Reflections on Christ the King

Each week, Moravians across the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean share a common message through their Sunday bulletins. This month, we share insights written for Christ the King Sunday, celebrated on the last Sunday before Advent. Thanks to writers past and present for their contributions to the Moravian bulletin series.

 

Jesus the Chief Elder and Christ the King

Otto Dreydoppel, chaplain, Moravian Hall Square, Nazareth, Pennsylvania
November 24, 2019

I suspect that I am not the only Moravian pastor who has trouble knowing where to go in preaching on Christ the King Sunday.

After all, we celebrated the Festival of Christ the Chief Elder only two weeks ago, and many of the same themes are emphasized on both occasions. Jesus is the chief elder of our community of faith. Christ is the head of the church. Jesus Christ is the bishop of our souls. Christ is the Lord of all. What’s the difference, and how do we draw a line of distinction?

We don’t.

Although Jesus Christ is indivisible, at some moments we emphasize his humanity and at other times his divinity. Perhaps that’s a good way to understand these two end-of-the-church-year festivals. Jesus as Chief Elder governs and guides our lives on earth, including our relationships within the church. Christ the King is Cosmic Lord, who sanctifies us as we are drawn into the Reign of Christ (also known as the Kingdom of God).

The dying thief on the cross prayed, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The one who is our chief elder and our sovereign supports and sustains us at all times and in every place, in all conditions and circumstances of life. In him we find health and wholeness, liberation and new life, grace and peace.

Blessings abound where’er he reigns,
the prisoners leap to lose their chains,
the weary find eternal rest,
and all who suffer want are blessed.

     (Isaac Watts, Moravian Book of Worship, #404)

 

The Reign of Christ

Hermann I. Weinlick
November 22, 1998

The last Sunday of the liturgical year is called Reign of Christ, or Christ the King. But the Gospel lesson for the Sunday is hardly what you would expect for this theme. The Gospel lesson is Luke 23:33-43: “When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus…The soldiers also mocked him…saying, “If you are the King of the Jews save yourself!” (vv. 33,36-37)

This strange juxtaposition of royalty and disgrace, diving love and human cruelty (from one perspective), human love and human cruelty (from another perspective), power and powerlessness—symbolized by a crown of thorns—is the surprise, the mystery, the glory that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What distinguishes the Christian story of God and God’s creation from other stories about the why of life is the cross—the story of God coming closest to us by emptying himself, by refraining from the use of power, by choosing to deal with us in love rather than by force.

This story of King Jesus and the cross invites us to the same difficult distrust of force and difficult trust in love in our dealing with those people and situations around us. We mortals call this weakness, in part because we are afraid it won’t work, in part because we know by ourselves we are usually not strong enough to live that way.

Sometimes the way of the cross converts people and situations, and sometimes it doesn’t. This was the experience of Jesus, and it is our experience. But whether or not it always succeeds, the way of the cross is our calling.

A hymn from the sixth century. a portion of which we use during Holy Week, declares:

“Tell all the earth, the Lord is King!”
Lo, from the cross, a king he reigns.

 

Respect him or reject him

Errol Connor, pastor, Nisky Moravian Church, U.S. Virgin Islands
November 21, 2004

From childhood, we are taught that kindness should be met with gratitude. We are taught to respect those in authority, and that respect is earned. However, we see evidence of a culture and an attitude of questioning and reacting to authority and kindness with disdain and even hostility. To be sure, there are seasons when respect for authority reaches a low; and moments when it seems there is respect only for the authority or kindness we can manipulate or exploit for our own selfish ends. But must respect earned still be demanded? Should kindness be treated with mocking scorn?

Jesus, wearing a crown of thorns, hung on the cross between two criminals. Above his head was written, “This is the King of the Jews.” Mocked by all, in kindness he prayed that the mocking crowd and all sinners should receive the Father’s forgiveness. Subsequently, the two criminals bared their souls. One was arrogant and aggressive, a slave to his past. Ignoring his guilt, he scorned the kindness of the King. The other, repentant, accepting his guilt, said, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “This day you shall be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

Jesus is both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36)! He sacrificed his life in loving obedience to the redemptive purposes of the Father, and in loving response to our human need. Shall we not exchange all hopes of earth’s fading glory for the certainty of paradise with God? Should we not lose ourselves from ruinous habits, pride of heart, and cherished idols, to experience that “more abundant life” to be found only in Christ the King (John 10:10)?

All hail the King—King Jesus! Respect him or reject him. The choice is yours. But choices have consequences. The Lord rewards those who diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6, Jeremiah 29:13).

 

Christ the King

Unknown/Anonymous November 26, 1989

Right or wrong, there is a tendency to associate the title “king” with privilege, prestige, prosperity, and even priority; and royal power is always revered without question. But that is not Christ.

Christ never imposes reign or rank but is monarch in a new realm, of a new covenant, with a new understanding of what it means to be royal, to be righteous, to rule. Christ represents not a status, but a sacrifice. Christ demands not blind respect, but reverence for the rights of all people. Christ requires not subservience to a title, but humble servanthood among our sisters and brothers. This is Christ, our Sovereign.

Still, whatever names we use, they never adequately express the wonder and amazement we feel about Jesus Christ. We proclaim Christ as our heavenly King, yet are overwhelmed by the humility in birth, the servanthood in life, the quiet courage in death. We profess Christ as our Savior, yet are awestruck by the incredible sacrifice necessary to assume this name of honor. We pronounce Christ as our Righteousness, yet we can hardly believe that divine wisdom and justice and mercy wait patiently, while wanting desperately to be born in our hearts each day.

May each and every name we call the Holy One help to focus our scattered lives on the gift, to receive it, and then to share it in Christ’s name.