Psalm 93, Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37
Today in the Anglican Church we observe the feast of Christ the King, honouring Jesus Christ as lord over all creation. Our readings draw focus on the idea of Christ as King and in doing so offer us a challenge. They challenge our ideas about what kingship is, and they also challenge our understanding of truth.
Our reading today from the Gospel of John includes the famous scene where the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, questions Jesus about whether he is ‘king’ of the Jews. This moment is also repeated in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and Jesus’ reply in all four Gospels is well known: “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Unlike the synoptic Gospels however, in our reading today from this initial question and counter-question, the questioning continues– making this following dialogue unique to the Gospel of John. Here John records another statement by Jesus regarding the origin of his kingdom and the clearly drawn distinction between that kingdom and the world. Jesus’ identity as king dominates John’s narrative from here through to Jesus’ crucifixion.
Pilate, who is obsessed with one word, “King”, and with only one meaning – that of power - follows the questioning with the rejoinder ‘So you are a king?” to which Jesus replies, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs in the truth listens to my voice.”
Our lectionary gospel reading ends here, but what comes next is one of the most famous sayings from scripture. In verse 38 Pilate replies: “What is truth?
It’s a good question for us to ask ourselves today as we mark Christ the King, which as well as honouring Jesus as lord of all creation, also marks the end of the Christian year. New Year’s Eve, if you like, in the church Calendar, a week of time before the new Christian Year begins with the First Sunday of Advent.
I doubt we will launch into Auld Lang Syne and no fireworks will be set off, but we may reflect on the past year, a year of lament and also of hope and looking to the new as we emerge from the pandemic. A time to prayerfully ask ourselves, where have we been? where are we going? and what is our truth as a church here in Kew, and individually?
What better moment to reflect on kingship and truth, as we prepare for a time of waiting for our Lord of Lord and king of kings, who comes to us not with a crown and jewels and a mighty army, but as a tiny vulnerable baby in a manger.
What Jesus is offering as a description of his own kingship is truth – you might also say reality. Revelation calls it ‘the Alpha and Omega,… who is and who was and who is to come’. If the actual reality of the world, from its creation to its end, is like Jesus, then this strange human obsession with power is entirely false, an aberration. It has no ability to create, to redeem or to sanctify. If Jesus is the truth, then any other way is falsehood, and will fail. Reality, as it was, and is, and is to come, is shaped by a different kingship – a kingship of truth.
But, like Pilate, we might ask - what is the truth that Jesus speaks of?
In intellectual terms, we tend to think of truth in terms of reliability and dependableness. In religious terms, it expands way beyond this to God’s will and revelation, in a way that makes us think in terms of reality and understanding. In the New Testament, it is possible to speak of truth as something that is done rather than something that is simply believed or thought of. It is something active that speaks through our words and actions. To find our truth we must seek to know God and live as active witnesses on our life journey of faith. Jesus’ life and mission is a model of this for us. In Jesus, we learn that truth is about faithful living and witness, rather than only a matter for contemplation. Truth is something we do.
Truth can be transforming if we seek it through looking deeply into who we are and what we have become, to try to live into what we can and should be. By looking deeply, we must look at what is right and wrong in our actions and attitudes toward others and within ourselves. This means that we challenge ourselves to look beyond what we think is truth, to the truth represented by Jesus. The truth that Jesus represents is found in God, who is love and grace.
I believe that each of us has this truth within us, our God given vocation if you like. Gifts from God to help bring God’s kingdom a little closer to reality here on earth. We are not mighty powerful kings either, but in our fallibility and vulnerability lies a truth waiting to be sought out. A truth which is active rather than passive. This means we not only accept responsibility for the world around us but seek to be a part of God’s transformation of it.
As we celebrate Christ the King we can end the year and begin the year trusting in Jesus, the alpha and the omega – the beginning and the end and all the in-between is with us.
Testify to and rejoice in that truth and let the sound of our rejoicing ring in Advent and our new Christian year.
And when we call Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, when we sing to him as our king, we remember that what we are celebrating is the truth that comes from his lips and from his actions. It is a truth which shines out so insistently in the climax of St John’s Gospel. It is a truth that reveals that Christ’s glory lies not in a throne or sceptre, not in any of the clutter of earthly monarchy, not in any kind of power. No, glory radiates out from our suffering and vulnerable Christ, the speaker and liver of truth, lifted up on Golgotha.
Rev Melanie Harrington