Rain is falling. Yahtzee is staring me down, angered by Cocoa’s theft of a particular blanket, he demands a redress of grievances. And I ignore him to read headlines about “homecoming” this, that, and the other. Right now the Monkees are prophets, who fulfill these words in me, ” O’ I could hide ‘neath the wings of the bluebird as she sings, the six o’ clock alarm would never ring. But it rings and I rise wipe the sleep out of my eyes, the shaving razor’s cold and it stings.”
The day began a few hours ago and it brought again my routine struggle to have no expectations, to receive the day as it comes, to move gently among others, and to push back evil at work in the world. I will strike blows against evil using notecards, stationary, stamps, crayons, magic markers, and social media. Too many people think the weapons of a cleric are ancient texts, sacraments, vestments, holy oils, and some keen-above-average connection to God. Too many liken clergy to Merlin, or better yet, Gandalf. Both I admire, and the words of one of those venerable wizards nails what clergy life ought to be looking like if done in the image of Christ the King: “I’ve found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love.” Clergy and laity alike push back the darkness through “everyday deeds—acts of kindness and love.” That way of dealing with evil is the way of the Christ. That pattern is the way of Christ the King.
Any preaching done this Sunday that presents a Christ after the pattern of the Caesars, the Tudors, the Stewarts, the Japanese emperors, or a U.S. president has mischaracterized Christ. Any person or hymn that presents Jesus as some king bedecked with jewels and seated on a golden lion’s head throne has projected human ideas of prestige, glory, power, and envy on to Jesus.
John 18:33-37 shows Jesus in the center of the crowd holding court. John 19: 16-30 shows Jesus high and lifted up above all others. That IS Christ the King—behold him!
His courtly retinue is his trial. His coronation rite is a hilltop event. His exaltation is death, not the low life taken while seated enthroned, but the high life given while hanged from a tree.
Jesus pushed back evil through the commonest act of ordinary folk—our death. One thing we will all do is die. One thing we will all do is fight death to live. Dying to live or living to die—it comes down to that reality for ordinary folk.
Yes—that’s our shaving razor and does its cold blade ever sting. Not one stone of us will be left standing upon stone. And death’s razor sharp blade will slice us with one cold stroke after another until we are whittled into dust and bits.
That’s the reality of Christ the King. He is Christ the King of the Universe, but his kingship will not come to us as Conan came to his throne. His reign comes not from throne but from a cross—from death’s doorstep he hangs. And in his kingdom all causes of evil will be set in their proper place, death and hell will find themselves ordered by the power of their God, and the feeding of the 5000 miracle will look like a box of Cracker Jacks in comparison to the Lamb’s feast—where none will be hungry, where the world’s systems will be turned to serve rather than to enslave, where darkness itself will be made whole in the presence of her Christ. Even our bits and dust whittled down by death’s razor will live again at the command of her King.
Jesus the Christ is an altogether different kind of king. And amidst all the hymns heralding his coming in florid language of diadems, and in polished tones of highest melody, one hymn rightly honors her king by asking what any human would rightly ask its king: “O Christ, What Can it Mean for Us?”
O Christ, what can it mean for us to claim you as our king? What royal face have you revealed whose praise the church would sing? Aspiring not to glory’s height, to power, wealth, and fame, you walked a diff’rent, lowly way, another’s will your aim.
You came, the image of our God, to heal and to forgive, to shed your blood for sinners’ sake that we might rise and live. To break the law of death you came, the law of love to bring: a diff’rent rule of righteousness, a diff’rent kind of king.
Though some would make their greatness felt and lord it over all, you said the first must be the last and service be our call. O Christ, in workplace, church, and home, let none to power cling; for still, through us, you come to serve, a diff’rent kind of king.
You chose a humble human form and shunned the world’s renown; you died for us upon a cross with thorns your only crown. But still, beyond the span of years, our glad hosannas ring, for now at God’s right hand you reign, a diff’rent kind of king!*
A king of everyday deeds and simple ways; a king we’d love to see in our homecoming court. Wow!
Despite our expectations—that’s the king for whom creation yearns. That’s the king who can speak to immigration issues, addiction, violence, and scarcity. That’s the king we’d ought to proclaim.
Proclaim this Jesus and you have claimed the king exalted in John 18. Claim some other king; one flashy, show-offy, vitriolic, Trump-like and you can know that you might have gained Conan but you have missed the Jesus of John 18—and you will come to know the cold shaving razor, and you can know that it will sting.
*Delores Dufner, OSB, b. 1939, © 2001, 2003 GIA Publications