Christ the King – Last Sunday before Advent
St Mary’s Wendover – 25 November 2018
Gospel John 18
Alleluia, alleluia. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.
33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’
34 ‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about me?’
35 ‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’
36 Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’
37 ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.
Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’
38 ‘What is truth?’ retorted Pilate.
Back in 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted a new feast day in the Roman Catholic church. He called it Christ the King.
Other churches adopted the feast day with the Revised Common Lectionary. It was moved to the last Sunday in Advent, where it remains today. There is also another name for this Sunday, which comes from the post-communion prayer, but I will leave you to discover that for yourselves. Listen out for it after communion.
The Pope apparently wanted to highlight the increasing secularism of the age. People were more keen to live in the kingdom of this world than look towards the kingdom of heaven.
You may be wondering what was the link between secularism and Christ the King. In truth, the Pope was keen to settle an argument that had been debated in the church since as far back in time as St Cyril of Alexandria. The theological difference of opinion concerned the supremacy of Christ over all things.
And so, as we prepare to begin a new church year next week with the First Sunday of Advent, and the coming of Jesus, not only in Bethlehem, but the second coming as well, we pause and reflect upon who Jesus the Christ is in our lives.
To challenge our thinking we turn, not to stables and shepherds, but to the final trial of Jesus. If we are to live in God’s Kingdom, we, like Pilate, need to know the answer to the question “are you king of the Jews?” or in other words “Are you Christ the King?”
So, let’s have another look at Jesus’s trial before Pontius Pilate. There are 7 short scenes. We’re interested in the first two:
1. The opening scene of the trial begins when Jesus is brought to the Roman procurator’s headquarters. Pilate asks what is the charge, and gets no answer—except that Jesus is a criminal.
2. Today’s gospel reading is scene 2. Pilate retreats into his palace to interview Jesus privately. “Are you King of the Jews?” he asks. Pilate is not concerned whether or not Christ (as the name implies) is the anointed one. 35 “Am I a Jew?” he scoffs. But if Jesus is a political leader who might challenge the supremacy of Rome, and with it Pilate’s position and power, that is a very different matter.
From our perspective in the modern age, we know that John has been telling us, from the beginning of his gospel, that Jesus is in fact the King of Israel. When seeking Jesus, whom his brother, Phillip, has told him is the one spoken of by Moses and the prophets, Nathanael declares, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49).
The gospel then goes on to explain that Jesus is not a king that the world would ever recognise. He is a king who speaks to the lowly and the rejected. He is a king who serves rather than being served. Jesus is a king who enters the holy city, not triumphantly on a horse, but seated on a donkey (John 12:14). He is the Servant King.
Pilate asks what crime Jesus has committed. Jesus replies that his kingdom is not of this world. Pilate cannot understand such a king as that.
We know that Jesus is the Word of God that has become “flesh and lived among us.” Jesus has come from God and has come “so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16b).
We also know that, in order to recognise this king, this only Son, we must be “born from above” (John 3:3). Unless we have experienced this new birth, we, like Pilate, are unable to recognize the kingdom of God that surrounds us on all sides—this is the reign of Christ the King.
In the end, Pilate mocks both Jesus and the Jews. He could never understand that Jesus is a king not of this world, and not like any in this world. But in the end, Pilate unknowingly speaks the truth. “Here is your king” he says to the people.
And over the cross Pilate places the announcement for all to see, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19).
Today is the last Sunday in the church’s year. Today we are invited to respond, in preparation for Advent which is coming. Are we willing to accept Jesus as our King, or are we drawn more towards the kingdoms of this increasingly secular age, with all its evils and distractions?
Do we live in the time of God’s new reign? Are we followers of the Servant King? Does the way we live our lives reflect that service? Do we reach out to the least and the lost? In short—are we fully citizens of God’s Kingdom? And can we answer Pilate’s prophetic question: “What is Truth?”
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.