Tuesday, November 17, 2015


King  David  - Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall King David
This is the closing Sunday of the Christian year, and celebrates Christ as King. In the modern lectionary the traditional description 'Feast of Christ the King' has been replaced by 'The Reign of Christ' no doubt because the image of ‘king’ does not have much resonance in the modern world where ‘democracy’ is the prevailing political ideal.  In this respect, the United States can be thought to have led the way. It was founded on the outright rejection of royalty, and an affirmation of the equality of rich and poor. We are given a choice of Old Testament readings. Choosing the passage from 2 Samuel allows us focus on David, the greatest of all Israel’s kings, rather on a more general image of kingship, and since the focus on David brings to the fore the theme that Jesus is ‘of David’s line’, something that is emphasized at Christmas, we seem on more obviously religious or theological ground with that.
Christ in Judgement c.1100
But in fact, the difference is merely one of emphasis. It is David’s kingship that matters. His status in first century Judaism was like George Washington’s in American political culture – uniquely important, and in no way diminished, in either case, by any human failings they may have had. In the time of Jesus, Israel’s hopes, by and large, were still pinned on the thought that a new David would arise, and return the Jewish nation to its rightful place as a ‘light to lighten the Gentiles’. As history turned out, it was not to be. What Christians believe is that, against this background, God acted to reveal a quite different kind of kingship – ‘not of this world’ – as Jesus expressly says in the Gospel passage for this Sunday, a ‘kingship’ revealed, strangely, in a ‘crown of thorns’. The fundamental message runs counter to the hopes people pin on all political programs, and not just those of old fashioned royalists.
So, to celebrate the Reign of Christ properly, we must be sure to avoid all hints of triumphalism, any implied suggestion that ‘our man’ won out over his enemies in the end. Rather, we need, in a spirit of wondering humility, to find a way of accepting that, as Isaiah says, God’s ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts. And yet, it is His ways that will and should prevail. The incarnation of God in the journey of Jesus from manger to cross makes it possible for us to do that. Celebrating Christ as King is our acknowledgment of this fundamental truth.

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