The King and His Donkey – Br. Mark Brown

Br. Mark Brown

Christ the King Sunday

Daniel 7:9 -10, 13 -14
Psalm 93
Rev. 1:4b -8
John 18:33 -37

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the very last Sunday of the Christian year.  Which means that, ready or not, next week is Advent Sunday, the first Sunday of the year. This last Sunday draws our attention to the last things, the end times, the vision of the consummation and renewal of all things.

One of the chief images of this vision of the end times is Christ the King.  King of kings and Lord of lords, the Lamb upon his throne in the Book of Revelation: “Crown him with many crowns…”

But what kind of king is this, who was born in a stable, lain in a manger, worked in a carpentry shop, washed people’s feet and then died on a cross?  The Roman imperial authority, Pontius Pilate, would have entered Jerusalem in great pomp and display of military power, entering from the west, having come up from King Herod’s lavish port city of Caesarea, most likely riding a magnificent horse.The King of Kings came up from the east, through the barren splendor of the Judean desert and up and over the Mount of Olives—riding a donkey.

Today we contemplate the paradox.Paradox and contradiction are apparent in this very room.  This chapel, like countless others, is built in what is called the basilican plan.  The basilica is a style of construction that became common in the Roman Empire for official buildings: a central nave with high ceiling and clerestory windows, side aisles for additional space and to buttress the central structure, a semi-circular apse at one end.  The civil magistrate or imperial authority would sit on a raised platform in the apse.  A basilica is a kind of throne room. (The word basilica is related to the Greek word for king.)

But there is no throne here and no Roman imperial authority sits in pomp.(Don’t be fooled by the impostor in front of you in fine silk, damask and velvet!) There is no throne–but there is a cross.  And there is a table, front and center.  The emperor in this throne room, this King, would rather invite you to dinner and die for your sins than wield a scepter of power.

Our prayers reflect some of this paradox as well.  One of the prayers of consecration [Prayer B of the BCP] contains this phrase: “In the fullness of time, put all things in subjection under your Christ, and bring us to that heavenly country…”  Put all things in subjection under your Christ.  There is a variation of this Eucharistic Prayer in a Canadian Prayer Book that substitutes the following: “In the fullness of time, reconcile all things in Christ and make them new…”  Put all things in subjection under your Christ: reconcile all things in Christ and make them new… Both are scriptural, but there is a big difference in tone and emphasis.

Following the news these days the thought of Jesus coming back right now and straightening out the mess by putting all things in subjection under his divine authority might be very appealing—we sure could use some divine intervention these days. But it doesn’t look like that’s the way the King wants to do it.  The King of Kings has chosen not to make human beings marionettes or robots under his direct control.  Christ does not impose his will on us by force, even if it means we make messes, even terrible ones.

Why? I think it has to do with how we have been created and what we are to become.  In the book of Genesis we read that the Creator has created us in “his own image and likeness” [Gen. 1:26-27].  That means we, too, are creators—of a different order, of course, because we don’t create out of nothing, but out of something. And we are creators, or, we might say, “co-creators”: here we are in this beautiful building made by human hands.  I think it is singularly appropriate that a church building give witness to the divine image, the creator spirit, in us.  The building itself gives witness to God-given ingenuity, creativity, artistic sensibility, the skills of architecture, masonry, stone-carving, carpentry, glass making, metal working, plumbing, lighting design, organ building, organ playing, fabric weaving–to name a few.  All these things witness to the divine creativity working in and through us.  We are, indeed, creators and we create wonderful things.

But there is another dimension to our being created in the divine image: being created in God’s own image and likeness suggests that we human beings share with the Creator a measure of what we might call personal sovereignty.  God is sovereign ruler of the universe, we say—“King of kings and Lord of lords”. We’ve been created in God’s image and share with the Creator something of this sovereignty. Our personal sovereignty is of a different order, of course: God is God and we’re not.  And personal sovereignty has its shadow side: we can be self-absorbed, selfish, even narcissistic.

Yet, it seems that the King will not violate our sovereignty. God will not force us or compel us to do or think or believe anything. No, “for freedom Christ has set you free.” [Gal. 5:1]  The cost of God’s respect for our personal sovereignty is terrible sometimes: we can make horrible messes in our short-sightedness and self-absorption. And we do make horrible messes.  Which is what the Cross is all about.  God knows that the freedom he has given us, the personal sovereignty of our nature, will result not only in bad choices, but very bad choices.  The Cross is the remedy for the inevitable sins of a free people.

The King does not impose his will upon us, but rather breathes his bright Spirit into us. He does not force compliance to his will, but rather invites us to obedience, obedience in that more nuanced sense of deep listening.  If we are obedient, it is not to orders from on high, but it is to a vision, Christ’s vision for the new being we are becoming in him, Christ’s vision for the human enterprise which we are creating together with each other and with him.True obedience, holy obedience is obedience to Christ’s vision, an inner attentiveness to Christ’s indwelling Spirit and vision. He is available to us, but does not force Himself or His will on us.

If Christ is King, he is King of the free, whom he does not compel, but liberates through the inspiration of his bright Spirit.  If he is King of Kings, we are those Kings, in a sense.  If he is Lord of Lords, we are those Lords, in a sense, Lords who recognize the lordship of each and every human being made in his image and likeness. (By Kings and Lords I mean all of us, male and female.)

It certainly is tempting to call upon God to “put all things in subjection” under his Christ—and God may very well do that when he finally gets tired of the mess. But in the meantime, and the times seem to get meaner and meaner, he stays his mighty hand.  O Lord, “in the fullness of time, reconcile all things in Christ and make them new…”

“If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”(Paul in 2 Cor. [5:17-18])What a privilege it is–what a challenge it is–to share God’s creative energies, to share Christ’s work of reconciliation, to be part of his renewal of all creation–and to have the personal freedom to choose these things willingly.

Perhaps in the end times it will be like the Book of Revelation: the King of Kings coming with clouds on a great white horse, accompanied by an angelic cavalry of millions.  But for now, he seems to prefer a donkey to a horse, moving among us as servant, as foot-washer, as bright Spirit.  Today I imagine the King as a farmer coming into the Holy City from the olive groves, walking beside his donkey to lighten the gentle beast’s load, having put a garland of flowers around its neck. He passes through the midst of us: we, this unruly and raucous crowd, this wonderfully creative and terribly miscreant throng.  He moves quietly among his kings and lords, who so often forget to strew palm branches in his path.

But he breathes his Spirit toward us, around us, through us,into us anyway. Even now he breathes his creating Spirit, his reconciling Spirit, his liberating Spirit into us.  And says, “Do, please, come to dinner today.”

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