Wait, what? You can’t be it. Who are you? You’re the king everyone’s talking about? This doesn't make sense. Long robes, with piercing eyes. There is sense of quiet authority in him, a commanding presence that makes me feel humbled to be around them. You’re the king? HA! Not possible. How!? Kings have thrones, and gold, and jewels, and large crowns, with long robes and attendants. This guy, smells like sheep, has dirt under his nails, his clothes are marked and frayed, is barefoot and stands alone without keepers or attendants. He arrived here on foot, not a stallion, and has these red wounds on his ankles and wrists. I can almost make out the triangular scars on his forehead where a crown should be- are those thorns? This must be a practical joke! King’s don't have thorns on their forehead or bare feet. They definitely don't smell like sheep, nor do they wear worn and tired clothes! This guy's a fraud, and probably off his meds! How are you a King! Then the man said to me, I came into the world to be with you, to love you, to walk with you, to be in relationship with you, to show you a way to life no earthly king can give you. I came to build a kingdom in and through you.
Signs of relationship are built within us during a season which uses our emotions to sell us things we might not otherwise need. Think about it for a moment, all the adds right now talk about creating that perfect moment for those we love, right? That soft lighting, plush cozy sweaters, rich roaring fires, warm twinkling lights- it’s a perfect recipe for relationship.The season ahead of us paints the image of making moments that matter through the memories we purchase, only to discard the wrapping and content as quickly as we gathered it- straining both our budgets and our environment with tokens of our relationships. Yet today, we sit in the midst of the greatest love story ever told in the passion of Christ- perched at the edge of the magical and mysterious season of Advent. How weird to celebrate the image of a King, humiliated before the us, in a cultural season of regal splendor. For us as Christians, this duality of kingdoms is an important reminder of what it means for us to live, love, and follow who we belong to in the richness of a royal relationship because of what it directs our attention into. It directs us to a deeper relationship with Jesus.
Think about it for a moment, we are standing at the door of a new liturgical year, naming Jesus as King, which is both a political and spiritual statement. This feast is newer in our calendar, given to us by Pope Pius XI in 1925, to help refocus what relationships mean for Christians at the precipice of a new liturgical year. For generations we have written images of Jesus which are accustomed to our worldview, so the image of Jesus the King is often one wearing a gold crown and sumptuous robes because that’s what we think of when we say King or Queen, right? If we suddenly saw Queen Elizabeth opening Parliament in Ottawa wearing a tracksuit and Nike sneakers, it would look so strange. It's the same thing this morning as we hear from John about the interrogation of Jesus. We are desperate to know more about Jesus, this man who's been putting himself on par with the rulers and leaders of our time- which is risky business. In this section of John, we are immersed in the final moments of Christ’s life- he is being interrogated by Pilate. Jesus and Pilate stand before us as images of kingly authority, with very different purposes. Pilate is fear and control, while Jesus is freedom and life. Pilate is afraid of what Jesus represents, he is someone who is upsetting the balance of things- Jesus just wont fit in. Yet Jesus is so calm, even cheeky in his responses to Pilate isn't he? Johns whole point in his gospel is to show us the relationship we gain in following this King Jesus, by setting us apart from the systems of society. Systems that assume our acceptance, our involvement. Systems that hold us down, cast us out, remove our human dignity in the name of progress, money, and power. Systems that pay us differently depending on our gender. But this is the king we follow, the one who sits in the ditches with people. Eats with those society forgets. Heals the sick, clothes the naked. This is the king we follow, through which we taste and see the kingdom life all around us. But what do we do with any of it in our everyday lives? Seek first the kingdom of God with everything you are.
Life makes more sense when we know what box to play in, it's why we have laws and rules in society. Following this Jesus guy continues to be hard because he's constantly upending those laws and rules. It’s why the image of a stately king is so helpful, we know what to do with that. But when you bring in this dirty, shoe-less, servant king who smells like sheep, it gets a bit scary. Yet that's the point, Jesus comes to build up a kingdom, not covered in Gold to live in a marble palace but in the most important palace he can own- in you and I, in our lives bodies, minds, and actions. Unlike Rome, Jesus comes to us and shows us that there is room for everyone. In roman society, control meant an inside versus outside mentality. Rules kept you in or out, and if you broke the rules there was punishment- you were kicked out of community. In Jesus, this servant king, there is enough room for everyone. There is no in or out, there is only us, the children of God. Every single human being on this planet is a child of God. No matter their culture, economics, skin colour, sexual identity, gender, or any other label we use to separate each other- we are all God’s Children. We all belong in the kingdom.
The kingdom is about radically flipping the norms of society from laws into relationships, from isolation into community. This is not about rejecting the world for the Kingdom of God, we need laws to govern us, but it is about going beyond the laws to build just, rich, vibrant, and life giving relationships with one another. It’s about living into the fullness of what it means to be church today, as Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby says, “when the church is working, it is the most mind-bogglingly, amazingly, extraordinarily beautiful community on earth. It heals, it transforms, it loves, and it changes society.” When we work as agents of the kingdom of God in this world, we heal, transform and love society into change. And for us, this morning, this healing, transforming, and loving social change is given to us in the ultimate offering of Christ’s life for us in the Eucharist. We hear of Christ’s end to remind us of what our end is, that in our daily lives we are called to die to our sense of pride, ego, and self, in order to take on more and more the image of Christ in everything we do. To see as Christ sees us, as enough, as loved, as worthy, as belonging. But how do we live that?
We Live EucharisticallyIn the Eucharist we are given a foretaste of this kingdom relationship through the intimacy of how Jesus builds within us a relationship to heal, transform, love and change society because of our presence in it. So as we come again to the steps of our Kings throne, the cross, and stretch up our arms to receive him into ourselves in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, I invite us to bring with us those places we need, want, desire, to know and feel Christ’s presence in our lives. To bring our thanksgivings, and our sorrows, our joys and our doubts, to receive us within the presence of God which calls us into a new relationship with our communities and world. Today we celebrate our king, the king of relationships, which smells like the sheep, has no gold, and whose throne is a cross. Today we celebrate an invitation to take that relationship into the world and expand the kingdom to all.
Jesus is calling you and I to build up his Kingdom here and now.
How will you respond?