Posts Tagged 'kingship'

For Nov. 24, 2013: Last Sunday in Pentecost, Year C

The last Sunday in Pentecost is also known as Christ the King Sunday, and the lections for the day reflect this.

The Reading            Jeremiah 23:1-6

The English word “jeremiad” is based on the prophecies of Jeremiah, most of which are bitter denunciations of bad behavior that leads to bad results for Israel. Today’s reading starts out that way, as bad shepherds are called to account—but then, behold: God announces something new.

The Response            Psalm 46

“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.”

The Epistle            Colossians 1:11-20

In the first century A.D., the little church at Colossae in western Turkey bubbled over with theories about angels and other supernatural powers and with questions about the nature of Jesus. This Sunday’s passage explains in terms that are reminiscent of our Nicene Creed: Jesus is God’s firstborn and God’s champion on our behalf.

The Gospel            Luke 23:33-43

“‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him.”

 

Further thoughts

What does “king” mean, and how does that change when it’s predicated of the Son of God?

That the rights of kingship are easily abused is an article of faith in the US; we vacillate between being skeptical of kinglike figures and adulating them. Sports and entertainment stars loom like kings in terms of the attention they attract and the cultural influence they have. Billionaire owners or executives of big corporations won’t draw thousands to a concert, but they are kingpins or kingmakers whose riches buy them political clout equal to hundreds of thousands. It is prudent to assume that any human with great power can and will do whatever he chooses, whenever he chooses. Thoughtless or even evil acts are not entirely unchallengeable, but we recognize that the process is likely to bring the challenger humiliation and pain and possibly defeat.

Some lore of kingship goes in a very different direction, however. In most of the ancient world, the king was consort of the land itself, personally responsible for it; if his health declined, its health did too, and his individual virtue was embodied in its fertility. The touch of a true king could even heal diseases. This is power exerted to serve, and it is reflected in Jeremiah’s vision of the coming Davidic king as a righteous shepherd of his people. We understand this as real leadership: using the power at one’s disposal to do right.

The epistle depicts Jesus as infinitely more powerful than any earthly king. Because Jesus is also depicted as infinitely more good, he can be expected to do right—but when he seems to fail to intervene in stopping this natural disaster or illness or that madman with a machine gun, we feel devastated and deserted.

Then there’s the vision of kingship that the gospel gives us. Hanging on a cross. In unspeakable humiliation and agony. Verbally and physically abused for being who he can’t help being. Wrongly accused by ignoramuses whose hate-filled faces look unsettlingly like our own. Taking it and taking it, all of it.

Why doesn’t this King teach these wretches a lesson?

Because he is teaching them and us a greater lesson: to love as he loves, not because he makes us but because it’s what the world needs.

And that is what it means to reign as the Son of God.

 

For March 24, 2013: Palm Sunday, Year C

The Liturgy of the Palms

The Gospel            Luke 19:28-40

Proceeding into Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey is a little bit like riding to one’s presidential inaugural on a mountain bike. What kind of king is this, anyway?

The Psalm            Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

The Liturgy of the Word

The Reading            Isaiah 50:4-9a

Chapters 40 to 56 of the book of Isaiah, written during the exile of God’s people in Babylon, contain four poems called “songs of the suffering servant”. The third of these is today’s reading. The identity of the speaker is unclear, though the fortitude and obedience expressed here cannot help but remind us of Jesus on Good Friday.

The Response            Psalm 31:9-16

The Epistle            Philippians 2:5-11

The reading from Isaiah anticipates today’s Gospel with its rendering of Jesus’ suffering and death at hands like ours. Today’s Epistle reading places the Passion in context: this luminous passage, one of the earliest hymns of the Church, tells of the very Son of God shucking off power and glory to take on human flesh, to serve, to die for all, and to rise to unimaginable greatness.

The Gospel            Luke 22:14-23:56

What kind of king, indeed? Listen and look, and weep.

