This morning’s readings, thankfully, do NOT reflect what Steve has mentioned before about the lectionary. You remember….sometimes you look at the readings and wonder what in the world they have in common ?? This week’s readings are all about Kingship, and this is the feast of Christ the King.
As Americans, we don’t do kings very well…after the Revolutionary War, many people asked George Washington to become king and he wisely refused. We had just fought to free ourselves from a distant king, and he understood the necessity of a new way. Our royalty now is either political or celebrity, or both, and we love to talk about their feet of clay. This keeps the media in business… no great kings to be found here.
The readings today talk about a new way of regarding kings, starting with the prophet Jeremiah.
Jeremiah was a prophet for almost 40 years around 600 BCE. He lived in a time of continual upheaval, spanning the fall of the Assyrians and the rise of Babylon. The line of kings that the Jewish people had through the period were either puppet rulers or hauled off to Babylon in exile. Ineffective, powerless or corrupt; a new way of thinking about kingship was Jeremiah’s message during this, the last years of his career as prophet to Israel.
Jeremiah’s theme is to pronounce the shepherds of Godde’s people as derelict in their responsibility. The flocks are scattered and no one goes in search of the lost sheep. Godde will gather the wandering remnants of the flocks and gather them under a leader who is reminiscent of the great King David.
“The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness."
And since Israel and Judah had been separate kingdoms for some time, this new king would unite the kingdoms as had David.
The Canticle for this morning is also about the same theme…this is the song of Zechariah proclaimed when his son, John the Baptist is born and celebrates the process that brings forth the Messiah, and new kind of leader for Israel.
The section from Colossians that follows also is a re-imaging of kingship. There has been much debate for better than 100 years about whether Colossians is a letter of Paul or written by his disciples, but for our purposes, it is the hymn that is incorporated in the letter that draws our attention. There is equally as much debate about where this hymn came from…was it in use in the early church ? was it a proclamation of the Gnostics ? the words describe a king who:
… is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-- all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
This description of the king has nothing to do with wars and conquering and power. It has echoes of the opening lines of the Gospel of John and makes clear that this different king has been present from the beginning. This is a very different view of royalty than what the people of Jesus’ time saw…Caesars came and went, appointed kings came and went, but this king has been with us forever.
Then Luke takes the opportunity to truly turn kingship on its head, as Luke so often does. In the Kingdom of Godde, the ruler hangs on a cross between thieves and suffers as have the many thousands of people the Romans have put to death this way. He is with the most common and lowly of the world in this death and yet he is the manifestation of the Kingdom of Godde. Is this what kings look like ??
As we admire celebrity, gossip about the fallen royalty of our culture, and marvel at how far some people can crash, we are reminded of the lowly origins of the Prince of Peace. Jeremiah prophesied a new kind of king…one who was a true shepherd of the flocks. The hymn in Colossians celebrates a king who has been present from the very beginning of time. And finally Luke reminds us yet again that the Kingdom of Godde turns everything upside down…Godde’s incarnation in human form suffers, forgives, and is yet among us.
Because we do not have kings in our day and age, we forget how odd this king would have seemed to the people of Jesus time, or even for centuries later. But when we contrast this royalty with the celebrities that we admire or vilify, the contrast becomes apparent again. A good shepherd who gathers the flocks, present from the beginning of time, and here among the lowliest of us all. Still a radical idea !
In the name of Godde, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier