At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, Christ the King (B) – 2006

November 26, 2006

(RCL) 2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-13, (14-19) or Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37 

It is an extraordinary scene. Into the room swaggers the representative of the dominant nation on earth, wearing the uniform that spells power and authority. He probably sinks languidly onto his couch. As the local focus of Empire, this man is burdened with the daily responsibility of ruling probably the most difficult of the colonies. In most cases, whatever people believe, however they were once governed, there is no real conflict with the official propaganda of the Empire. Religion is local, personal, tribal, or an amalgam of many approaches to “the other.” One might be intellectual or uneducated. It doesn’t matter. Nothing much prevented the belief that the Empire was unique and special.

But here, in this small piece of geography, lives an unbending people. They believe that their destiny is to be agents of a God, an exclusive God, and that sooner or later that God is going to intervene, send the Empire packing, and establish a pure nation, with a pure religion, and with a pure law. These people are so sensitive that when they see the Empire’s standard in the streets, they go ballistic and shout about idolatry.

The colonial governor gazes at a strange figure. This man. They say his name is something like Joshua, or Jesus. He’s been up all night, after being arrested on the edge of town. This fellow has been dragged before a religious tribunal, peered at by the locally tolerated ruler, and now stands calmly. The religious authorities say that he has mortally offended their faith by claiming some unique kinship with God.

“Who cares?” thinks the governor. Religious fanatics can and do claim to be all sorts of things. They say he has stirred up the people. “We know how to deal with rabble rousers,” thinks the governor. Perhaps he needs a good beating, maybe a little torture to make him talk, and if that doesn’t work, there’s public execution.

“He says he is a king.” Now that’s interesting. Might give the local petty king something to sweat about. Whatever the man says, next to the power and might of the Empire, he is merely deluded.
“Are you the King of the Jews?”

“My kingdom is not from this world.”

That sounds safe enough. Religion has its place after all, as long as it isn’t involved in reality and people start applying religious beliefs to the problems of the real world. Yet Jesus had said some thing revolutionary. He said that his kingdom was not FROM this world.

After the execution, when this poor man was largely forgotten by the governor, his followers began to say that Jesus is Lord. That word “Lord” is roughly the same as “King,” and even more, as “Emperor.” The time would come when Christians challenged the Empire, not with armies or political theory, but with the simple idea that God’s kingdom was now here and that Jesus is Lord.

At the Eucharist we pray: “In the fullness of time put all things in subjection under your Christ.” “Christ” also means “king.” At Evening Prayer we ask that the whole world will praise God, all nations obey God, all tongues confess and bless God, and that “men and women everywhere love and serve God in peace.”

What does this mean? Such an agenda for an Empire means using power to enforce peace. It often means using economic, social, political, or military strength to make people into Empire folk. The Church has tried such methods. Those have been the worst moments in its history.

The key lies in the word “power.” Jesus’ power from God, his kingdom from above is a kingdom of weakness. He has committed the kingdom to weak people. Our only weapons are love, compassion, self-sacrifice, and mercy. As that mysterious passage from Revelation reminds us, we have been called into the kingdom as priests.

“To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Priests serve for God to the whole world and for the whole world to God. Priests are not armed.

Jesus the King still stands before the rulers and powerful of this world. He holds in his pierced hands, the poor, the starving, the unwanted, the abused, those shunned by important people. He holds up the suffering and he IS the suffering. And we are his agents, who have benefited from his mercy and who now are merciful, forgiving, caring people set aside by Baptism, not to personal religion, but to be agents of God’s kingdom.

And that is why we shout “At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow.”

 

— The Very Rev. Anthony F.M. Clavier, who has most recently served in France in the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, has returned to the United States and is interim rector of St. Thomas a Becket Episcopal Church in Morgantown, West Virginia. 

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