Christians take it for granted that Jesus is our King, but actually that’s a very strange title to give him. Why? Because most kings in biblical times, and down through the ages since, have been tyrants and dictators, just like some of those leaders still in power in many countries today. Think of Assad bombing his own people in Syria, and you get some idea of what I mean.
Jesus himself is reluctant to accept the title of king and usually talks of himself in much more modest terms, as the Son of Man, stressing his oneness with us as a fellow human being; but once, when pushed by Pontius Pilate during his trial, he does accept the title, but on his terms. We get it in John 18:33-38. When Pilate asks “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answers, “My kingdom is not of this world. Then Pilate says, “So you are a king?” And Jesus answers, “You say that I am a king” But then he goes on to explain what kind of king he is . “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth”. Pilate doesn’t think much of that, because his view of kings is a worldly one. He’s met many people in power who have claimed to be telling the truth, when they were actually lying , and so he almost humphs in desperation as he says “What is truth?”.
Our answer to this question is given to us beautifully in the prayer the priest says on this day once a year to sum up what the kingdom of God, of Christ, is really about. It is “an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” In other words, Jesus turns the idea of a king upside down. Kings of this world see themselves as destined to rule, and to expect everyone else to serve them; but in the kingdom of God, the one who is King comes amongst us as one who serves, and one who gives his life for us. As we heard in the 1st Reading (Ezek 34:11-17) and in that well-know Psalm, Jesus our King is not a ruler but a shepherd caring for us his sheep. Indeed, Jesus goes one step further, just in case we haven’t got the point, and says “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down is life for the sheep” (John 10:11)
However, there is a sense in which Jesus is like a king of this world; for one of the main reasons people in the olden days had kings was because they needed a war leader to lead them in battle against their enemies. Our 2nd Reading (1 Cor 15:20-28) shows us that Jesus does do battle for us against our enemies, but the enemies he defeats are not physical enemies. Indeed he makes it clear elsewhere that his followers will face physical enemies who will persecute and torture them, and even kill them. Being a Christian, having Jesus as our King, sadly does not protect us from this kind of enemy. Instead, having Jesus as our King protects us from something far more dangerous – the spiritual evils of the world – fear, anger, hatred, and above all eternal death.
Note that I say “eternal death” because, as we know, Christians die like anyone else does; but what we also know is that for us death is not the end, that we can have no fear of death because Jesus our King has defeated death. St Paul goes into more detail (2 Cor 6:4-10) when he says that “as servants of God we have commended ourselves” –How? First, “Through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings etc.” But then most importantly he adds that we do this as we face all these trials, “By purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech….. and the power of God.”
Yes, in the end, the power of Christ our King is the power of God; but God uses his power to lead us into goodness and love and peace, and he does this not by any worldly physical power. but simply by being and living out in himself that goodness and love and peace that we so long for.
For me, the greatest gift of all that God gives us is rest. We are rarely really at rest. We say we trust in God, but we do not live as if we trust in God. Instead, we worry and struggle and find ourselves often either angry or fearful in the midst of this sad bad world. There is no quick fix for this, only the promise that our King gives us, that in the long run, if we put our trust in him, then he will bring us to eternal rest. That’s surely why we pray for our loved ones who have died “Eternal rest grant to them O Lord”, knowing that what we ask for will be given to them and eventually to us too; because Jesus our King has promised this, and he will never let us down.