Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:
Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist
Watch the 6 PM Celebration of the Community Eucharist.
The written version of the sermon is here:
In today’s Gospel, we have the famous conversation between Pontius Pilate, just before Jesus is handed on through a set-up process that will lead to his crucifixion. It might seem more appropriate to Holy Week, but we hear it today because this Sunday is referred to as Christ the King Sunday. The language and imagery of kingship and royalty run through the prayers and readings today, and they invite us to think about how we understand Jesus as the authoritative force in our lives.
If you or I have a problem with the idea of “kingship,” in relation to Jesus, we can see in today’s scriptures that our confusion is nothing new. We might take issue with the term or idea for different reasons, but it’s important to notice that people questioned the image a long time ago.
“Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king…”
And so, we’re left with that same question, really: Is Jesus a king or not? Or if so, what KIND of king might he be?
Our first reading today, from Daniel, imagines kingship with fairly traditional images and dynamics. Daniel imagines a wise, white-bearded figure, taking his throne. Another comes to the Ancient One and is given power and dominion. But if we stay with these images, not only are we stuck historically, but we’re stuck theologically and spiritually, as well.
Though the scriptures for Christ the King Sunday are strong and each one could have its own sermon, our first prayer today, known as the Collect of the Day, seems to focus our readings and prayers in a particular way.
The Collect, of course, is written or chosen to pull together the scriptures into an overall theme or idea, to “collect” the themes of scripture, with the day in church year, with our own intentions and needs.
In the classic form of the Collect, the second phrase usually describes God in some way, and today’s prayer says of Almighty God, “whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords…” Since this last Sunday after Pentecost, just before Advent begins is nicknamed Christ the King Sunday, I’ve always skipped over part of that phrase in the prayer, racing to the part that highlights Jesus in royal images. But what’s shimmering for me, inviting me to pray more deeply, is the idea of God’s “restoring all things in Christ.”
When we think of “restoration,” we probably think of something being put back into its original condition, or earlier state. The Restoration in English history refers to the return of King Charles II and various institutions of church and state returning to the way they had been before the commonwealth period of Oliver Cromwell. Restoration on buildings (especially ours that are landmarked) usually needs to use original materials, doing things as much like they were done, as possible.
This is what Pontius Pilate gets confused about. If God is going to “restore” a Jewish king on the throne, in the sense that he’s hearing from the gossip and the ones who have turned Jesus over to him, then Pilate and the whole Roman Empire have a tangible, human opponent to deal with. It’s like King Herod, when Jesus was an infant, thinking that by killing all the male babies, he could get rid of a potential king. But that’s not the kind of restoration God has in mind.
Restoration can mean simply putting something back in its place. But often, it means much more.
Hugh Whelchel directs the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, and points out that when he restores an old car, the finished product is not just as it used to be. It’s better. He explains,
“The paint is better, the interior is better, it’s even mechanically superior to the original factory specs. Yes, it is the same car as it was when it was new—just better.
That is God’s goal for restoring this broken world. In place of what we see now will be a new heaven and a new earth, and it will be better than the original. Why is God going to do this? Because he loves his creation.” (https://tifwe.org/better-than-new-gods-grand-restoration-plan/)
In Christ, God is doing something entirely new. And it’s just going to keep getting “newer.”
The Epistle Reading today is from the Revelation to John, which can be confusing to people. It speaks at two levels: On one level, it’s offering courage to persecuted Christians in the First Century, but it’s also giving a framework, a paradigm (almost) of how to look for God in to come in the future. Notice that John writes in symbol and poetry. He speaks of God in images that go beyond images, as if to say, the whens, wheres, and how’s of God’s coming again in fulness will be so different, so creatively new, that there’s not way to really even express it. God in Christ is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and everything in-between.
NT Wright (Surpised by Hope) writes,
You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange as it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.
And this brings us to today, and ourselves. We pray for restoration, but are we praying theologically or historically?
I know that I spent the bulk of the last year and a half hoping and praying for the restoration of life as we understood it.
I’m slowly beginning to understand that the kind of restoration we are witnessing is different.
Christ lives and directs our hearts in ways that keep growing and renewing and changing.
God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.”
And so, even heaven is temporary, awaiting the time when God restores all in all.
This means we live in repentance.
We live in hope.
We live in evermore deepening reliance and trust in God.