United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“Christ the King”

Rev. Rebecca Migliore

November 21, 2021



In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  So starts the gospel of John.  He equates Jesus with the Word—and along with this living Word, we have the “Word of God,” the written words of Scripture.  And we have the “words” that make up the preached Word of God.  All to say that words, speech, symbols are important, vitally important.  They conjure up images.  They help paint and color our world. 

So…What does it mean that we have a Christ the King Sunday?  What does it mean that we call Christ, “King”?  It’s a somewhat odd thing in our American setting.  I mean we fought a war more than 230 years ago to disconnect ourselves from being under a king.  I know that many are still fascinated by royalty (English or otherwise), but in our day and time, “king” is often a title either of a dictator, or a ceremonial position (with very little real power).  This can’t be what we are calling Jesus. 

Add to this, that Christ the King Sunday wasn’t formally created until 1925, and has moved around in the actual date it is celebrated.  And my Presbyterian hackles go up in the mention of a “king”—the pinnacle of a hierarchical system.  Presbyterians have coded into their DNA that we don’t place one person at the top.  We don’t have bishops.  We don’t have a pope.  At every level of our connectional church, we elect bodies of people: sessions, presbyteries, synods, even general assembly.  We elect a moderator, or co-moderators to represent the whole for a year or two.  But at the heart of Presbyterian polity is the idea that God works through the gatherings of faithful people, with all the slowness of compromise, and all the richness of different perspectives. 

So why do we still proclaim that this is Christ the King Sunday?  Why do we talk about king of kings and lord of lords, or picturing him appearing in the clouds, with the trumpets blaring and the angel armies ready for the last battle?  I know that pieces of ourselves, our thought patterns seep into how we construct the world.  It nags at my feminist, and my ever-trying anti-racist mind.  What exactly are we buying into when we say “Christ, the King”?

Didn’t the idea of Christ as King—give sway to priests and kings and missionaries thinking that they knew better than anyone else?  Doesn’t the idea of Christ as King undergird patriarchy deciding that men should rule over women, and undergird white supremacy in the lie that a white master should rule over black slaves?  Is it time to give up our need to have Jesus be the ultimate Warrior, the ultimate Head of State, the ultimate Decider?  Is Christ the King part of a framework that supports injustice?  And at the bottom of my questioning comes that little voice--Is “king” who Jesus showed himself to be?

Maybe what I am struggling with is that word “king.”  Maybe, the word has gotten twisted.  And instead of trying to fit Jesus into the mold of the kings we have seen or experienced here on earth, Jesus becomes the prototype of what a “king” ought to be.  This “king” teaches us to welcome the little ones, the vulnerable, into our midst.  This “king” asks us to be willing to give all to the poor so we can come and follow him.  This “king” declares the power of servanthood, where authority is vested in the last and the least.  This “king” is very different from any other king we have known.

Jesus has an inner circle, a faithful crew, but he bends down to wash their feet.  When some of the disciples want to fight off the soldiers in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus doesn’t blow the trumpet or raise the banner—he says, put away your swords.  Jesus’ power is shown in what the world would term weakness, death on a cross. 


And if we weren’t attuned enough to the dissonance between Jesus and earthly kings—we have the scene of Jesus and Pilate from the gospel of John as one of our lectionary texts.  Jesus and Pilate look one another in the eye.  We could see this as the summit to end all summits—the embodiment of the Roman Empire in Palestine face to face with the Messiah—the embodiment of all the hopes and dreams of the people of God.  Two very different rulers.  And they have a discussion about being a “king.”  But you can tell they are talking on two diverging levels.  Pilate sees king as power and might.  Jesus sees it as the One bringing in God’s kingdom.  As a Seasons of the Spirit writer reframes Jesus’ answer, he says,  “I came to show people how to live in God’s way. I want people to know what is true and what is good. Those who want to know what is true, listen to me. They will not always obey you or the other rulers. If that’s what you call a king, then call me a king.”

“If that’s what you call a king, then call me a king.  The ones who listen to me will not always obey you or the other rulers.”  In Jesus’ mind, it comes down to a question of priority.  In the end, who do we let construct the way we see the world?  In the end, who is it who helps us pick the words that become our foundation?  In the end, who do we follow, who do we listen to?  In the end, if the answer is Jesus, then, “if that’s what you call a king, then call Jesus a king.”

