Christ the King of Creation - John 18:33-38
Today is Christ the King Sunday. It’s the last day of the church year, as next week marks the beginning of Advent and the new church year. Today is the culmination of everything we’ve been working up to through the liturgical year. And it ends with the reminder that Christ is King of all creation as we await the day when God will be all in all, the kingdom of God made manifest in this physical realm, and God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. On this day we celebrate a cosmic vision of the glory to come.
The feast of Christ the King Sunday is actually the most recently established holiday in the church year. It was established by Pope Pius the 11th in 1925 and has been adopted by many Protestant churches since then. The Pope instituted this day in response to rising nationalism and fascism in Europe, as a reminder to Christians of who our true king is. From its inception, Christ the King Sunday had been making an unapologetically political statement.
Nationalistic interests have always challenged the values of the Gospel, from the time Christianity became the established religion of Rome until now. Kings throughout history have usually forced those under their rule to obey, fight, and die for them while offering their subjects little in return. The powers and principalities have made violence and bloodshed the way of the world. Human ignorance, selfishness, and greed have led to all kind of sin, devastation, oppression, and war. It was that way long before Jesus’ time and continues to this day. In fact, with all our advances in technology and culture, the 20th century was the most violent century in world history, and we hope and pray the 21st century doesn’t follow in its footsteps. It’s no wonder the Pope felt called to remind Christians who our true king is, as more and more Christians fell prey to idols of political ideology and totalitarian governments.
I recently finished listening to a podcast series on World War Two, six episodes of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. It was both fascinating and horrifying. It brought me to tears several times. Sometimes he would say, “It’s been said one death’s a tragedy and a million deaths a statistic,” and then go into horrific detail after horrific detail about the specific deaths of a certain soldier or civilian. Learning the details of world history—whether it’s the gruesome crucifixions of the first century or the ghastly concentration camps of the twentieth century—learning this shows us just how terrible it’s always been to be a human being on this planet. There’s always been terrible wars, violence, and hatred, encouraged by the kings of this world. And people have always thought their own time was nearing the end of human history. This podcast host also wrote a book called “The End is Always Near” which explores this idea from a military history standpoint.
Most of us privileged enough to live in this time and place can’t comprehend the constant struggle life was for people during ancient times. The Bible itself is filled with violence and wars far beyond our modern comfort level. But for people living in the time the Bible was written, the war and violence depicted in scripture was part of everyday life. The people of Israel go from being slaves in Egypt, to a few centuries of self-rule under David and his successors, to being conquered by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and eventually the Romans. With every transition came a war and innumerable deaths. The Bible is so full of violence and war because world history is so full of violence and war.
And it was into this violent, suffering world that Jesus Christ came to become a new kind of king. A king whose throne is a cross. A king who suffers rather than inflicts suffering. A king who dies for his people, rather than demand their lives to enforce his reign like all other kings have always done. He is a king who transforms the world through love, not violence and war. It is through Jesus’ humble, selfless love that God is in fact transforming our world into the promised kingdom of God.
This promised kingdom is here but not yet. It’s among us but it’s not of this world, as Jesus told Pilate in the Gospel reading today. The presence of God’s kingdom is a paradox: it’s fully present for those who have eyes to see it, and yet only seen in small glimpses by most of us. But one day all eyes will be opened, humanity awaken, and all will see the glory of God. As Paul said in Romans 8:
18I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God…
[He continues]… 21creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.
I could go on. Romans 8 is a great chapter, and it and other texts like it speak to a promise that’s at the heart of scripture: the promise of the new creation. That this world is being transformed from one degree of glory to the next. And that this kingdom will be revealed as creation moves through labor pains and a better world is born.
In our first reading this morning we heard from the Book of Revelation in which Jesus is described as the Alpha and the Omega. This is more than just a nice saying about how Jesus is the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet. Christian theologians have long understood that Christ is the starting point of creation and the point toward which all history is moving. Twentieth century Jesuit priest and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin described what he called Omega Point, or Christ Omega, as the direction the universe is evolving toward. As both a paleontologist and theologian, he understood biological evolution to be part of a spiritual process in which creatures mature into higher levels of consciousness and become more and more attuned to the love which permeates the universe. He understood the history of the universe to be a development of spiritual evolution, from matter to life to consciousness to love. He saw that both humanity’s deepest longing and God’s promises throughout scripture are one and the same: a world in which God is all in all.
This idea is not new either. It’s just using the language of modern science to explain an ancient Christian teaching. Whether it’s Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God, Paul’s teaching about the new creation, or the ancient church concept of theosis. Theosis is the participation in the divine nature described in the Book of Second Peter. Theosis was often seen as the ultimate direction and goal of the universe in the early church. Kind of like Teilhard’s Omega Point. The Eastern Orthodox tradition maintained the importance of theosis over the centuries. But the West, both Catholic and Protestant, did not emphasize this divine participation as much, instead focusing on moral purity and intellectual understanding.
On this Christ the King Sunday I think it’s important we understand this concept. Whether we study the theology of theosis, or Teilhard’s spiritual evolution and Omega Point, Paul’s teaching of the new creation, or the simple language of Jesus’ kingdom of God. All of these point to an oft forgotten truth.
And in our current time, it’s crucial to get the right message out there. Not that the world is descending toward doomsday, but that God is transforming this world into the new creation. What we believe about the world’s future makes a big difference in how we live in it now. And as Christians, no matter how bad things look, we trust this promise. We recognize the immense suffering of all human history. We know that Jesus Christ himself suffered the worst of it. And we profess that by his suffering and death, Christ has redeemed all of history.
Through Christ’s death and resurrection we know that all the Good Fridays of history turn into Easter Sundays. Because of Christ we know that on the other side of every Calvary there is an empty tomb. It is through the blood of the Lamb that we are made whole and that humanity is transformed. This promise of a new creation is our hope and our mission as the church in the world. To manifest the divine in this reality.
So on this Christ the King Sunday, this culmination of the church year, we know that our King is one who suffers for, and redeems, this broken world. This world God so loves. This world so full of war and violence and sin. This world that God is transforming into a new creation where God is all in all. Thanks to be to God. Amen.
Pastor Brian, 11/21/21