Monday, April 3, 2017

Christ the King Sunday

Each year, on the Last Sunday after Pentecost, we hear the story of Jesus' crucifixion and celebrate the real kingship of God's Son. Instead of a golden crown, he wears a crown of thorns. Instead of reigning from a throne, he reigns in death on a cross. The confusion of images is a powerful and intentional way of reminding the world of its true king and the nature of God's reign. God reigns not in power but in weakness, not in pomp but in humility. Although there's never a bad time to hear that message, I'd argue that the right time to emphasize the kingship of Christ isn't in the fall but in the spring, when we shout "Hosanna!" to the one who rides into Jerusalem before changing our minds to shout "Crucify him!" to the one who stands before Pilate.

This Sunday, the Sunday of the Passion, we not only admire the ironic, upside-down, majesty-in-humiliation kingship of Christ from the safety of our pews, we feel it; we participate in it; we enact it with our words. More than any other gospel account, Matthew makes clear the connections between the events in Jesus' final days and the prophecies of the Old Testament. As we hear this version, we cannot help but notice how certain we are that the one who comes to us "humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey" is the long-awaited king. This is truly David's son. The vassal of Rome and pretend-king who occupies the throne, Herod Antipater, makes a mockery of God's anointed kingship. As Jesus enters the holy city, the crowd's enthusiasm gets the best of it. They allows themselves to hope that the arrival of a prophet and miracle worker like Jesus of Nazareth, rumored to be a descendent of David, could mean that a real king has come to Zion. They know that two kings cannot coexist, and they anticipate a showdown between the representatives of Rome, the new Babylon, and this rebellious rabbi.

But expectations and reality do not always line up, and, when it is time for Jesus to fight Herod and Pilate and secure the freedom of God's people, Jesus tells his disciple to put his sword in its sheath. "Friend, do what you are here to do," he says to Judas, willingly offering himself to those who have come to arrest him. His journey to a kingship of humiliation is voluntary, and the people abandon his cause. Crowds like a underdog, but they turn against a loser with remarkable rapidity. We would rather have Barabbas, a rebel who fought against Rome and lost, than a leader who will lie down without a fight. "Crucify him!" we shout when asked what we would have Rome do with Jesus. He has let us down. He is not our king. Yet this is what he came for--to establish God's reign on earth. And that reign is established in a king who is crucified and laid lifelessly in a tomb.

There's so much to say, so much to do, so much to feel on Palm Sunday. The preacher cannot capture it all in a sermon, but the good news is that she doesn't have to. Let the drama of the day speak for itself, but don't let the familiarity of an annual reenactment hide the magnitude of what that drama says to us again this year. We want God's king to champion our cause, but that is only possible if our cause is God's cause, and God's cause is the magnification of the helpless, the rescue of the destitute, and the elevation of the lowly. Let the totality of our rejection of God's reign be manifest in our words, "Crucify him!" Then, let God pick up the pieces and show us another way.

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