I do think that our own worldview might have had something to do with the choice of that word King.  For it wasn’t the only option.  In the Old Testament there were three iconic leaders.  Prophets, Priests, and Kings.  Prophets were the voices from the margin, the ones closely in tune with God, the ones calling us to “repent,” “return,” recommit.  Priests led in spiritual matters, and were part of a brotherhood—the ultimate job, going into the holy of holies, communing with the living God who took the ark of the covenant as God’s footstool, was a rotating position.  You were elected to go in, but only for a time, then it passed to another.  Kings were tasked (by God) with leading the people in the earthly realm, serving as the political face of God’s people.

Messiah was intended to fulfill all these roles.  Messiah was to turn the world inside out and upside down, so justice and Shalom would finally be present (a prophet).  Messiah was the ultimate conduit between human and divine (a priest).  And Messiah was the one who would bring in the new realm, the new kingdom of God (a king).  So when we declare “Christ the King” Sunday, what we really mean—is the One who is Prophet, and Priest, and King all rolled up into one Has Come.

 But it is more than that.  Christ the King Sunday isn’t just about who Jesus is.  It is about our relationship to who Jesus is.  We are now at the culmination of the Christian year.  This Sunday is a time to look back on all that we have learned as we have been reading about Jesus and what he teaches us about life.  It is the wrap up session.  But it also stands as a bridge to the season of Advent that is about to begin.  Advent is not just a time of preparing ourselves for Emmanuel, for God with us as a baby, but is also the time when we prepare because we believe that Christ will come again, come again “to reign”—to institute the new heaven and new earth which Daniel and Revelation depict in all its glory and horror.

The passages at the front of the Advent season are very clear—no one gets to be on the sidelines when the kingdom comes.  You are either ready, or not.  You are either prepared, or not.  You are either awake, or you miss out.  So, get ready.  Make preparations.  Stay awake.  And how do we do that?  By taking “Christ the King” seriously.  By making Jesus the priority.  By seeing more clearly, and loving more dearly and following more nearly, day by day.

Christ the King Sunday calls into question the very words we use, the images we put up, as we talk and sing about the one we call Christ.  And maybe that is fitting, because my experience of the one we meet in the gospels, the one we meet in the gatherings and interactions of church, the one we meet in the movement of the Spirit, is often shaking norms.  Jesus lived a life that didn’t conform, in his day or ours—and he spoke what is often disturbing message.  Because it calls into question what we think of our world—the way the world so often behaves and so often works.  We see it in that quiet scene—where Pilate wants to make a deal, to smooth over the differences, to make the nastiness go away.  And Jesus refuses.  Because they are on opposite poles, they have different desires.  And there is no compromise, no way of moving forward Pilate and Jesus, hand in hand.

Revelation and Daniel and all the apocalyptic literature gazes into the future and says, I know how it will all work out.  I know who will eventually win.  I know who comes out on top.  Jesus, the triumphant.  Jesus, coming on the clouds.  Jesus the One who is part of the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.  Jesus, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.  To know the ending is good news, because it gives us hope to slog through the journey, to continue to do the “work” of justice and mercy and shalom.  It is the “big picture,” the end of the arc of justice, and what we are to hold in front of our eyes as God’s truth.

But what it means for us, is that we can’t fool ourselves into thinking that Jesus is ok with us making room for him inbetween the worldly things that so occupy us—we can’t pretend that we can come to church on Sunday and then behave in different ways the other six days—we can’t give lip service to following Jesus and think that we can shut our eyes to the ways in which our world stubbornly holds tight to all the things that are so anti-Jesus.  That isn’t how it goes.  Christ the King Sunday wants us to declare our allegiance.    

In another setting Jesus said, Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  But we know we have pledged to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  We have lustily sung that we are going to “do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.”  We are God’s own.  That doesn’t leave much for Caesar.

The questions on the last Sunday of the Church year, may be the same questions we often think about as the calendar year turns. 

How did we do with our pledge, our commitment, our loyalty?

          What do we need to do better?

What can we dream about accomplishing in the new year about to start?

On this Sunday before Thanksgiving, I am so grateful for this community, this band of followers we call UPCWO.  You inspire me with your willingness to reach out to those in need.  You overwhelm me with the multitudes of talents you are willing to share.  You bless me with your prodding and your encouragement.  I believe that together we are trying to be faithful to the best of our ability, with God’s help.

And I am in awe of what God has offered us.  A place in the covenant.  Membership in the band who are “on the way.”  The gift of being nudged and astounded by the hovering presence that is closer than we dare imagine.

Life certainly can throw us some curve balls.  And this has been a tough year for many of us.  But when I take stock of all God’s blessings in my life, I can truly say, along with the Psalmist:  “My cup runneth over.”  And as we walk through the door to a new year, may “goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives, and may we dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.”


May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.