Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christ the King Sunday
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

I’m reading a book by Philippa Gregory called, “The White Queen.” This book describes the unbelievable intrigue and confusion that occurred in England during the War of the Roses. This way took place in the late fifteenth century between the houses of York and Lancaster, of the Plantagenet line. Henry VI took the throne when he was a mere babe, so his kingdom was ruled by regents. He was tutored by Richard de Beauchamp, the Earl of Warwick. Richard’s daughter Anne married Richard Neville, who through a freak set of circumstances became the Earl of Warwick in his own right. This Richard became known as the king-maker, because whichever man he backed won the throne.

Now, Richard first backed Henry VI, the king whom his father-in-law tutored and supported when he was but a child king. Henry suffered from bouts of insanity, giving the real power to the lords of the land, among then Richard of Warwick. When Henry regained his senses, Richard sought ways to regain his power. When the House of York, Edward, made claim to the throne, Richard and some of the other lords backed him with money, weapons and men. Henry was thrown off his throne and Edward, who was only nineteen at the time, was ascended to the throne, Richard was right there to help the young king rule. As Edward grew in power, he became independent, making his own choices, including the marriage to Elizabeth, the White Queen. Richard, having lost his power and the trust of Edward, turned again to Henry, who was insane again. Richard won, and Henry was placed back on the throne.

After a period in exile, Edward returned to win back his throne. He killed Richard of Warwick on the battlefield, destroyed Henry’s wife’s army and took her captive, killed Henry’s only heir and had Henry locked up in the Tower of London. Henry didn’t know the difference: he was out of his mind again. Eventually Henry died in the Tower and though no one really knows what happened, he was probably murdered. The only way to end the War of the Roses was to destroy one of the houses. York survived, Lancaster died. After a period of peace, Edward died unexpectedly and his marriage to Elizabeth was ruled null by Parliament. Edward’s sons, the Princes in the Tower, were probably murdered and eventually the rule of England was won by the Tudors, a third house in the Plantagenet line. Henry VII ended the war by combining the red rose of Lancaster with the white rose of York, creating the red and white Tudor Rose.

The War of the Roses was a war of cousins. Everyone was related in some way, usually by marriage. Families fought against family members. The most incredible part of this whole story is how quickly people were able to turn their loyalty from one house to another. Richard of Warwick backed the king he felt would benefit him most. He fought against the one with power, because he wanted to be the one with the power. He even forced his daughter into marriage to Edward’s brother George, hoping to put him on the throne and take power through that relationship. He was not the only one, however, who had limited loyalty. The lords turned with every wind of change. They supported those whom they thought would give more abundantly. If a king did not give enough quickly, they turned to another. In the end no one knew who to trust.

This is the way of war, the way of kings, the way of the world. It is certainly an extreme example, after all many countries go many years without such intrigue and violence as enemies seek the throne. But even in times of peace there are those who scheme behind the scenes to take control and wield power where it might not be right for them to do so.

There was certainly scheming in Jesus’ day. The story of the Herod family is not much different than the Plantagenet family. The same can be said about the Roman Emperors. Those in power had to constantly fear a take-over. Someone was always in the shadows waiting for the opportunity to grasp the throne. It is no wonder, then, that the people looked at Jesus as a possible to solution to their problem. They knew that Jesus would be a fair and kindly king, serving the needs of the ordinary people rather than the desires of the lords and leaders. He talked about ordinary things, promised that the least would be first and chose for His ‘court’ men who would serve rather than take advantage of servants. He was a different kind of man and they expected He would be a different kind of king.

They were right, but not completely. In today’s Gospel lesson, Pilate asks the question, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Rather than answer the question directly, Jesus asks another question. “Do you want to know or are you just repeating what you have heard from others?’ Jesus didn’t want Pilate to base his decision on hearsay. What did it matter, anyway? Pilate is not a Jew. The Herodians were nothing but puppet kings under the rule of the Emperor. Pilate answers, “It is your own people who wish to see you dead.”

Those same people honored Jesus as a king just days before this encounter. But they were looking for a political king, an earthly ruler who would defeat the Romans and make Israel the golden nation it was in the days of David. Pilate asks Jesus, “What did you do?” What did He do? He didn’t do anything to make His followers disloyal. They turned on their own. He wasn’t what they expected. He wasn’t willing to give them what they wanted. He threatened their world without the promise of a happy ending. He did nothing except be what He was meant to be.

