Christ has the last word!
by Sue In Cuba, KS
Today is the last Sunday of the Church Year-next Sunday we begin Advent, a new church
year. This Sunday is also called Christ the King Sunday.
On the one hand we have perhaps a memory of Handel's Messiah Oratorio, and its
magnificent Alleluia chorus: "King of Kings, Lord of Lords, And He shall reign for
ever and ever!!"
On the other hand, Christ the King Sunday seems to be another example of the church
being out of touch. If there is any image that seems out of touch with our modern,
democratic world, with its emphasis on individual rights and freedoms, it is the image of
a king. Kings and royalty seem medieval, oppressive, authoritarian. It doesn't seem like a
very effective way to communicate to the world of the 21st century.
On the third hand, democracy, as expressed in this current presidential non-election,
doesn't seem automatically attractive, with rules made up by the hour by people with an
agenda, and with only a few hundred or thousand citizens who failed to properly mark their
ballots in Florida essentially determining the outcome for the other 270 million citizens
of the country.
But perhaps the image of a king may not be as problematic as we think. In fact, there
may be a way to recapture the image of king and use it in such a way that is a blessing in
our current world.
Have you ever been in a heated argument with someone and couldn't let the matter drop?
You just had to continue making your point. Why? Because you had to have the last word.
If you have ever watched Ted Koppel on Nightline, you will see him struggle with trying
to be fair in dealing with two or more opposing points of view. It is also obvious how
important it is to have the last word on that show. The last one to speak always seems to
have the most lasting impact.
To have the last word is to be the final authority. Ask any coach, teacher, manager,
politician, or parent and they will tell you that having the last word is necessary.
Perhaps "King" isn't a helpful way to talk about Jesus in this day and age,
but if we think of a king as someone who has the last word, who is the final authority and
power in life, then celebrating Christ as King might begin to make more sense.
That is ultimately what this day is all about. When the church declares that Christ is
King, we are declaring that Christ has the last word. He is the final authority and power
in the universe. Christ is King!
In today's Gospel we see two kings locked in combat, each competing with the other to
have the last word. Jesus claims to be a king. Pontius Pilate is a king, or at least a
viceroy, in the mightiest empire on earth. But Jesus is unwilling to let Pilate have the
Jesus and Pilate represent two very different ways of looking at power and authority in
this world. Jesus represents one kind of kingdom. Pilate represents another. In today's
Gospel we see these two kings and their kingdoms colliding. In the last analysis, only one
can be king. Only one can have the last word.
Two kingdoms, two ways of life, two kinds of power, two kinds of authority, continually
pushing and tugging against one another, each trying to have the last word. One lives by
the power of the sword. The other lives by the power of love.
One is driven to accumulate wealth. And there can never be enough. Scarcity is always
looming over the horizon. The other announces, "Blessed are the poor." Everyone
is wealthy. There is no need to accumulate more. There is unlimited abundance. Scarcity is
only an unfounded rumor. There is always enough.
One can never have enough money. The other loves to give it away.
One believes that the weak must serve the strong. The biggest guns and the most bucks
do matter. The other believes that the strong get to serve the weak. That the last shall
be first and the first shall be last.
One demands that everyone must get what he deserves. Justice is all that matters. The
other dares to give people what they don't deserve. Mercy and forgiveness and refusing to
"get back" and "get even" are all that matter.
One believes that everyone has got to prove himself. There are no shortcuts. There are
always strings attached, obligations to be fulfilled, conditions to be met. The other
dares to believe that everyone is the apple of God's eye, that everyone is a child of God
and can dare to call him "Papa," that we don't have to prove anything to anyone
just because God says so.
Two different kings, two different kingdoms, two different ways of life, two different
perspectives on what really matters, two different voices each claiming to have the last
word. Who was right? Who was wrong? Only one could finally lay claim to be king. The other
would eventually be exposed as a pretender.
When this scene in the praetorium came to an end, the answer seemed clear. Pilate was
king. He sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion. He would have the last word. And because
Pilate had the last word, everything that Jesus represented, his claims for himself and
for God, would be exposed as an illusion. It was just not true -- this talk of love,
mercy, and forgiveness. If God was to have a last word, it was to be spoken by kings like
Pilate. And that last word certainly was not mercy!
And as Jesus hung there on the cross, Pilate added further insult to injury by posting
over Jesus' head a sign of mockery: Jesus of Nazareth, King of Jews. Ha! What a king! What
a pretender, this Jesus of Nazareth. Pilate and all that he represented in this world had
the last word.
But we know that the story didn't end there. Three days later Jesus was raised from the
dead. Pilate did not have the last word. That sign posted over his head on the cross in
mockery was actually right. Jesus is indeed King. Jesus does have the last word. Jesus is
God's last word to the world. And it is a word of mercy and forgiveness.
Because Christ is King, because Jesus does indeed have the last word, everything that
Jesus claimed concerning God and human life and truth and good and evil was true! God can
be trusted. Sinners are forgiven. The meek and the poor and the persecuted for Jesus' sake
receive blessings. Eternal life is now already ours because Jesus is King.
Because Jesus has the last word, life changes. It can no longer be business as usual.
And so, in the remainder of chapter 18 and Jesus' trial before Pilate, the trial takes
on an unusual shape. Even though officially Jesus is on trial before Pilate, in John's way
of telling, the roles actually get reversed. Pilate is put on the defensive. Pilate has to
justify himself. Pilate gets so unnerved and bewildered that finally he asks in
desperation, "What is truth?" Everything that he had assumed to be true no
longer seems so true in the presence of Jesus. Finally, with a sense of desperation,
Pilate gives up and hands Jesus over for crucifixion. Jesus is the one who is really in
control. He is determined to have the last word. And he has the last word when -- as King!
-- he compels Pilate to hand him over to crucifixion where he can finally be enthroned on
Because Jesus has the last word, this congregation and other Christian congregations
like it can express a kind of community life that just isn't seen any other place. Because
Jesus has the last word, the last word among us is mercy and forgiveness. We are slow to
judge and quick to forgive. We are generous instead of stingy. We welcome all into our
midst with no strings attached.
Because Jesus has the last word, we are a leaven in the loaf, a light in the darkness,
the salt of the earth. In other words, we can make a difference in this world. All too
often we think that we can only do God's work by working in the institutional church -- by
singing in the choir, teaching Sunday school, giving our weekly offerings. But the most
important work that we do is out there in the world Monday through Saturday. In our jobs,
in our communities, in our families and neighborhoods, we can dare to go against the
grain. Jesus has the last word -- not the boss or the neighbor or the latest popularity
contest. Because he has the last word, we can tell the truth when everyone else can only
lie. Because he has the last word, we can strive to do our best when everyone else is just
trying to get by. Because he has the last word, we can go out of our way to help a
co-worker, even when it might cost us.
This day of Christ the King may appear to be utilizing an old-fashioned and outmoded
image, the image of a king. But the truth of the matter is this. Christ the King invites
us to ask a most timely and timeless question. It is hardly old-fashioned. Who has the
last word in our lives? Who is truly king -- Pilate and his ilk or Christ?
The hymns and prayers and psalms and scriptures and rituals and colors and music of
this day boldly proclaim to you and to me and to the whole world: Christ is King! Christ
has the last word! Amen!