Christ the King
Rev. Isaac Bradshaw
November 23, 2019
Christ the King
what a busy week we have this week! I mean, it’s New Year’s Eve! Right? And
it’s Christ the King Sunday! And this week is one of my favorite feast days!
Anyone know what it is?
the Feast of the Holy Sovereigns!
Who were the Holy Sovereigns, you may be asking? Glad you asked!
The Holy Sovereigns are King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma of Hawai’i. Born the with the Hawai’ian name ‘Iolani and grandson of Kamehameha I, the first king and unifier of the entire Hawi’ian island chain, he became king at the age of 20 when his uncle died. A year later, he married Emma, and they had a child, Albert, who tragically died at the age of four. In 1860, the monarchs petitioned the Church of England to send a bishop and priests to help establish Anglicanism in the Hawai’ian islands. This was a break with the strong ties the Hawai’ian monarchy had cultivated with Congregationalist missionaries beginning the 1840s. As a young prince, ‘Iolani visited England and became convinced that the Gospel would not be furthered in his Islands by the dour Puritanism of the Congregationalists or their insistence on praying in English and not in Hawai’ian; in 1862, the Sovereigns were baptized, a Book of Common Prayer in Hawai’ian was produced and the Hawai’ian Reformed Catholic Church was born as the Established Church for the Kingdom. The Gospel would be preached and taught in a language understood of the people, and inculturated to Polynesia. An indigenous church, for an indigenous king and an indigenous people. Though Kamehameha would die shortly thereafter in 1863 from chronic asthma, the Church of Hawai’i would last until the fall of the Kingdom in 1893.
But I’ll come back to that.
So what do the Holy Sovereigns have to do with Christ the King Sunday? Other than that both involve some connection to monarchy, a concept that as good, solid Americans have trouble thinking about. We tend to think of the State as embodied in certain ideals… Truth, Justice and the American way. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness. Freedom of Speech, Freed of Worship, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear. Sovereignty is understood in terms of the people… Remember, it’s ‘We the People’ forming a more perfect Union…
But in monarchy, the state is embodied in a legal concept represented by a person: The Crown. The government of the day carries out the will of the Sovereign in the name of the Crown. We associate it with ritual and ceremony, gold and ermine, power and privilege. And not just a little bit of family drama, if you’ve been watching the season 3 of the Crown or, in fact, been watching any of the latest drama with the Windsor’s.
But what we see in today’s Gospel isn’t crowns of gold and diamonds and rubies the size of your hand… It’s the assumption of a crown of thorns. It’s the idea of a just, righteous and self-giving king dying to restore justice to his people. A King that is a perfect ruler, who robes his people with his own power, and who destroys those who plague his people with “destruction and scattering.”
Christ the King as a Holy Day is the last Holy Day that was added to the Calendar way back in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, and was adopted by Anglican and Protestant Churches shortly thereafter. The date is important. Seven years after the end of the First World War, and three years after the seizure of power in Italy of the Fascists in Rome and the end of the Russian Civil War in the favor of the Bolsheviks. Although Nazism and the horrors of the Hitler regime in Germany were still on the horizon, Pius’ new Feast Day was intended as a rebuke to politicians and political movements that seek to establish for themselves the power over human life and death that only Christ the King possesses.
True Christian kingship, modelled on the King of Kings, looks like Calvary. It looks like a crucified man, with an ironic, snarky, wooden sign hanging above his bleeding wounds, who exercises his power and authority to rescue the one condemned man who, in the midst of all the blood and gore of a crucifixion says, “Remember me.”
That is what the kings and queens and presidents of our world don’t understand. Their kingdoms fall, their term ends, and the world continues turning. They will pass, but He will not. He will redeem his people from destruction because he destroyed death and destruction itself; we cannot make ourselves great again. We were never great to begin with. We resist sin long enough to send ourselves into heaven or bring down heaven to earth through political power. We can only kneel at the name and declare that Jesus is Lord. That he is the one who brings life, power and greatness to his people, not a red hat our heads or blue checkmark on our twitter feed.
Thirty years after Kamehameha and Emma brought the Gospel to the Hawaiian islands, their successor, Queen Lili’uokalani would stare face to face with people who thought they were kings. The Committee of Safety, they were called. Men who schemed and plotted to preserve their powers as plantation owners, politicians and religious leaders. Backed by US Marines and the support of the US Ambassador, the Committee took control of ‘Iolani Palace, forced the Queen to abdicate and imprisoned her, and with the stroke of a pen, destroyed centuries of indiginous Hawai’ian self-rule and seized control of millions of dollars of property from the crown estate. Hawai’ian Language, culture, history all wiped clean. Hawaiians disfranchised from their own land. As the prophet writes: Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. And Woe to anyone in our present day who sees the lives of others as expendable prices to pay for their own power and own selves. We horror lovers have a name for them: vampires.
And there’s always a but…
Christ our King promises justice. He promises the righting of every wrong, of wiping way of every tear… of bringing us with him into his kingdom because we believed his promise, even when he was broken and battered, that he would come back and do what no king, no president, no anyone could do. Listen to me very carefully: There is nothing special about Jesus the teacher if He is also not Christ the King.
What we choose to do with this, what we choose to do with the true King’s presence in our lives, is up to us. In her memoirs, Queen Lili’uokalani writes this:
That first night of my imprisonment was the longest night I have ever passed in my life; it seemed as though the dawn of day would never come. I found in my bag a small Book of Common Prayer according to the ritual of the Episcopal Church. It was a great comfort to me, and before retiring to rest Mrs. Clark and I spent a few minutes in the devotions appropriate to the evening.
Imagine that. Imagine 30 years after your death, in the darkest moment of a complete stranger’s life, your choice would bring peace and comfort to a prisoner. That’s what the Holy Sovereigns show us; that the choices we make, big and small, can bring Gospel, good news, to prisoners and the exploited and even, if they repent, those who imprisoned and those who exploited. You know, us. Me and you.
Christ the King promises us his kingdom. We just have to follow where he leads. Amen.