He answered Pilate’s question, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” Pilate assumes that Jesus is answering “Yes, I am a king” but he still does not understand that Jesus’ mission, at least from John’s point of view, has nothing to do with politics. He came to save the world. He came to turn the old ways upside down, to bring in a new era and a new vision of life.

The Church year calendar follows the same pattern every year. We begin at Advent, a time of rising light in the darkness. The birth of Christ ushers in a new age. During Epiphany the light reaches out to the entire world. In Lent we look within ourselves to realize that we are sinners in need of a Savior. During Holy Week we journey with Jesus to the cross on which He died for our sake. At Easter we are resurrected with Him, experiencing the joy of God’s gracious mercy and love. During the Easter season we are reminded of why God sent His Son as He completes the teaching He began during His life. The Church is born at Pentecost, ten days after Jesus returns to the right hand of the Father. During the season of Pentecost we learn what it means to be the Church. In the last weeks of the Church year we look forward to the second coming of Christ, to His glorification and rule. We look forward to the time when the promise is made complete, when Jesus is Christ is truly Lord of all forever. Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of the Church year. On Christ the King we look forward to the Day of Judgment, when Christ will rule over all things and when all things will be under His rule. On this day we get a glimpse of the eternal.

But how do you describe the eternal? Human beings from every time and every place have tried to find words to express their expectations of what it will be when God truly reigns above all. Daniel shares a vision of heaven in today’s Old Testament lesson, a vision of an Ancient One that could bring terror to the witnesses. Imagine the scene, a room of thrones for a court of judgment with the throne of the Ancient of Days standing out from the rest. He was beyond compare: whiter than white, purer than pure. His throne was like a fiery chariot, and flames flowed out from His presence. He was surrounded by thousands and tens of thousands of servants. This is not a judge we would want to meet.

While this image is terrifying, there is also a message of hope, because one like a human being came with the clouds of heaven. We understand this Son of Man to be our Lord Jesus Christ, presented to the Ancient of Days as a mediator between the heavens and earth. Jesus will be the steward who will rule God’s Kingdom, given the dominion and the power and the glory above all else. All earthly kings fall short, even if they are humble and wise. Only Jesus can rule the kingdom that will never end.

He will not rule over a kingdom like Edward or Henry, a kingdom dependent on the good graces of men. He rules over all of creation, Lord over the nations and the people who live in them. He rules over the great mountains, the giant redwoods and the stars in the sky. He rules over the roses in the garden and the affairs of men. He even rules over the oceans, and seas, and rivers and floods. For those of us who have lived in places where the water has real power—at the seashore where the waves crash day in and day out, on the coastline where hurricanes wreak havoc, on the plains where tornadoes are hidden by the sheets of rain and in the flatlands where floods carry away our lives—the idea that God rules over the water is terrifying and comforting. Water can move the world, but the psalmist writes that God is established in the world with such power that the world can not be moved. He is more majestic than the sea or the storm

When seeing the redwoods and the stars, and when worshipping God in the places where He is so visible, everything else seems to go away. The worries of the world seem unimportant when standing in the shadow of the Creator. Earthly troubles seem to disappear for just a moment when I am awed by the magnificence of God’s work. In those moments we get a glimpse of heaven itself and our hearts cry out to God in praise and thanksgiving.

Yet, no matter how awesome those experiences might be, no matter how awestruck I am at seeing the stars, mountains or trees. No matter how blessed I am by powerful worship, no matter how often I see God’s hand in my every day living in this world, nothing will compare to that which I will see in that day when I come before the throne of God. The most beautiful things in the world will pale in comparison. The most furious storms will seem calm. The largest trees or stars or mountaintops will seem small compared to the majesty of our God. In that day we will be truly awestruck, beyond anything we can even imagine.

In the second lesson for today from Revelation, John gives us another peek at the coming of the Christ in glory. We are His kingdom, not as earthbound subjects seeking places of power, but as those who will praise Him forever. John gives us something to look forward to, to the coming of our King. “Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him. Even so, Amen.”

How do you describe the eternal? Our God is the Eternal One, the Ancient of Days. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the One who is and who was and who is to come. He is the Almighty. We know Him through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who reigns over all the earth as the Steward of God’s Kingdom. He is the firstborn, the ruler of all the kings of the earth. He is the faithful witness, the One who tells the truth that sets His people free from oppression—not the oppression of kings, but that of sin and death. Through Him we receive the grace of God that invites us into the throne room to worship Him forever. In Him we know true peace, the peace that gives us the courage to enter into that throne room for eternity.

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