Texts: Second Samuel 23:1-7 (King David’s last words); John 18:33-37 (Jesus before Pilate)
On November 4, I watched the swearing-in of Canada’s new federal government. It was a long ceremony, so as I worked on various things, I switched over to the live feed every few minutes. I was hoping that Mill Woods MP Amarjeet Sohi would be appointed to the cabinet. When to my pleasure I saw that he was among the people who got off the bus at Rideau Hall with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, I waited to see what portfolio he had been given and to watch as he took the oath of office.
I enjoyed the whole thing — the diversity and youth of the cabinet, the two young Inuit throat singers who sang near the beginning, its mixture of high ceremony and delight, and glimpses of famous Canadians who were there in Rideau Hall.
But one thing struck an odd note for me. Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet ministers all swore allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II and her heirs.
Canada, of course, is a constitutional monarchy, which is a residue of our status as a colony of Great Britain from the time that Britain conquered New France in 1763 until the passing of the Statute of Westminster in 1931.
Despite knowing this fact, I still find it jarring that Canada’s leaders pledge allegiance to the crown of the British Empire rather than to sacred values of love, justice, and the flourishing of life here and around the world.
Many people like the fact that Canada is a monarchy. And commentators often say there is no realistic path that could lead Canada to become a republic. Perhaps they have a point. While the majority of the world’s states today are republics, most of them got rid of the crown through devastating revolutions or wars.
The British Monarchy, unlike the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and German ones, was not overthrown at the end of World War I, probably because the British Empire “won” that war.
Christians often envision a realm of heavenly peace on earth as a kingdom of sorts with King Jesus as its head. Today on Reign of Christ Sunday, we hear some of the last words of two different kings of the Jews – King David from 3,000 years ago and King Jesus from 2,000 years ago.
Many people think that the title Christ belongs solely to Jesus of Nazareth. But Christ is just the Greek word for “Messiah” in Hebrew or “God’s Anointed King” in English. In the reading we heard from Second Samuel today, King David, the most beloved of the kings of the Jews, is referred to as “the one anointed by the God of Jacob.” In a Greek translation, the word used here for David would be Christ.
King David’s monarchy was overthrown about 400 years after his death when his distant successor King Jeconiah was defeated by the Babylonian Empire and sent into exile. The monarchy in Jerusalem was never restored, although 600 years later many of Jesus’ followers hoped that he might be a new King David.
But as the Roman Governor Pilate discovered when he questioned Jesus on the day of his execution — Jesus is a king quite different from David or any of the others that ruled in Jerusalem from about 1,000 BCE until 587 BCE.
Jesus tells Pilate that he “came into the world for one purpose — to bear witness to the truth.”
Today we continue to search for the truth revealed by the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus as the Christ. Unfortunately, there is no consensus on this truth. For one, many church leaders continue to see Jesus in the same way his first followers did, as a mighty king sitting on a jewel-encrusted throne at the right hand of God, albeit not one in Jerusalem, but one in Heaven.
I don’t like this vision despite the fact that it has biblical merit in passages from Hebrews and Revelation. Instead, I take my cue from St. Paul in his letter to the church in Galatia. In Galatians 2 Paul writes: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” In Paul’s striking vision, the throne for God and King is found not in heaven but in the hearts of people of faith like himself.
Paul’s vision is of a kingdom that is universal and democratic. Jesus reigns in all of our hearts and minds, which means each person is a sovereign. Jesus has been killed by the kings of this world and has been raised to new life within each person of good will. In this vision, power in the kingdom of God is so widely distributed that it is more a radical democracy than a traditional monarchy.
Paul’s vision helps me answer today’s question, “Who’s the boss?” In God’s kingdom, it is all who love God and who love our neighbours as ourselves. The bejewelled thrones of ancient kingdoms like Israel or Rome or of contemporary ones like Great Britain are of no importance. Each person has a divine throne within us, and the monarch who reigns from these billions of thrones is the humble baby of Bethlehem who was revealed to be a new kind of Christ in his humble death.
But what about David the Christ? As portrayed in several books of the Old Testament, David’s kingdom was a violent and nationalist theocracy, one that reminds me a bit of today’s Saudi Arabia. In the ancient Hebrew scriptures, David occupies pride of place. But I see little in his story that helps me today. For instance, when David says “the ungodly are rootless . . . they are fit only for burning where they lie” I don’t take his words seriously.
Jesus is a different sort of Christ. Unlike King David, Jesus doesn’t conquer and destroy foreign nations nor does he rule from an imposing throne. Instead, Jesus walks humbly to Jerusalem with his friends to confront religious and political power. His non-violent resistance to them leads to his death. But out of his death, we are shown the grace to have God’s sovereign Love reborn in our hearts, minds and souls.
I don’t often use the phrase “a personal relationship with Christ.” To me, it implies a literal understanding of the stories of Jesus including the idea that King Jesus will return to torture and kill most of us as feverish images of the book of Revelation might suggest.
But if a personal relationship with Christ is about an awareness that one’s ego has died in various baptisms by fire and that a divine spark of the universal Christ now takes the place of ego, I am OK with the expression.
Today as the church year ends, we need only look inside our minds and hearts to see the living Christ reigning there. He is a king who leads us all to truth and love and whose glory is distributed in billions of sparks of divine light across all of struggling humanity.
And for this I say again, thanks be to God.