Sunday, November 21, 2021
The King of love
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy, TX 77493
Today we bring the church year to a close with the Feast of Christ the King or as some refer to it the Reign of Christ. This is a Sunday when we celebrate Christ risen on his throne as you see in many paintings and on many church domes especially in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. This is a day that focuses in many respects on the transcendent image of Jesus that we hear in the Nicene Creed.
This passage however really highlights the misunderstanding of kingship between the Roman world, the Jewish world and the kingdom that Jesus is bringing to our world. This also shows the great difference between the image of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospel of Mark that we have been reading most of this year and in the Gospel of John.
Mark was written somewhere around 70 CE. The temple had been destroyed, the 5 year revolt of the Jews had ended in total destruction of Jerusalem and the near annihilation of the Jewish population in that part of the world had occurred. It seemed that their world was ending and Mark’s gospel reflects this. However, the image of Jesus that flows through Mark’s gospel is of the preacher, teacher and most of all healer. This is an immanent Jesus, one who is down here in the trenches with us in our daily lives. This is a Jesus that is filled with compassion and love.
John’s gospel written in the late 90s or later is written by a community possibly in Ephesus that has been expelled from the synagogues following the Council of Jamnia where the rabbis decided that any Jew who declared that Jesus was the Messiah were heretics and barred from the synagogue. The world had not ended as many in Mark’s community believed would happen. The new church is truly becoming its own faith however there was great bitterness focused at the “Jews” in this gospel. For a modern analogy, think in terms of the embattled Palestinian Christian’s relationship with the modern state of Israel. That is the level of hard feelings we see in John.
However focusing on just the transcendent Christ does not give us a complete picture of Jesus any more than the image we get from Mark’s gospel. This is truly a case of not one image or the other, but of both and.
The view of the transcendent Jesus that we get in John makes sense given the community and the situation in which the gospel was written. When you are in the position of John’s community you really want and need a powerful transcendent savior. One who will lead you into the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed throughout his time on earth.
I firmly believe that the strength of the Episcopal Church and our parish is that in our diversity of views comes a unique unity because in that diversity we can all come to the table together. This is what makes for a truly diverse and welcoming congregation. We all agree that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. That is our core value.
However, there is room at the table for all of the various images of Christ. In fact there is a place reserved at the table for each of the images of Christ. For the simple reason that each of us needs to develop an image of Jesus that is what we need at a particular time of our life. It is important to remember that there is no one image of God or Christ nor is that image stagnant. If your image of God and Jesus never changes then you may want to examine that. Several theologians who I have read say the same thing; just when I think I have my image of God right, God blows it up and I start again. That is true for our images of Jesus as well. And like any relationship it will be different for each individual. There is never a time when each of us sitting here today is going to have the same image of Christ. That is one of the beauties of how God and Christ speak to us. The image you have is exactly the image you need even if it may make you uncomfortable.
Now all of this speculation about images of Jesus is important, but as I reflected on this gospel this week I found myself drawn to the middle portion.” My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world my followers would be fighting to keep me from being turned over to the Jews. As it is my kingdom is not of this world.” I realized that in all the commentaries that spent time on the kingship of Jesus, none of them talked about his kingdom “that is not of this world.” What does Jesus mean by that?
Herod certainly doesn’t understand because he is of “this world”; the world that is one were we are all separate, all fighting for our little piece of whatever is important to our ego driven selves, what Richard Rohr refers to as our false or ego self. Jesus proclaims a kingdom of love and mutual support. One where we are all united rather than all separate. This is what Richard is talking about in this quote from Friday’s meditation:
The Risen Christ represents the final and full state of every True Self: God-in-you who is able to see and honor God-everywhere-beyond-you too! In other words, Christ is more than anything else a “holon”—a scientific term for something that is simultaneously a whole by itself and yet a part of a larger whole, too. Jesus is telling us that we are all holons! We all participate in the one single life of God.1
This image of the kingdom is radically different from the world that Pilate, Herod, the Romans and the Jews lived in. To be honest it is the world the disciples lived in and as we see in Mark so frequently do not understand because it is such a foreign idea to their world. Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom of love and connection. If we are all connected we cannot hate the other without hating our selves. If we love ourselves we therefore love the world. Does that sound at all familiar? Love God, love your neighbor as yourself, because we are all one. I can hear Michael Curry from this summer preaching, “if it isn’t about love it isn’t about Jesus,” and I might add it is not about God.
The kingdom that Jesus is king of, is a kingdom of love. The kingdom is a world where we wouldn’t have to go down to the Beacon to feed people our world has forgotten. The kingdom is a world where every person is important and valued as a beloved child of God.
You see I believe that Christ the King is best described in the hymn The King of love my shepherd is. My image even on this day of Christ the King is that this King is the King of love. Listen to the words “The king of love my shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never; I nothing lack if I am his and he is mine for ever.
For me, this is Christ the king who we celebrate today. Christ, the king of love.