SASK Christ as King 9.30am 24 November 2019
Readings: Psalm 46 and Colossians 1. 11-20.
Close your eyes?
Please close your eyes for a minute or two?
I want you to bring to mind your favourite picture of Jesus Christ…
Can you picture his hair its texture and shade, his eyes, their colour, his hands and the rest of his skin?
Is he an adult or a baby? Is he walking our talking?
Let us clarify your picture of Christ.
What is he wearing? If a baby or child where do you see him? If an adult is he working as a carpenter?
Teaching by a lakeside, healing a woman who grabs at the hem of his tunic. Is he joyful eating and drinking with friends at a table with bread and wine to the fore? Is he sad under pressure, suffering? Just clarify your picture of the Son of Man.
Does your picture include a cross or an empty tomb? Is Jesus in heaven?
Whatever you picture I want you to try to remember it, for it is important, no one else has exactly your picture so look at it carefully and then you can reflect on it again at the end of this sermon?
This is Christ the King Sunday, it is the last Sunday of the Christian year and we are invited to look again at how we view Christ as our King. I honestly think this is both revealing and helpful, just remember your picture. I will help you see how one particular image was constructed and why?
I want look at the story of power in Christianity.
For the first few centuries in Christianity, a non-violent Christ was worshipped and followed by believers. Jesus was king, but a king utterly other than the kind of authority exhibited by the Roman Emperor, or regional kings and governors. During this springtime of Christianity, the most popular artistic representations of Christ were as the crucified One, the Good Shepherd, and sometimes the plain man on the mount of Transfiguration, glowing with the radiance of God.
It was a period when Christians were given a hard time under successive waves of persecution. But they did not resist arrest or form terrorist brigades to fight back. Generally, they tried to obey Roman laws except when those laws conflicted with their first allegiance to their king, Jesus.
People presenting for baptism were carefully sifted. Those in professions of violence found it hard to become members of the church. Some men who were already in the army were admitted under strict conditions. But those not already enlisted, could not first be a Christian and then proceed to join the army.
Listen to some restrictions contained in a document called “The Apostolic Tradition” written around the period of 200 AD. for those asking for baptism.
If a man is a charioteer, a wrestler, or attends wrestling matches, let him either give it up or be sent away.
If he is a gladiator or teaches gladiators to fight, or is a beast fighter, or he is an official who organises gladiatorial games, let him give it up or be sent away.
A man who is a civil magistrate with the power of the sword, one who wears the purple, must either give up his position or be sent away.
Those early Christians worshipped a non-violent King; a Son of God who would not use physical power against another but chose the way of humility and mercy. To be a citizen of Christ’s new kingdom meant to be a non-violent person in the midst of an extremely violent society.
Things were to change.
In a bloody contest for the throne of the Roman Empire, Constantine emerged as the likely winner in the year 312 and the sole Emperor in 323. During his military campaigns he embraced a deviant form of Christianity and his soldiers were treated as if they were warriors of God.
Christianity by Imperial decree was soon made the state religion. Earthly power was linked with Christ’s power.
Soon the clergy of the church were given legal authority.
Priests became magistrates wearing the Roman robe and stole of office.
Bishops became high court judges with the robe, head gear,
golden ring and throne which went with the office.
In art, the form of Jesus as the crucified criminal, or as the gentle good shepherd, is replaced by Jesus as an Emperor on a jewel encrusted throne, seated on the Emperor’s purple cushion, surrounded by the high officials of state. Jesus the king is now the supreme commander of the legions of heaven, who was gathering his army for a final assault on the wicked unbelievers on earth.
The kingship of Jesus had been high-jacked, and perverted by worldly wise concepts.
Much of that which started in the era of Constantine, has carried down the centuries. In the art of Italy, Spain, France, Germany and England, Jesus was often portrayed as an august, formidable man of supreme power, to be greatly feared. In some cases, even the facial characteristics of certain monarchs were transferred by fearful court artists on to the features of Christ the King.
Jesus becomes an unapproachable power freak who was coming on the clouds of glory to conquer the world and put right what had not happened in the first coming. (Incidentally, as Jesus became more Imperial, Mary became increasingly the subject of devotion from common people.)
Tragically, Jesus the non-violent, merciful, power-renouncing person was largely forgotten. He survived in a few sub groups of the church. For example, with the Quakers. But on the whole, the Christ-King of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant, was nothing like the man who died on a cross.
Today is the festival of Christ the King. We give Jesus our complete allegiance. But which kind of King will we be worshipping?
It is said that we grow like the thing we worship. What do we worship?
The Gospel for today takes us back to the centrality of the cross, to that person of supreme love who even forgave those who killed him. Above the cross was a notice board which was meant to be ironic humour: JESUS; KING OF THE JEWS . For us it is surely the very heart of the truth.
The real power which rules this universe is long-suffering love. Love rules. Ultimately (for love is a slow process compared with armies) love will be the only power than remains in heaven and earth. Love is the only King to which we must all one day give account.
Our King has not changed. He who says “Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” does NOT turn into a tyrant who yells: “Come and prostrate yourself before me or I will stomp on you!”
What does the Bible tell us? “Jesus Christ, the same today, yesterday and forever.”
According to Luke, when the risen Christ is taken up into heaven, angels comfort the disciples with the words: “This same Jesus will come again.”
Our King remains the one with the crown of thorns. Who welcomes sinners and eats with them.
The final power and authority which outlasts, outlives and out-celebrates everything else, is LOVE!
If we worship this King, cling to him as to no other, spend time in his company, then by his grace we be drawn nearer and nearer our own true destiny and hasten the day when violence and war will be no more. The love of God in Christ Jesus will be all in all. Is it not our great privilege to work towards that day with the saints through the ages. Amen