On the ecclesiastical calendar, today is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. The liturgical year is, of course, different from the secular calendar year. The liturgical year begins with Advent, the time we set aside for reflection about the coming of Christ. Advent is followed by Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. Interspersed periodically is what we designate as “Ordinary Time,” those times we remember the work of God and the life and ministry of Jesus apart from special times of celebration. So we travel from the Jesus’s miraculous birth to his death and resurrection, with all the appropriate stops in between and even beyond, and culminate the journey with our most basic affirmation of faith: Jesus Christ is Lord!
Christ the King Sunday is also known in some churches as the Reign of Christ Sunday. Either way, something very powerful is being said. “King,” “kingdom,” “reign” – these are all highly charged political words. They say something about power: who has it, and conversely, who does not.
But, let’s think about the theological implication first. Jesus asked to Simon, “Who do you say that I am?” He answered, “You are the Messiah (from the Hebrew), [or] the Christ (the Greek equivalent of Messiah), the Son of the living God.”
Believe it or not, I have met a few people who thought that Jesus is his first name and CHRIST is Jesus’ surname. No, it’s not. It is a title. It indicates “the anointed one” – someone set apart for God’s service. In the Old Testament, the title was regularly applied to the king. By the time of Jesus, the Jewish people were looking for a Messiah, a Christ, to come who would lead them in victory against their oppressors, a conquering hero who would overthrow the hated Romans. As soon became evident, this was not God’s intention in Jesus. For those who had their hopes pinned on a military Messiah, this was a devastating blow. Indeed, some have speculated that this was Judas’ problem – once he found out that his dream of conquest was over, he bolted ranks. And the rest of the story we know very well.
Jesus was betrayed by those he trusted, abandoned by those he loved. He was crucified by Roman soldiers. But we know the story does not end there. And that is why we culminate the Christian year with Christ the King Sunday. This is the day that we can rock the rafters of the universe with our declaration that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!!!
LORD. What does the name mean? To the ancients it meant master or owner and was always a title of consummate respect. In Roman era, a master owned many slaves. If a master was not satisfied with his slave’s service, he could even kill his slave and that’s ok, because a slave’s life belonged to his or her master. And these slaves call their master as “my lord,” that really meant “Lord of my life” – You are the owner of my life. I am not saying we are slaves of our Lord. I am trying to explain the concept of Lord. In the modern world, to call Jesus “Lord” is to say he is the chief, the boss, the highest authority. The buck stops with him; his decisions are final.
Jesus Christ is Lord! These four words were the first creed that the Christian Church ever had. To be a Christian then and to be a Christian now is to make that affirmation. If someone can say, “For me, Jesus Christ is Lord,” that person is a Christian. If we say that “Jesus Christ is Lord,” it means that, for us, Jesus Christ is uniquely in charge – we are prepared to obediently follow in whatever direction the Lord chooses to lead. If we say, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” that means his priorities will become our priorities.
If we say, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” we will take religion seriously – we will worship, we will fellowship, we will pray, we will even sacrifice…just as Jesus did, and we will never let religion become an end in itself; it must never get in the way of people. If we say, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” it means we are prepared to give to Jesus a love and a loyalty that will be given to no other person in all universe.
We declare today that Jesus is Lord. But, my friends, it is still valid when 6 million were murdered in Auschwitz concentration camps? Is it still valid in the post 9-11 world? Published in March, 2015, a study conducted by a team that included some Nobel Prize winners, determined that 2 million people have died as a result of war since Sept.11, 2001. Even today, people are still killing one another in Syria, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan and so on. According to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the total number of refugees is 68.5 million worldwide. This equates to 44,500 a day and brings the biggest single-year increase in the history.
Prophet Isaiah lived about 2,700 years before us, but it seems to me that he was talking about contemporary problems. Isaiah 59:6-8 reads: “…Their deeds are evil deeds, and acts of violence are in their hands. Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways. The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks in them will know peace”
Is it still valid? Can we still declare today, in the post-911 world, that Jesus is Lord?
Can we still say that Christ is still in charge under Trump presidency? Can we still declare that Jesus is Lord? The Reign of Christ? Is it still valid?
In our Gospel lesson today, Pilate questioned Jesus before his crucifixion, asking if he was a King. The Kingship and the Kingdom that Jesus represented are so radically different from the kingdoms of this world that Jesus had difficulty getting Pilate to understand. Jesus does not deny that He is a King, but informs Pilate that his Kingdom does not find its source of authority in human self-determination or military might. No, Jesus’ Kingdom has authority and timelessness to it because it rests upon the ultimate truth. This truth abides in the nature of God and God’s relationship to all God has created.
Jesus rules over us by virtue of his very nature, not because he has been elected by electoral vote or popular vote! Indeed, in the closest thing Jesus came to standing before the people for a vote, he was one-sidedly defeated by Barabbas! No, Jesus does not need you or I to vote for him, acknowledge him, or invite his Lordship over all of Creation.
The Greek letters Alpha (which is the first in the Greek alphabet) and Omega (the last of the Greek alphabet) are from Revelation 1:8 and 22:13, and are symbolic of Jesus. Jesus came once as the suffering servant and will come again as the triumphant king. The Alpha and Omega also symbolize the continuity of God’s presence throughout all of human history.
In the closing chapter of the Bible, Jesus speaks these words: “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:12-13). Here, Jesus speaks not only as One who is “Lord of lords” and “King of kings,” but as a friend who wishes to walk all of life’s path WITH us. He wants to be as a critical part of our personal histories as He has been to human history.
Last week, I heard someone said on TV that “Everything will be good in the end; if it’s not good, it’s not the end.” We can keep moving into the unknown future, because we know the one who knows the future – our Alpha and Omega.
If you think about it, our life and faith is lived out in time and space between the final passages of Acts and the images given to John who wrote the Revelation on the island of Patmos that give us the closing chapter of time. We live between the two advents of Jesus – his birth in Bethlehem, and his return to make “all things new.” We can, in a very real sense, turn to the final chapter of the book and see how the story turns out. God wins. Sin, death, and the grave… they all lose.
As Alpha and Omega, Jesus is at the beginning and the end of the story at the same time. Therefore, even such a time as this, we can rest in his care and rely on God’s dominion. And this is good news, indeed! Amen.