Sunday, November 26, 2006

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

Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father; to him be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever.

I am a procrastinator. I don’t put off everything, but there are times when I just don’t get around to things as quickly as I should. I wait for that right moment or think that tomorrow will be soon enough. Unfortunately, when I do this I usually get caught with the task incomplete or not as well done as it should be. Even today I’ve been procrastinating with the writing of this devotional. I found every excuse to avoid the computer and now it is late and I have so much to do.

There are times when we think that tomorrow is another day. I wonder what harm there will be if I am late just this once. For most things it probably does not matter too much. However, what happens when you are a day late with paying a bill? Sometimes you are charged a late fee; sometimes you are shut off from using the product. The dust that has settled on the piano can stay there a day, but when I do wait I usually have a friend pop in to see my horrific housekeeping. Tomorrow is another day, but what happens when something else comes up? Tomorrow may indeed be another day, but what happens if there is no tomorrow?

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.

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. We look forward to the day when the righteous will be given a place in heaven while the unrighteous are given their place in hell. Though we know that mercy hopes none will suffer, we look forward to the time when our suffering will be avenged. We also recognize the need for justice according to God’s will and purpose for the world. What we don’t understand is that sometimes God’s justice is different than we expect.

Jesus lived in a time when the Israelites were oppressed by a nation that was stronger and much more powerful than they. They had once been a great nation, but when Jesus walked they were nothing but a doormat on which the Romans could hang their hat. The kings that ruled were puppets of the Roman empire, more interested in what they would personally get out of the deal than what the people needed. They were more interested in the status quo than in ensuring the well-being of the people.

The people looked forward to a day of deliverance, as they had experienced throughout the history of Israel. They looked forward to the day the Messiah would come and set them free. They looked forward to the day when they could live freely without fear and without tears. They looked for that Savior that would defeat the Romans and avenge so many years of oppression.

Some thought they found that in Jesus. The people who had heard Him talk were sure He could be king. They thought He could defeat the oppressors and set them free. Jesus talked about justice, about mercy and about the kingdom of God. He talked about God’s care for the poor and suffering. He healed people and set them free from the bonds of their physical ailments. He fed people in large groups. He turned water into wine. He brought hope and peace to the hearts of those who believed. They saw all these things as signs that Jesus should be crowned King. Jesus even had to go into hiding to avoid their mob expectations.

However, on Palm Sunday, Jesus allowed the accolades. He allowed them to throw palm branches under the feet of His donkey as He triumphantly entered into Jerusalem. They did not know that in just days Jesus would be undergoing a time of passion and death. They did not know He would be arrested and taken before the Roman leaders as a threat to Roman peace. They did not know that He was in control every minute – from the donkey He rode to the cross He experienced. Jesus was walking a path toward a coronation that no one would understand. They wanted Him crowned King of Israel. He would be given the derisive title of King of the Jews and killed on the cross to which that title was nailed.

Our modern communication has made it possible to view some of the most wonderful events. In 1953, Queen Elizabeth was crowned the monarch of the British Isles and all their territories. They coronation was the first to ever be broadcast on television and was seen by 20 million English subjects. The coronation included all the pomp and circumstance – royal and political leaders present as witnesses, religious leaders present to preside over the ritual. Preparation for the event took more than a year because there were so many details to be accomplished.

It has been the pattern for British monarchs to wait at least a year for the coronation for hundreds of years, to have a period of mourning as well as time to prepare. In a number of occasions the new monarch was never officially crowned because they died or abdicated before the ceremony. For them, there was not another day. Tomorrow was too late. For many it seemed the Saturday after Good Friday was too late. Jesus had died before He was able to be crowned. They were disappointed and they were scared. They did not know what tomorrow held, so they went into hiding.

The cross was not a coronation throne. There was no pomp and circumstance – at least none that did honor to Jesus. There was a crown, but it was roughly made of thorns ripped from a bush. Royal robes were given to Jesus not to do him honor, but to make fun of Him in front of the crowds. They were covered in blood from the scourging Jesus faced at the hands of the Roman soldiers. There were no willing attendants to carry His things; He was forced to carry His own cross up the long hill until He could not carry it no more. There were no royal or political visitors to witness the coronation except those who came to jeer at Him. There were no parties or fancy balls. Yet that coronation changed the world.

Jesus did not rule to set the Jewish people free from the oppression of the Romans, but rather the oppression of the sin that has kept them bound and separated from God since the beginning of time. Though sin had reigned for so long, God has been around even longer. The psalmist writes, “Thy throne is established of old: Thou art from everlasting.” John writes in Revelation, “Grace to you and peace, from him who is and who was and who is to come.” Sin and death, oppression and injustice has been around for a long, long time. But God is, was and will be. He is greater than our sin and He has had a plan to overcome from the beginning.

