Things are not always as they appear. Sometimes it’s a silly little thing like wearing blue pants when you thought you’d put on black. I’ve done that. But maybe it’s something big and inexplicable like a king hanging on a cross, a throne made of a pole and crossbeam, bickering thieves on either side instead of royal attendants. Indeed, when we think of a king, we don’t usually think of a cross. Perhaps true kingship is not what it appears to be.
We have not been here since March 25, that was Good Friday. Before we begin the new year, though, the lectionary sits us down and forces us to look at our king hanging on a tree; to remember who we follow and where he leads.
Calling Jesus a king is a big joke for Pilate. Earlier he had asked Jesus if he was the king of the Judeans, and Jesus had been noncommittal about it. Pilate must have chuckled to himself when wrote the words… “This is the King Of The Judeans.” There was, of course, already a king of the Judeans so the charge against Jesus was serious. But, I don’t think Pilate was worried about Jesus making a royal claim. I think he was just enjoying his little joke. What an odd kind of King you are!
An odd king is fit for an odd kingdom. We don’t talk much about kingdoms anymore. There’s the Kingdom of Oman, the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia, and even the tiny Kingdom of Fife in Scotland; but hardly any of us identify with a kingdom, an empire, or even a nation anymore. Paul J. Nuechterlein has suggested that a better name for this Sunday would be Culture of Christ Sunday since we can all identify with one or more cultures.
I like Nuechterlein’s Culture of Christ Sunday because each of us takes part in creating, and often recreating, the cultures of which we are a part. We become part of the culture and define the culture by participating in it. No one is unimportant because, without even one, the culture is somehow different. It is a better image of the sacred community, or communion of saints, that is the true kingdom of which Christ rules.
There are 21 weeks between now and the resolution of this text on Easter Day. That gives us plenty of time to explore just what kind of kingdom, or culture, the Christ Culture is.
This week we can see that it is a suffering culture, and it is a forgiving culture. Next week we will see that it is a culture of surprise (Jesus is like a thief who surprises us.) In the second week of Advent, we will see that it is a culture of repentance (“Repent,” cries John the Baptizer.) In the third Sunday of Advent, we will read about an evidence-based culture (Jesus tells the followers of John to report what they have actually seen and heard.) Each week we will get clues as to what kind of kingdom/culture Jesus is Lord of.
It is a long way to Easter. And this image of suffering, injustice, shame is not a very optimistic way to end the year. Between now and Easter, though, there’s work to be done to figure out who we are, what kind of culture we inhabit. We must remember that things are not always as they seem. Sometimes black is really blue
, sometimes the crucified one is really a king, thieves wind up in paradise, and shame is turned into glory… But, I’m getting ahead.
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, but will soon be moving to Yangzhong — home of the Puffer Fish — in the Yangtze River.
Some Notes of Possible Interest.
I have not listed all the countries which call themselves kingdoms.
I enjoy the Girardian Reflections site. It always makes for a nice read, and there are links to sermons and resources. I encourage you to click around over there.