Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Loveable Losers and a Crown of Thorns


Although the Chicago Cubs are widely thought to be in a good position to remain a World-Series-contender for several years, some of the pieces of this year's success are being dismantled. Star-closer Aroldis Chapman is on his way to a new team (probably the Yankees). Lead-off slugger Dexter Fowler again declined his qualifying offer, which means he'll test the free-agent market again. Last year, he did the same thing and surprised the Cubs by coming back to Chicago for less money, but this year that feels unlikely. Plenty of questions about the remaining players linger. What will happen to the starting rotation? Who will the new closer be--Strop or someone else? Will Jason Heyward ever start hitting again? But, despite all those concerns, I must admit I don't really care. It's not because I have some irrational confidence that the Cubs will do it again. It's that I'm still basking in my post-championship glee and almost don't mind if my "Lovable Losers" don't win another World Series for the next 108 years. Soon, that glow will fade, and I'll wonder whether next year is our year, but, for now, my whole understanding of what it means to be a fan of a perpetual underdog has shifted.

I think Christ the King Sunday embodies that feeling. On Good Friday, we encounter the horror of the crucifixion, and, on that day, the focus is on Christ's passion and sacrifice and the forgiveness of our sins. This Sunday, however, we encounter the crucifixion as the central, universal, irreproducible expression of Christ's kingship and God's majesty. This is what God's kingship looks like: a crucified messiah, a tortured savior, a dying servant. This is no accident. This is not merely humanity rejecting God's gift of love and hope. This is God's perfect expression of the way God is and the way his reign was and is and always will be. Christ the King is the crucified one. This Sunday, we embrace God's idea of majesty.

By any earthly measurement, this is all wrong. Jesus is a loser of unparalleled proportions. His ministry comes to a screeching halt as the one who was supposed to usher in God's reign is defeated by the Roman imperial occupying force. The cross is a giant "maybe next year" at the end of Jesus' life. But, of course, it isn't. There is Easter. There is resurrection. There is God's great defeat over sin and death. The danger for us, however, is that we will see the resurrection only as God's reversal of a moment of defeat and not confirmation of that earthly "defeat" that is the heart of who God is as the one who identifies with our suffering.

It's hard to embrace a loser. It's hard for us to see the crown of thorns on Jesus' head and not insist that it be airbrushed out so that a golden crown befitting the King of Kings can be Photoshopped in its place. But Jesus' death on the cross was not an accident of history. It is the fullest revelation of who God is and what God's reign is like. This is our king. Easter doesn't make it true. It confirms it.

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