb with Nimbus, Baptism of Jesus window, FPCEIf you read the “seasonal explanations” I place on the back of the Sunday worship bulletins, then you know that today is “Christ the King” Sunday. Christ the King Sunday is sort of like a punctuation mark at the end of the annual Christian calendar.  In Advent, which typically begins by early December, we start a yearlong journey through scripture during which we remember and recite salvation history. That means that in late November, we are completing the cycle, and remembering the way the story ends.

Today, as our triennial trip through Luke’s gospel concludes, we come to the episode of Jesus’ crucifixion. We are used to hearing this text at Lent; it seems odd to read the story near Thanksgiving.  Hearing it now makes more sense when you remember this day focuses us on what comes at the end of several biblical stories. The end of Jesus’ earthly life by crucifixion is set within the context of the larger narrative of salvation history. According to that larger narrative, the Jesus who died for our sin is also the Jesus who was raised to new life, and, in the end of history, reigns sovereign. The witness of the prophets and apostles points to an end in which Christ is the King, the victor over sin, evil, pain, suffering, and even death.

All week, the grassroots theologian in me has been thinking about the many strands of scripture that, when woven together, create a rich tapestry portraying the story of Christ the King.  I’ve been trying to express it in a fresh new way, and this is the best I’ve come up with so far.

Christ, who with the Father and Holy Spirit is God the Creator, made a world with potential for good or evil, in which humans could choose or choose NOT to love and serve God. In our experience, that potential has been realized, both for good and evil. Look around, and you’ll see that Christ rules in part, but not in whole. God, in everlasting love, has not given up on this simultaneously beautiful but broken world. History is moving toward a future in which Christ’s reign will be complete. In the meantime, the Church is called to be Christ’s voice, and hands, and feet. Where Christ rules in the hearts and actions of his disciples, there Christ is king.

What does it look like when Christ rules in the hearts and actions of his disciples? I’d like to share a couple of examples of people who are trying.

The first story comes from the pages of this month’s USA Today in which journalist Richard Wolf has been describing the case before the U.S. Supreme Court known as “Town of Greece v. Galloway.”  Linda Stephens, an atheist living in upstate New York, is a plaintiff in a case against her town’s practice of opening city council meetings with Christian prayer. “Who wants to listen to this stuff?” she asks.  According to the town’s religious leaders, a majority of citizens have supported the practice for at least 239 years, all the way back the Rev. Jacob Duche’s prayer before the first Continental Congress in 1774, which ended, “All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.” My former head-of-staff Robert Palmer was quoted in this article.  Many years ago, Bob served as chaplain for the Nebraska legislature. It was his practice of public prayer that was vindicated in the landmark 1983 case “Marsh vs. Chambers,” when Chief Justice Warren Burger said that such prayers are “part of the fabric of our society.”[1]

Public prayer seems like a complex issue, doesn’t it? Society is more diverse than ever, and Christians certainly should not be hatefully antagonizing people of other religious persuasions.  But freedom of religion is not same as freedom from religion. When a Jewish person prays in public, I like to hear a distinctly Jewish prayer. If, in our community, there were a Muslim cleric who offered public prayer, I would appreciate the opportunity to hear his perspective. If there were a Buddhist monk who offered public prayer, I imagine that I would learn a great deal.  And, it seems to me, when Christians offer public prayer, they should have a right to speak freely about their devotion to Jesus, to say in effect, “for me, Christ is King.”

The second story I’d like to share comes from the pages of a recent book by Presbyterian pastor Henry Brinton. A few years ago, as part of a sabbatical experience, he studied the Reconciliation Church in Berlin. During the Second World War, great controversy was stirred by two of its pastors, who aligned themselves with the Confessing Church movement that opposed Nazi ideology and Nazi interference in church life (our affirmation of faith today, the Barmen Declaration, is a product of the Confessing Church, and a part of our Presbyterian Constitution). The members were divided between those who thought opposing Hitler was a good idea, and those who did not. After the war, the Soviets came.  The church building was in the Soviet Sector, but the pavement in front of the church and most of its parishioners were in the French sector. This meant that when the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, the outer wall passed directly in front of the church and the inner wall passed directly behind it leaving the church blocked off to all but the border guards. The church then stood isolated in no-man’s land, or the ‘death zone,’ inaccessible to citizens of both the east and the west. After the fall of the Wall, their old building in ruins, the congregation considered how they might live out the promise of reconciliation that eluded them for decades.

The congregation, discerning the leading of the Spirit, envisioned a new Chapel of Reconciliation to thank God for the reunification of their church and nation. They weren’t wealthy, so aimed at making the chapel “as big as necessary, but as small as possible” – there’s a concept for our Construction Readiness Committee to remember – as big as necessary, but as small as possible.  The Chapel of Reconciliation would be new, but not in an electronic or high-tech way. Instead, it would be connected to the earth and to the church’s history, sustainable and easy to maintain. The inner structure is made of clay walls. Into the clay the builders mixed the broken stones of the old church. There’s a lot of wood in the building, and when you worship there, says Brinton, “you are truly in touch with nature and you get a sense of the reconciliation that we are challenged to pursue”[2] with the world, and with each other. It sounds to me like a church that committed itself, even in its architecture, to say “Christ is King.”  The witness of its members challenges me, and I hope many of you, to consider our answer to the question, “How might we do the same sort of thing?”

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a statement of faith for an ordination exam or Committee on Ministry.  So I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to think with you about the meaning of this final day of the Christian year.  In summary:

Christ, who with the Father and Holy Spirit is God the Creator, made a world with potential for good or evil, in which humans could choose or choose NOT to love and serve God. In our experience, that potential has been realized, both for good and evil. Look around, and you’ll see that Christ rules in part, but not in whole. God, in everlasting love, has not given up on this simultaneously beautiful but broken world. History is moving toward a future in which Christ’s reign will be complete. In the meantime, the Church is called to be Christ’s voice, and hands, and feet. Where Christ rules in the hearts and actions of his disciples, there Christ is king.


[1]Information gathered from two articles by Richard Wolf. “Supreme Court To Answer … When Do Prayers Cross the Line?” USA Today, 5 November 2013, A1; “No easy path as high court wades into prayer case,” USA Today, 7 November 2013, 3A.

[2] Henry G. Brinton, The Welcoming Congregation, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, pp. 76-77.

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~ by JohnH1962 on November 24, 2013.

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