“Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in thy well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Collect of the Day)
The Christian life is founded, sustained, and brought to perfection through the revelation of Jesus Christ. Over and against our mortal desires and fears, stands the revelation of the life and death, and the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The revelation of Jesus Christ is, indeed, our life—for Jesus is revealed as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
The Church’s worship on this day—which is the Last Sunday after Pentecost—bears witness to this truth, under the sign of the other designation for this day—the Feast of Christ the King. We have already heard of this sign in the Collect of the Day, “Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in thy well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords.” The titles “well-beloved Son,” “King of kings,” and “Lord of lords” refer, precisely, to that Jesus Christ who is the very revelation of God—the revelation of the Christian life. And today we focus our worship on the one title: “The King of kings.”
But in doing so, we are thrown up against a question: How does the title “King of kings” serve as a sign for the revelation of God in Jesus Christ? The answer is a bit more complex that we might first imagine. We cannot simply make one short, concise statement and say that we have exhausted the subject. Rather, the revelation of God in Jesus Christ comes to us primarily through the Holy Scriptures, but not in the form of a simple, declarative statement. I would liken the process more to a play or drama, that comes to us through a series of “scenes” or “acts,” unfolding as the play progresses and develops.
Because of this, we can’t watch just one scene and then say we’ve grasped the heart of the matter. Rather we must sit through the whole play, absorbing what each scene has to tell us about the matter as a whole.
I would propose that this play—which we might call “The Play of Jesus-as-King”—has at least three scenes, numbered as follows: Scene 1 is the Passion and Death of Jesus; Scene 2 is the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus; and Scene 3 is the Spirit-filled interpretation of the previous two scenes, represented for us this morning in the first chapter the Letter to the Colossians. So, very briefly…
Scene 1 is from the gospel account of the Passion and Death of Jesus. What account of a “King” do we find there? A rather odd one, to say the least! The scene is set on a mountain called “The Skull,” which does not bode well. Our King—Jesus—is crucified on a cross along with two common criminals, one of whom taunts and ridicules Jesus. Jesus’ “people” stand by as a helpless audience, powerless to do anything. The religious rulers make sport of Jesus and mock him: “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God—God’s Chosen One!” And the Roman soldiers who carried out the crucifixion taunt him unmercifully: “If you are the King of the Jews, [then] save yourself!” If we are honest, Scene 1 gives us no hint, in and of itself, that Jesus is “King,” the revelation of God in the world. At best, we seem to have a story of a pretender to the throne who failed miserably.
But don’t leave yet—for in Scene 2 we have the Gospel-account of the Resurrection and Ascension of this crucified one to the right hand of God in heaven. I will not spend time sketching out the action of this scene; rather, I will say that having watched Scene 2, the whole trajectory of the plot has changed. It is no small thing that in the liturgy for the making of a king, that the-king-to-be is both “raised up” and “seated” on the throne of kingship, which is precisely the story told by the accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension in Scene 2.
And yet, the play is not completed by Scene 2, for we still have the need to interpret what we’ve seen in the first two scenes. And this is precisely what today’s reading from Colossians does for us; and this constitutes Scene 3.
The first chapter of Colossians is breath-taking in its witness to the meaning of Jesus Christ as King—the Christ who suffered and died, and the Christ who was raised from the dead and has ascended into heaven. Each phrase of this chapter could be the text for an entire sermon. I picture this Scene as a single figure, standing alone in the darkness at center stage with a focused spotlight on him, very quietly sharing with us the wisdom of the ages—in this case, the wisdom of Jesus Christ as the revelation of God under the sign of “King.” Listen to a sampling of what he says:
Jesus-as-King is the visible image of the invisible God—the one in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell bodily.
Jesus-as-King is “before” all created things in time and in pre-eminence because he is also the one “in” whom all things were created and “in” whom all created things hold together.
Jesus-as-King has delivered us—through his passion and death, and through his resurrection and ascension—out of “the dominion of darkness” and has “transferred” us into the kingdom of which he is the King. This is what we mean by the term “redemption.”
Jesus-as-King reigns in this kingdom both as its “head” and as “the first-born from the dead”—the inclusive image of all the redeemed.
And finally, Jesus-as-King is the peacemaker, for by the blood of his cross—his Passion and Death—he has reconciled us to God.
In truth we exit this play of “Jesus-as-King”—if we have seriously engaged with it—gripped by the stupendous paradox of Jesus Christ as the revealer of God. In this play Jesus is not defined by our definition of the term “King”; rather, Jesus—as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnate Word of God—has defined the meaning of “King” for us. And in the revelation of Jesus-as-King we find the revelation of God Himself.
Jesus-as-King is the epitome of power; but it is not the power of the tyrant who lives for himself; it is power wrought from the most profound act of self-giving, self-sacrifice, and love—his Passion and Death. It is not the power authenticated by virtue of self-aggrandizement and self-importance, but by virtue of his Resurrection and Ascension in the love of God the Father and the Holy Spirit.
And the most profound aspect of all is that this Jesus-as-King is King pro nobis—King for us! And as such, Jesus reveals the ultimate nature and will of God to redeem us, to reconcile us, and to make us his sons and daughters who can participate in His life of joy and glory.
It is the Feast of Christ the King—come, let us worship the King!