Christ the King
Sunday next before Advent
Jeremiah 23.1-6; Colossians 1.11-20; Luke 23.33-43
Eternal God, whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne
of heaven that he might rule over all things as Lord and King: keep
the whole Church in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of
peace, and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet;
who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever. Amen.
Time magazine recently described charitable work as
Prince Charles's passion in life. It reported that he wanted to do
as much as possible before becoming King, when, an aide said, "the
prison shades close." Soon after this, a dinner-party conversation
turned to the "So what?" question in relation to academic research,
and - with this column in mind - I asked myself: "So what that
Christ is King?"
What do the readings say about kingship? Jeremiah records that
kingship derives from God, who rescues his people from being
scattered like lost sheep; kingship is about wisdom, bringing
justice and righteousness to the land and people, creating the
security that facilitates well-being.
This is, however, only part of the story. Borrowing an ancient
hymn, which describes this King as the pre-existent Son of God -
through whom and for whom all things in heaven and earth were
created, and in whom all things hold together - Colossians' royal
imagery draws us from human time and space to glimpse eternal
things. So what?
Christ's kingship is the source of our redemption and
forgiveness of sin; in making Christ King, God has rescued us not
just from darkness, but from the power of darkness, transferring us
into the Kingdom of his beloved Son, establishing new relationships
All that can be known of God is revealed in his Son. He who is
before all things, the image of the invisible God, was born into
human time and space as a human child, to a young mother in an
occupied country, at a particular time in human history, and named
Jesus. So what?
Our only appropriate response is wonder and surrender to the
mystery of God's glory revealed in Jesus Christ, to whom every knee
in heaven and earth and under the earth will bend (Philippians
2.10). A familiar hymn summarises this succinctly: "King of kings,
yet born of Mary, as of old on earth he stood".
In the Gospel, however, kingship is more like "the prison
shades". Few have expressed this more intensely than W. H.
Vanstone, in his stunning hymn, "Morning glory, starlit sky":
Here is God: no monarch he,
Throned in easy state to reign;
Here is God, whose arms of love
Aching, spent, the world sustain.
Human sinfulness, encountering divine kingship, tried to consign
it to a cruel human death, with unspeakable physical pain and
mocking humiliation. Yet, just a few weeks later, Peter, who knew
Jesus as a man, announced: "God has made him both Lord and Messiah,
this Jesus, whom you crucified" (Acts 2.36).
The soldiers mocking Jesus were wrong; he was far more than the
King of the Jews, whom they could deride callously in his
suffering. Something much vaster was at stake. Human vision is
minuscule, and Jeremiah's insight that kingship in David's line
brings justice, righteousness, and safety in the land was but part
of the truth.
Through his Son's dying in agony, God reconciled to himself all
things on earth or in heaven. This kingship is cosmic, and so we
pray in the collect that God will bring the whole created order,
not just humanity, to worship at his feet.
The Orthodox Church grasps these truths more readily than we do.
For Vladimir Lossky, the source of Christian theology is the
confession of the incarnation of the Son of God (see Orthodox
Theology, SVS Press, 1978).
In Christ, transcendence became immanent. On the cross, Christ
reunited the terrestrial cosmos to Paradise, and, after the
resurrection, Christ's body mocks spatial limitations to unify
earth and heaven.
By the ascension, Christ reunites the celestial and terrestrial
worlds; sitting at the right hand of the Father, he takes his
humanity into the Trinity itself. These are the first fruits of
what the Orthodox Church calls cosmic deification.
So what that Christ is king? Worship, yes; but Colossians
prefaces this exaltation of the cosmic consequences of divine
kingship with a prayer for spiritual wisdom and insight, to enable
Christians to lead lives worthy of the Lord.
If we are challenged by Jeremiah's vision that service and care
of others are at the heart of ruling in righteousness - an
outworking of God's kingship - then giving ourselves to charitable
work may not be a bad place for both a future king and his subjects