Feast Day: The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Readings: John 18:33-37; Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1:4b-8
“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” (John 18:37)
Today the Church all around the world commemorates the Feast of Christ the King. Although I have to say I much prefer it’s official title: The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Just what does it mean to say that Jesus Christ is king? It means, in the words of the great Dutch Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
Today we proclaim that all power and authority in heaven and on earth belong to the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. Today we proclaim that his rule knows no beginning or end. Today we proclaim that he has come into the world to reveal the truth of God’s love for all. Today we proclaim that every human creature must submit to his “sweet and saving yoke.”
Surely this claim is easy to scoff at. Jesus Christ is king of the universe? Really? Look around. Read the headlines. What sort of kingdom is this? Consider the global political and economic climate. Across Europe and elsewhere nationalist and far-right parties have made significant electoral gains, stoking racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Just last month to the south of us the Orange-Man-with-the-Little-Hands openly declared himself a nationalist, flaunting his ignorance of the historical usage of the term, and that in the days leading up to the centenary celebration of the end of WWI.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that the feast we celebrate today was established during a similar time of increasing secularization and nationalism. On the eleventh of December 1925, in the aftermath of WWI, Pope Pius XI established the Feast of Christ the King to point to a king, “of whose kingdom there shall be no end.” In his encyclical he wrote that the many evils in the world, “were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives.” Until men and women and nations submitted themselves to the loving rule of their Saviour there can be no real hopeful prospect of lasting peace either between nations or between people. We must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ, he said. And so, despite all appearances to the contrary, today’s feast is meant to announce the reality of the reign of Jesus Christ over every square-inch of the universe.
Jesus Christ is king, yes, but not like any king we’ve ever known. His kingdom is of a different sort altogether. Standing before Pilate what does Jesus say? “My kingdom is not from this world.” We should not make the mistake of assuming that this means Jesus’ kingdom is of no earthly good. After all, Jesus teaches us to pray, “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom of Jesus isn’t about escaping this world but rather transforming this world.
So, when Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world he does so to stress the total difference between himself and earthly rulers. How is King Jesus different from worldly kings? Our text this morning names three ways: First, he rules by suffering love not by might. Second, he rules eternally not just for a time. Third, he rules in absolute truth.
The rule of King Jesus is characterized not by force but by suffering love. Consider the context of our gospel reading. Jesus has been arrested and is standing before Pilate. It is that mockery of a trial mere hours before his crucifixion when his throne will be a Cross and his crown made of thorns. Prior attempts by people to make Jesus king were misunderstandings and Jesus was able to slip away (John 6:15). But now as he approaches the Cross he reveals himself for who he really is: “the Alpha and Omega,” as the Book of Revelation names him—the origin and goal of the world.
And because Jesus rules by suffering love his kingdom cannot be imposed or maintained by the mechanisms of worldly power and wealth. “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.” Jesus does not need servants armed to the teeth to fight for him because his rule is characterized by the sort of love that lays down and dies for the sake of others. So if you’re going to follow Jesus you’re going to have to be brave sometimes. Brave enough not to fight. Brave enough not to hold a grudge. Brave enough to forgive even your enemies. Brave enough to love, really love. And if you really want to fight then get on your knees and pray.
Second, the rule of King Jesus is eternal, that is to say it is not restricted by time and space: “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed,” prophesied Daniel. This is obviously different from earthly rulers who can only rule in one place at one time for which we should be very grateful though I do have some Episcopal clergy friends in the States who long to be subjects of Her Majesty the Queen. But to say that Jesus’ rule is eternal is to say that Jesus rule everywhere, always. There is no place in the universe and no moment in time over which Jesus Christ does not rule as Lord. Before the universe was, Jesus reigns. From the Cross in first century Palestine, Jesus reigns. In this parish today, Jesus reigns. Jesus Christ is Lord, everywhere and always.
Finally, Jesus’ kingdom is unique because it is characterized by the truth. “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth,” says Jesus. Truth is humanity’s greatest quest. We long to know the truth and to live in. We want to be our truest selves and to live with the grain of the universe. “What is truth?” Pilate asks Jesus in the next verse. We want to know as well.
The truth that Jesus has come to reveal is not a truth but the truth. It is not one truth among many but the ultimate truth upon which heaven and earth are founded. It is not a truth whose meaning is determined by how we think about or experience it but rather the truth that exists independently of our mind and experience. In fact, it is the truth that enables us to think and experience. It is the truth that Jesus handed on to his Apostles. It is the same truth that we ourselves have received from them and are charged with passing on to the next generation of believers.
It is chiefly the truth of the Father’s love for the world. A love that called the whole world into being. A love that sustains the whole world at every moment. A love towards which the whole world is being drawn in and through and with Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ himself is the truth, the truth of God’s love for the world and for each one. Do you want to live more fully in the truth? Do you want to be more truly yourself? Then contemplate the love and mercy of Jesus Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to conform you to his image.
When the early Christians went from place to place announcing the reign of Jesus over all they were accused of “turning the world upside down,” (Acts 17:6-7). There is the rub. Jesus has come to turn your world upside down. He has come to enlighten your heart and mind with the light of God’s love but first he invites you to come down off the throne. That’s really hard to do. But if you want Jesus to do the work in you that he wants to do, if you want to live more fully in the truth, then you’re going to have to let him rule in your life. And you can’t keep anything back because not one part of you is exempt. He must rule in your mind that you may truly believe the gospel. He must rule in your will that you may truly obey his law. He must rule in your heart that you may love God above all things and cling to him alone. He must rule in your body that you may serve as an instrument of his justice and love.
Jesus Christ is Lord of all and his kingdom is a kingdom of everlasting love. You are no longer your own for he has purchased you by his blood. And this morning, and every morning, he invites you to give up the claim to run your own life and to submit to his loving rule.
 Quas Primas, §3
 ibid, §33