An Upside-Down Kingdom – Br. James Koester

Feast of Christ the King
Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14

I must confess that I find this feast, or at least the title of this feast, problematic. What are we to make, living as we do in a republic, with something call the Feast of Christ the King? In Canada, which is in fact a constitutional monarchy, and not a republic, this Sunday is now known as The Reign of Christ. Yet even there, images of royalty, inherited privilege, power, and immense wealth, raises hackles. At the same time, we see in the news how prime ministers are becoming more presidential, and presidents more imperial, as political power and authority become more localized and focused in one person, or office. It doesn’t help that the tabloids rely on people’s appetites for embarrassing tell all tales of the rich and privileged to maximize sales. All of this makes a feast dedicated to the kingship of anything, a complex and complicated proposition. Maybe it’s time simply to reclaim the Prayer Book tradition and refer to this Sunday as The Last Sunday after Pentecost, or The Sunday Next Before Advent, which is what we called it when I was growing up.

However, having said that, today’s feast is not a promotion of some kind of imperial portrait of King Jesus, although there are lots of pictures of Jesus crowned, seated on a throne, holding orb and sceptre, wearing imperial robes. Nor is today an attempt to advocate for some kind of divine right of kings (or presidents!) ruling from Pennsylvania Avenue or Buckingham Palace. Rather, today’s feast is an antidote to all of the images, real and fanciful, we associate with the word king. It is an antidote to King Anyone because the world has in fact never seen, except once, the kind of king we mean, when we speak of Christ the King.

So, forget for a moment the myths, and legends, and fairytales of princes and princesses on their wedding day. Forget for a moment the images of queens dripping in jewels, or kings riding in magnificent carriages. Forget for a moment the exercise of unlimited power, the accumulation of untold wealth, and the sense of entitled privilege. Forget for a moment everything you know, or think you know, about kings and queens, about monarchs and monarchy, and come with me on a journey into an upside-down kingdom.

Our journey into this strange upside-down kingdom begins in the book of Daniel, where we see with Daniel in the night visions,

one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.[1]

It all sounds so familiar, or at least, as we would expect, for this one who comes with the clouds of heaven is given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him. Surely this is kingship as we know it. And yet, and yet….

There is one phrase, one verse, buried in the text, that no doubt slipped passed you.

    As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.

Translated here as one like a human being, it is translated elsewhere as son of man, and suddenly things get a little less glitzy, a little less glamourous, a little less privileged, because, after all, the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.[2] It is this same Son of Man who was to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, … [and condemned] to death.[3]

This is no longer a myth, or legend, or fairytale. It is not what we see in the news or read in the tabloids. Gone are the jewels, the carriages, the power, the wealth, and the privilege. Instead of a throne, our king reigns from a cross, and rules on his knees. His crown is thorns. His orb and sceptre, a basin and towel. His law is love.[4]

In this upside-down kingdom the poor, and grieving, the meek and hungry, the merciful and purehearted, the peacemakers, persecuted, and reviled, are blessed.[5] In this upside-down kingdom the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.[6] In this upside-down kingdom the least, the last, and the lost are found, embraced, and welcomed home. In this upside-down kingdom sinners are forgiven, and enemies reconciled.

The world has seen a king like this only once. And we are here to tell the tale, of lives transformed by loving service, for this king has set an example for us, that we also should do, as he did for us,[7] even if it means laying down our lives.[8]

The kingship of the Son of Man turns all kingship upside-down, and we who wear his cross, having been marked and sealed in Baptism,[9] and who claim him as Lord and Saviour, are citizens and saints of this upside-down kingdom.[10]

The challenge for us who are citizens of this upside-down kingdom is to live, not standing on our heads, but standing on our feet, living in a world where might is right, and power is reserved to the few, and the rich. Standing on our feet, we see a world ruled by Pilate, where bandits are released, and the innocent put to death.[11] But in the upside-down kingdom where Christ is king, the foolish shame the wise, and the weak shame the strong,[12] kings wash the feet of beggars, and masters wait upon servants.[13]

When the world loses itself in visions of jewels and carriages, power, wealth, and privilege, Pilate has become king. But today is not the feast of the kingship of Pilate. It is the feast of Christ the King, who has come into the world calling us friends,[14] and inviting us to spend our lives living standing on our heads, so that we can see the world as God sees it, and as it was created to be.


Lectionary Year and Proper: Proper 29, Last Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

[1] Daniel 7: 13b – 14

[2] Matthew 20: 28

[3] Matthew 20: 18

[4] See John 13: 1ff

[5] Matthew 5:1ff

[6] Luke 7: 22 – 23

[7] John 13: 15

[8] John 15: 13

[9] Episcopal Church, The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, page 308

[10] Philippians 3: 20

[11] John 18: 40

[12] 1 Corinthians 1: 27

[13] Luke 12: 37

[14] John 15: 15

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  1. Thomas DeFreitas on November 19, 2022 at 05:10

    I love this. The servant king. “His orb and sceptre are basin and towel.” Especially resonant for me as this past Maundy Thursday marked the first time I washed feet in church.We Christians “reign” from our knees, and are well advised to leave ecclesial jingoism and pious bluster to others. Let us instead rejoice in the upside-down world of our Sovereign Servant!

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