 

Further thoughts

The Palm Sunday readings are almost identical from one year to the next in the three-year Revised Common Lectionary of the Episcopal Church. Outside in the courtyard or the prayer garden, blessing the palms that will be burned for next Ash Wednesday, we recite Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29. Once in church, the Old Testament lesson is always Isaiah 50:4-9a, with its mix of resignation and determination; the psalm is always Psalm 31:9-16, with terror followed by hope; the epistle is always the incandescent Philippians 2:5-11. Only the pairs of gospels change, cycling through the longer or briefer stories of Jesus’ humble yet triumphant entry into Jerusalem of Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16, or this year’s Luke 19:28-4 with the palms and the variously heartrending Passion accounts of Matthew 26:14- 27:66, Mark 14:1-15:47, and this year’s Luke 22:14-23:56 at the Eucharist.

This near-identity stands in marked contrast to the situation on most Sundays—when all the psalms and readings vary, Year A to Year B to Year C—and that on the handful of days on which the readings are exactly the same no matter which liturgical year it is. Good Friday, one of that handful of days, features the Passion account of John 18:1-19:42.

These are big enough similarities to be intentional. Each of the sets of gospel accounts, while grounded firmly in the history of our inclusion in God’s people and in the glorious outcome, takes a different perspective on this week of hopes horribly dashed only to be fulfilled beyond expectation. The version in the book of Luke keeps Judas off-camera while relating a positive interaction between Jesus and one of the two thieves, and in giving no voices in Pilate’s ears to counter those of the priests and the crowd, it shows us an administrator whose resistance to condemning Jesus is perhaps a bit more his own. These shifts in emphasis are consistent with Luke’s focus on forgiveness and outreach to gentiles. Embedding Luke’s gospel in the Palm Sunday matrix may serve, among other things, to honor even the most stumbling path to Calvary and beyond—whether it’s another’s or our own.

For Nov. 25, 2012: Christ the King/The Reign of Christ, Year B

The Reading            Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

In 165 BC, the very existence of Judaism was threatened. The Book of Daniel, written in response, contains an early example of apocalypse, or writing about the end times. Today’s reading tells a vision of a judgment scene presided over by a dazzling Ancient One—the Ancient of Days, in older translations. The court gives a grant of everlasting kingship and glory to someone like a human being. Listen for echoes of this in the second reading.

The Response            Psalm 93

The Epistle            Revelation 1:4b-8

The reading from Daniel related a vision of awesome judgment and the commissioning of one like a human being as eternal king. The book of Revelation, written at the end of the first century AD, is both a letter and another apocalypse. Today’s reading is from the beginning of the book; it sounds a theme like that in Daniel, but now the “one like a human being” is named—as Jesus Christ who loves us.

The Gospel            John 18:33-37

 

Further thoughts

On Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate both the end of the Pentecost season and the dominion of Jesus Christ over (as the book of Daniel puts it) “all peoples, nations, and languages”: this formulaic phrase is clearly intended to include absolutely everybody, whether by association, birth, or culture.  The book of Daniel foresees one like a human being to whom this dominion—this power—is given; we Christians naturally assume that Jesus the Son of Man is intended. The reading from Revelation names the one who comes in the clouds as Jesus but otherwise paints a similar picture: Jesus is coming in glory and judgment and, crucially, power. Revelation specifies that on his account all the tribes will wail, and that makes sense given what we think we know of the way power works.

In the gospel, however, the picture is different. Jesus who was and is and is to come stands before the local representative of the great Roman Empire. Pilate, like the rest of us, knows what powerlessness looks like and he knows what power looks like—but Jesus looks like… well, Jesus: if an ordinary man under accusation, then remarkably unshaken before the Roman who can quite easily order him crucified; if a king, then disturbingly unconcerned with the familiar trappings and prerogatives of power.

So just what kind of king is this, anyway?

The kind of king who attends to the despised and broken-hearted. The kind of king who performs astonishing healings and forbids the word to spread. The kind of king who declines to be stampeded by society into condemning obviously guilty women. The kind of king who washes his inferiors’ feet. The kind of king who undertakes to die to save the very people who are out to kill him and yet whom not even death can vanquish.

And if Jesus so breaks the mold when it comes to kingship, what must it mean for our place in his kingdom that he calls us not subjects but brothers and sisters and partners in bringing God’s love to the world?


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