That’s why Jesus came. He did not come to be a ruler that had only earthly powers and authority. He did not come to battle against the Romans and sit on the throne of David. He came to battle against the enemy, which is death. He came to bring us freedom to be loved and to love, to receive mercy and to give it. He came to defeat death and the grave so that we might life for eternity with our Father, as it was intended from the beginning. A coronation with pomp and circumstance would do nothing to bring this to fruition. Only His death would make Him truly King.

It might seem odd to be thinking so much about the cross on this the last day of the Church year. With Advent just around the corner, and jingle bells playing in the stores, we are thinking more fondly of the coming of the King as a baby born in a manger. However, it was not His birth that made Him King. It was the cross that served as His coronation throne. We would not have a future toward which to look if it were not for that moment of complete willing obedience.

Some of our texts for today bring to mind the majesty of God. I was reminded of some of the most awe inspiring moments in my life, such as when I first viewed the Redwoods of California and when I have seen the night sky filled with millions of stars on a mountain far from the cities. It is impossible to truly imagine the height and depths of those trees and the intensity of the stars without having seen it with your own eyes. We can see pictures of the redwoods, but to stand at the base of one makes a human being feel very small. As we look at the multitude of stars in the sky, we can’t help but wonder about the enormity of the God who could create such a thing.

I also recalled a time when I felt that I had entered into heaven, if only for a moment. It was at the Evensong service one night at York Minster in York, England. We were tourists in the ancient town of York. It had been a cold and dreary day, drizzle falling during most of our trip. Though we’d enjoyed our sightseeing, we were cold and tired by the time we reached the church. We planned our day around the service as we often did when traveled. We were pretty tired by the time we sat down in the pew, but that soon passed. Though it was cold and dark outside, inside the cathedral there was an unearthly light that cast a warmth over us all. When the choir began to sing, I could almost imagine the voices of heavenly angels singing praise to God, an image that was enhanced by the carvings of angels that seemed almost alive. That worship service was, to me, as close to heaven as I will ever get in this world. We were drawn into the presence of God and we caught a glimpse of His glory that day.

At those moments – when seeing the redwoods and the stars, and when worshipping God in that place – everything else seemed 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 have been, no matter how awestruck I was at seeing those stars or trees, or worshipping in that beautiful place, 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.

This did not come to us because Jesus Christ was made King of the Jews. Instead, we live in the hope of that day when Christ will be made King of All because He was crowned King that day on the cross. Pilate didn’t get it any more than the others. The crowds were disappointed that Jesus was not reacting to their call for His earthly leadership, but He knew that the road to Jerusalem led to a cross, not a throne.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus is taken before Pilate for trial. Pilate asked Jesus the wrong question. He asked, “What have you done wrong?” The problem was not what Jesus was doing. Though Jesus sometimes seemed to stretch the laws of the Jews, He did nothing against the Roman law. Though some of His followers thought about rebellion, Jesus never led them into battle. He paid the taxes, He followed the rules. He showed kindness, and mercy, and grace. Pilate could find nothing in His actions that could be considered wrong.

But Jesus was not there for doing wrong, He was there for being the wrong kind of Messiah. Had He been willing, the crowds would have taken up arms and followed Him, despite the resistance of the Jewish leaders. Then, perhaps, Jesus could have been rightfully charged and executed. However, Jesus did not respond to the call from the crowds, He was responding to a greater call.

In Daniel, we see the call of Jesus. Daniel writes, “I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” It would not be an otherworldly being to bring freedom and hope to the people, but one like the son of man – Jesus. It would not be someone who would reign and rule on an temporary, earthly throne, but one who would reign on the heavenly throne, at the right hand of God.

Jesus’ problem was not that He’d done something wrong, but that He was not what the people wanted or expected. He was what God intended. This is why He died – willingly and without fear. This is how He became King.

Now, we wait for the day when the King will return. In that day we will see the heavens and the earth as we’ve never seen them before. Even though I have been awed by the redwoods of California and the majesty of the heavens, I have not witnessed what Daniel or John saw in their visions. They have given us a glimpse, as well as human words can describe. However, it is like the awe I knew at the redwoods and seeing the stars – there are no human words to truly make us see what it will be like. All we know is that the biggest, the best, the most beautiful, the most inspiring things will pale in comparison. In that day we will be awestruck, beyond anything we can imagine.

I am a procrastinator. I like to wait to do too many things and I often find myself completing those tasks too late. Christ the King Sunday is the last day of the Church year. Our calendars tell us that there is a tomorrow, that there will be another Advent. However, we do not know what God intends. A day will come – today, tomorrow, in a thousand years – when Christ will come again to judge all things. In that day we will see the glory of God as we’ve never seen it before. This is a promise, our hope rests on nothing less. Yet, most of us are not really looking forward to that Day. We want a tomorrow so that we can accomplish all those things that we have put off too long.

We do not know if we will ever have a tomorrow. John writes, “Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father; to him be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever.” Christ is King. This is a future promise, but it is also a present reality. We are called live in His reign now as we wait for that Day when He will reign forever. We are part of the king, priests in His temple, made and freed to give Him glory from now until the end of days. For He was, He is and He will be, forever and ever. Amen.

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