Across much of the Church throughout the world, this Sunday is known as “Christ the King” Sunday, or “Reign of Christ” Sunday. It is the end of the church year, and as people tend to do as we close the calendar year, the church, on Christ the King Sunday, looks to put the whole of the year’s teachings into a unifying perspective. In some ways, this is a celebration of Christ, the ruler of our lives as disciples. And as disciples, we hold to the promise that Christ has already conquered the powers of the world, was victorious even over death, and has begun his reign while seated at the right hand of God.
With that in mind, we might expect the church to proclaim this through images of Jesus conquering the world in glory, gathering his mighty armies to break down the corrupt powers that dominate the world, and tear down the walls of exclusion that deny people access to the resources of the dominant. We might expect to celebrate a coronation, a grand, glamorous and gaudy spectacle to show the world how powerful our King Jesus really is. And while it is true that King Jesus has risen victorious over death, it is not a crown we proclaim, but a cross, not a sign of power, but an instrument of death. What kind of king is this, we ask? A different kind of king and a different kind of throne.
On Christ the King Sunday, we are reminded that the Jesus movement did not result in a new world order, but ended in failure with the execution of its leader as an insurrectionist. Most scholars suggest Jesus’ active ministry on earth lasted only one year, before the entrenched powers of the time decapitated the movement and scattered its members abroad. His executioners mocked his importance by placing a crown of thorns on his head, and above that, affixing assign with the title “King of the Jews” He was dismissed as a common criminal, crucified with two run of the mill thieves on either side of him. He was left on that hill to die – embarrassed, tortured, miserable, defeated. If this is the face of a king, it must be a different kind of king.
Jesus was divine, fully God, even through his death on the cross. His claim that his kingdom was from another world caused one of the thieves to ridicule Jesus for his failure to use his divinity to save himself. Instead of a kingly show of supernatural powers, Jesus instead used his “throne” to proclaim forgiveness to all who participated in his execution, and to promise of eternal life to the thief who trusted in Christ’s kingly power. A king who would not use his power to save himself, but to save others, must be a different kind of King.
If Jesus is a different kind of king, he must have a different kind of reign. As disciples, we live under the reign of Jesus without holding on to any earthly power to overcome the dominant forces of the world, the forces of death. Instead our power comes from the Jesus whose throne is the cross. Our only power is to offer forgiveness, even to our enemies, and to offer promise, and not judgment to those who know they are guilty. That power is what Jesus died for, and what we now live for, the power of a different kind of king.
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Devotions for the Week of November 20, 2016
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Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.