September 28, 2016

Christ the King NOW

I can’t wait until November. I’m American, and if you haven’t heard, we are preparing for a general presidential election. During a debate in March, I realized I was tired of the primaries. During the Democratic National Convention, I realized that I was just plain tired. I am tired of the war of words, the hatred, the ideologies. I am tired. I wish November would hurry up and get here, but I’d miss three months of my children’s childhood and my garden’s tomato harvest, so it’s probably not worth it.

I guess the rest of the world is tired, too. And if not tired, perhaps embarrassed, fearful, or overwhelmed. But despite this fatigue, and the fact that I’ve been of voting age for five presidential election cycles, I have stronger opinions about this one than ever.

And I’m not alone.

So this is why I can’t wait until November, specifically November 20, which is Christ the King Sunday. In the turmoil that is the general election, we need Christ the King Sunday, and we need it to be every single day until the election, because we need to remember that Christ is the one who reigns, Christ is before all things, and, in Christ, all things hold together.

We need Christ the King Sunday because we need to remember that our ultimate hope is not in any human being, but in Christ.

I wonder what it would be like to have “Christ for President” Sunday, like that old song by Woody Gutherie. In that song, President Christ realizes a universal employment, pensions, zero waste, and prosperity. It’s a political revolution, different than the first century expectations of the Messiah, but with a similar apocalyptic hope. Presidents and kings are different, but they both are heads of state and they both lead with power.

In 1 Samuel 8:5, the elders of Israel approach Samuel and say, “Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” And Samuel, displeased, relayed the message to the Lord. God responds:

“Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.” (8:7-9, NLT)

God continues by warning the Israelites what a king will do that includes, among other things, drafting sons into the military, seizing land, and taking one-tenth of the harvest. This may not be the same as our experience, but it is not completely different, either. In 240 years, the draft has been issued four times in the United States. We pay taxes, some much more than ten percent. And, we may remember, even when Old Testament kings were ordained by God (Saul, David, and Solomon), they were often imperfect leaders, and sometimes downright hard-hearted. Saul disobeyed God by neglecting to kill Agog, King of the Ammonites. David misused his kingly authority to commit adultery (though some—and I’m with them—argue we should call it power rape) with Bathsheba, covered it up by committing murder, and neglected to intervene in one of the worst cases of sibling rivalry in Biblical history (2 Samuel 13). Solomon built high places of worship to other gods.

Even good kings are bad.

But not King Jesus. The Worship Sourcebook reminds us that “Christ the King Sunday focuses our worship on the cosmic character of Christ’s reign over the world. It is a proclamation to all that everything in creation and culture must submit to Christ and an invitation to actively and joyfully submit to his rule.”

We may not want to submit to certain human leaders, for good reason, but we may joyfully submit to the Incarnate God who is Christ. Christ’s rule is wonderfully described in Psalm 72. This king defends the poor, rescues the children of the needy, and crushes the oppressor (Hear the reference to Christus Victor?). He reigns from sea to sea, and all kings will bow before him and all nations will serve him. This Psalm brings to mind many stories about Jesus from the Gospels, as well as Philippians 2:11. This king is the ruler I worship. This king is the leader in whom I put my trust.

And everyday, as I scroll through the news, I have to remind myself of this.

As we approach the election, I challenge pastors and worship planners to intentionally begin focusing on the Kingship of Christ in worship. Just as some of us may try to have “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue” in our services, let’s strive to give verbal and artistic homage to Christ’s kingship each week. We all need to be reminded that

Jesus shall reign where'er the sun
Does his successive journeys run,
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

Resources for Christ the King Sunday abound and include the following:

Hymns about Christ’s Kingship:

Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence lives with her husband and two children in the western suburbs of Chicago. She serves as the associate pastor for spiritual formation at the Evangelical Covenant Church of Hinsdale, Illinois, where she preaches and leads formation and discipleship programming for children and adults. Joy holds a M.Div. from Calvin Theological Seminary and MCS from Regent College (Vancouver). She’s always on the lookout for new and old ways to tell God’s story as well as wild foods she can feed her family and friends. She has written for many organizations, including Christianity Today International.