Revelation 1:4b-8 & John 18:33-37

Christ the King Sunday

A reflection by Dan Spragg

In 1925, Pope Pius XI, instituted the Feast of Christ the King Sunday as part of the Western LIturgical calendar in response to what he perceived was rising secularism and nationalism in the church. This relatively new addition to the church calendar was to serve as a reminder to the church that Christ was the ultimate King and ruler over the universe and all that is within it. Christ is the ultimate authority on all things. It made its way into the traditions of the other mainline churches and so those of us who (mostly) follow the church year and seasons through the lectionary have it arriving on our doorsteps on this, the last Sunday before Advent. Because of this timing, it has taken on a forward facing element. We begin with Christ the King and then over the weeks of advent as we lead into Christmas we explore and celebrate the coming of Christ to us and the anticipation of Christ’s return, or as I am liking more and more to say, we anticipate Christ’s continual and always coming to us.

It’s quite a thing to say, that Christ is King. The royal language and all it implies is increasingly foreign to us. There is something in it which grates against our ideals of democracy and individual autonomy. It’s hard to interpret and hard to put into action which usually means that we either ignore it or it is practised in its extremes. The example I heard of once was someone who wouldn’t put on a pair of socks until they had heard from God which pair they were to wear that day! We might laugh at that but it is possible to get there when there hasn’t been some good thought put into the implications of these sorts of things.

I wonder if part of the problem in understanding what on earth this Christ the King statement implies is that there is often a two part view of the world in play. The natural world is separate from the spiritual world. The sacred order is separate from the secular world. Things are seen in a dualistic manner which most often ends up in things being either/or – good or bad. And that, most often ends up with the spiritual, the sacred, the ‘God’ stuff being good and the natural, the secular, the ‘not God’ stuff being bad. This then translates into questions of trust – where anything that isn’t directly from God – however you determine that – is inherently bad and therefore not to be trusted!

Today I would like to have a go at offering a different, hopefully a more hopeful, less dire, more helpful way for us to integrate a sense of Christ the King into our lives. To do that I’m going to offer a couple of ‘what if?’ statements. These ‘what ifs?’ aren’t a new idea. I’ve most likely talked about them before. We sang them earlier today with the song, ‘Christ before me’ – a song based on St Patrick’s breastplate. Indeed the ‘what if’ reveals my Celtic leanings when it comes to spirituality. Here they are: What if Christ is present in all things? And, what if Christ is also outside of all things – as in not dependent on things in order to be present. This is the sense that I get from the reading from Revelation 1 today. “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come…” and, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come…” What I think these ‘what ifs’ offer is a perspective that is more marked by a both/and approach as opposed to an either/or. And, in a world of what seems to be increasing either/or polarisations on all sorts of fronts we need to be able to imagine the both/and for all our sakes.

So, let’s assume that God is in and also beyond all things. And then, as Revelation also says, Jesus Christ is the witness to that. As we’ve said many times, in Jesus, God has a name and a face. Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection stands as a witness pointing to something far greater than him and we as Christians belong to this thing that is far greater. We who listen to Jesus’ voice belong to the truth (from John 18:37). As we follow Jesus, we in turn are to bear witness to this larger way, that God is present, in and with and beyond. Jesus calls us to live as people of ‘The Kingdom’. The Kingdom that is not of this world – which is not an introduction of another dualism – that there is ‘the world’ and ‘the kingdom’ but rather that in following Jesus and pointing to the larger more spacious way of God there is a distinction from the various sources of power and control which seek to rule by way of dominance, corruption, violence and economic exploitation. These as we know are ways in the world that need to be confronted and a different way encouraged.

God is present in and beyond all things. And we are to follow the witness of Jesus and bear witness ourselves to this larger and more spacious way of God. To bear witness is a way of integrating Christ as King into our living. The way of God seen in Jesus, is this what serves as our guide? What do we default to? These are challenging questions. As guideposts, as waymarkers, what do we default to? To whether something feels good or not? To whether our comfort levels will be affected or not? To Science? To best accounting practices? What serves as our compass? Now, if I was an either/or thinker I would say for example, that science and faith were incompatible. That faith had no place in dealing with accounts and budgets for example. But, I’m not, and so we do not discount scientific knowledge, wisdom and practice nor do we discount best practice across the board for if God is present in and beyond all things then we must in gratitude make use of the knowledge and skills we have amongst us. The question becomes much larger than simply is this thing good or bad. The question becomes, as we follow the witness of Jesus and bear witness to God’s way in our own lives, what is our rule of life?

As we approach the season of Advent we might say that our rule of life is to be marked by love, joy, peace, hope and faith. As far as I can see they can find their way into all sorts of spaces. This framework of thinking is needed now more than ever in our world. Under stress humans default to their defaults and we are seeing quite enough of the strange spaces people allow themselves to go. If my guideposts are marked by either/or thinking then it’s not hard to imagine that I would get to a place where if I didn’t think God was telling me to follow those in the health profession who know far more than I do then I wouldn’t do what they said. Or, it’s not hard to imagine in an either/or frame of mind that if Christ is King then the Government certainly can’t tell me what to do. Would you agree with me though, we need the opposite, we need the both/and? When we facing difficult and stressful situations, when we are facing questions of how we are to operate, when we are facing questions that impact the future of our church, we need to be guided by the message and mission that Jesus has called us to, the truth of God’s way – love, joy, peace, hope, faith.

Recently a Pastor working in a small town near Seattle, America, wrote a great little article titled, ‘What does your faith exempt you from?’[1] He wrote this article in response to a number of people who had cited ‘religious exemption’ being the reason they weren’t wearing masks or following public health guidelines during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the article he says this: Here’s what faith tells us we are exempt from: as people of faith we are exempt from, Putting my wants above the needs of others… Claiming my freedom in Christ as liberty to act without responsibility… Refusing to protect the most vulnerable in our midst…  

What does saying ‘Christ the King’ mean? Well this seems like a good example! God is in and beyond all things and so I choose to live and act in harmony with this.

Christ is King and Lord of all. Which means we can expect to see God present in and with all things. And it means that while God is present, God is not reliant on things to be present. All of which gives us hope. The world does not exist in the either/or frame of good and bad but rather in the far more spacious arena of a God who is actually present and active in all the details of our lives, yet who exists as something more that calls us into that ‘more’ each and every day. Because the way of God is the truth of love, hope, joy, peace, and faith we have the waymarkers of the road we are to walk which allows us our freedom but doesn’t abdicate us from our responsibility, nor does it prevent us from using our intellect and our hearts as we navigate all that we come across.

All this to say that we can choose whatever socks we want to wear on whatever day we want to wear them! And, we can trust as we follow the witness of Jesus using the best knowledge and skills that we have available to us that God is present and life abundant is the message and mission we are always and forever called to where we find ourselves amongst our communities. 


[1] You can read the full article here – https://www.courierherald.com/life/what-does-your-faith-exempt-you-from-church-corner/