Sunday, November 20, 2022
Christ the King
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77493
November 20, 2022
This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday or the Reign of Christ as one of my commentaries lists it I think I prefer the Reign of Christ. The reason in some respects is the imagery that the two names suggest. Now the challenge in dealing with this topic is not to get too far into the theological weeds.
Now first of all I think it is important to realize that the readings are officially known as Proper 29 in year C. This is one “celebration” that does not have a special collect. All other celebrations like this have a special Collect and often a special Proper Preface. We do change the altar color, but that is about all.
In the Eastern and Roman Catholic Church this is a major feast and when my wife Wendy was playing trumpet for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, she always had multiple churches that wanted her to play.
I think the first clue to the importance for them is found in our own gospel reading which is the same as the Catholic church uses. This is Jesus on the cross, overcoming evil and the devil. I said the image is important and the image of Christ the King is Jesus on the cross but not bloody and beaten. If you Google the image Christ the King you will see an image of Jesus on the cross, but dressed in royal robes with a crown on his head and not a wound on his body. This is the victorious Jesus. You can also find this image in the Pantocrator imagery of Christ on his throne in heaven with an orb in his hand and sometimes the world under his feet. These are all images of a transcendent Christ. Please keep that in mind as I move forward today.
First please remember that Christ is not Jesus’ last name! Now this is where it starts to get a little messy for the relationship of Christ and Jesus took a long time, 300 or more years to work out for the early church and really wasn’t settled until the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople. So you see it is not really possible to explain all of this in one 12 minute sermon. In seminary the basic Christology course is an entire semester, but I’ll try to keep this as simple as possible.
What I would like to turn our attention to this morning is the theological concept of the Cosmic or the Universal Christ. In our synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke we get the story of Jesus. The concept of the Cosmic or Universal Christ is what we read about in John, the letters of Paul and in the Book of Revelation. Think in terms of the Prologue to John, his famous opening of chapter one. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
This is the essential idea of the Cosmic Christ, who was and is and is to come. Richard Rohr writes that the Cosmic Christ is the creative force in the universe. Nicene Creed says, “Of one being with the Father, through him all things were created.” Then in the creed we read about coming down from heaven. That’s the great entry into our existence of the Christ mystery. What theologians call the scandal of particularity. That God through Jesus appeared in human form at a specific time and a specific place. That intersection is what the Synoptic Gospels record. Remember Paul never met Jesus. Paul writes about and focuses on Christ who he met on the road to Damascus. In fact you rarely see Paul use the name Jesus as a stand-alone. It is always Christ, Christ Jesus, our Lord Jesus Christ or simply the Lord.
This is a transcendent image. Christ in heaven ruling for eternity. Jesus is the immanent image, down here in the mud and the mess. Both are necessary images of Jesus. There are times I want the Jesus down here in the mess with me. To encourage me, guide me and lead me. There are other times when I want this eternal power that drives the universe so that I know that no matter what a mess I’m in, there is a power greater than I.
We get some help on this concept from our Colossians passage. Now scholars do not think that this letter was written by Paul, but possibly a later follower writing in his name. You can see the theology of Christ working itself out in this passage. Please remember that the letters of Paul both the ones he actually wrote and the ones written in his name are the oldest books in the New Testament. While they are dealing with issues after what is described in the four gospels that were all written after 70 CE, the Pauline letters were written before to the gospels.
Starting at verse 15 what we have is not an original Pauline composition. Most scholars believe that this is an ancient hymn of the early church that Paul is quoting. “Col. 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Here we have the eternal nature of Christ. In Christ we get a glimpse of God through the resurrected Christ.
“16 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. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Here is where we have the creating force of the eternal Christ. Standing above the powers of heaven, existing before all things. By the way thrones, dominions, rulers and powers are all orders of angels in the Jewish world. This passage is establishing his dominion over all creation.
Now this passage does have ties in the Hebrew scriptures. There are parallels that any Jew would recognize with what is known as Wisdom literature. This being for lack of a better term, which was referred to as Wisdom is a co-eternal force with God. Paul has just transferred this function in an expanded form to Christ.
The New Interpreter’s Bible says it this way, “The sort of language that had been employed of Wisdom in Wis 7:26 (“she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness) becomes a resource for expressing this belief about the status of Christ in God’s purposes.”
What is added to the role of Wisdom is that Christ plays a role not only in the creation of all that is, but also the redemption and reconciliation of creation with the ultimate creator. It is Christ who leads us out of darkness into the light. This is the new piece of theology that shows how Christ is different than Wisdom.
In Jesus we have the one who teaches us what it is to be fully human. We learn how we as humans can enter into the kingdom and bring to fruition the kingdom of God. But through Christ we learn the nature of that kingdom.
The interesting question for you to ponder this week is, what image speaks to me today, the Christ co-eternal in heaven or Jesus down here in the mud and mess next to me? For me it really depends on what is going on. If it is a big picture issue, then I probably head towards the transcendent Cosmic Christ. If it’s my own little mess, then I look to the immanent Jesus.
In the world today we have lots of messes. In dealing with the ones right here, we should turn to Jesus and seek the kind of love and compassion that he shows us. To live into our love of neighbor and self. This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
For those big issues out there, the ones I can’t wrap my brain around, I think they may need Christ who is the creative force in creation. Br. David Vryhof from the Society of St. John the Evangelist wrote this which is one of those quotes I have saved in my sermon notes.
Learning to let go of our notions of how things should be and finding freedom to work with things as they are, will bring us peace and freedom. Believe that (Christ) is at work in every person, in every situation, and trust (Christ’s) promise to bring new life out of that which we had assumed was dead.
If we see Christ’s presence in each person, and in every situation, then we can begin to tackle and heal those big issues out there. Christ can redeem, can reconcile any situation because he has already done it!
The point I am trying to make is that for us to really be Christians, to live into our call to Love God with all our heart and all our soul and our neighbors as ourselves, then we need both images. The focus today is on the big picture, the reign of Christ in a world that for the most part doesn’t even see it or know it. Christ and the kingdom have always been here and will always be here. That is the promise of Christ the King and it is a promise that we can all have faith in.