On the last Sunday of the Church’s year, we celebrate Christ the King. It is an apocalyptic feast. It is apocalyptic, first, because the clearest thing we can know about our world is that Christ is not King – to the contrary, Christ is rejected, pierced, killed on the Cross.
And it is apocalyptic because both our first readings look forward to him coming “on the clouds of heaven” and having dominion over all the earth, over all kings. At the end of the Church’s year, we look forward to when Christ will reign.
In this year of Mark – who is very like Matthew (last year) and Luke (next year), but who is shorter – we get more readings from John. This Sunday, we read John’s account of Jesus’s interview with Pilate, the king of this earth who will condemn him to death. There are three simple points.
First, Jesus is the King of the Jews. His kingship is the fulfillment of the Bible, the ultimate meaning of all that has gone before.
But second, his kingdom is not of this world. He has not come to compete with other kings, with their paltry power games and self-serving. He is like other kings, but different. The kingdom of our faith is a kingdom that points beyond this world.
And third, his is a kingdom of truth: “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” To serve this king is to serve not the lies of earthly kings, but the truth of the God who made the world.
His kingdom is not of the world, in that truth is not the way this world works. But in another sense, his kingdom is of this world, because he serves reality, while all others serve self-serving lies.
Our reading from the apocalyptic Prophet Daniel also has a few simple points.
The King whom Daniel sees coming on the clouds is “like a Son of man.” “Son of man” is, of course, the title Jesus uses for himself; he seems to be aligning himself with Daniel’s prophecy. But behind and before Daniel’s prophecy, the Psalms already used “sons of men” to speak not of any apocalyptic figure but of all mortal men: “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help” (Ps. 146 – see also Psalms 4, 8, 57, 58, 80, 82).
Again, we see the king who is not of this world – both because he is apocalyptic (riding on the clouds) and because he seems to be powerless.
But in Daniel, he is presented to the “Ancient of Days”: a mortal man in the presence of the Eternal God. His kingdom is not of this world; his kingdom comes from the power of God almighty. Which is why, in another sense, his kingdom is of this world, for God alone is the beginning and end of this world.
He will receive dominion, glory, and kingship. God will lift him up. He will be king because he will shine with the divine glory.
And “all peoples, nations, and languages [will] serve him.”
But our most powerful reading is from the Revelation to St. John. At the beginning of his visions, John sees Jesus as both “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead” – the meek son of man – and also as “ruler of the kings of the earth.” Again, this man who was crucified by Pilate is made powerful by the power of God.
But now we see a different part of his kingship: the power of grace. He “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” He enters into our weakness because he is the king of love, come to set us free.
And he makes us free by making “us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” He not only rules over us. He shares his dignity with us. The ancient texts differ on whether he makes us his kingdom, or whether he makes us kings. At the least, he makes us priests, sharers in his work of worship. He does not dominate us, he lifts us up into his glory.
This is the kingdom not of this world, coming on the clouds: a kingdom of truth, and goodness; a kingdom aligned with the God who made us; a kingdom of love and freedom and restoration.
The only scary part of the Apocalypse, the scary part about the judgment, is that we “have pierced him,” we have rejected him, and we “will lament him” – lament the foolishness of rejecting the king of love and truth.
What false kings do you follow?