The Story of Jesus’ Triumphal…, Christ the King (C) – 1998
November 22, 1998
The story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is troubling in two ways. First, its closeness to Jesus’ crucifixion is disturbing. One day, Jesus is being proclaimed King. Five days later, the crowd is yelling, “Crucify him!” In this country, we are used to rapid changes in public opinion. But this is troubling in the extreme. Secondly, the concept of kingship is really suspect in our time. Most of the monarchies that were present when this century began aren’t here now. At worst, we associate monarchies with tyranny. At best, we think of kingship in sentimental images. Whatever our view of kingship may be, we no longer associate monarchs with real governmental or political power.
So how can we know Jesus as King? Is this an old theological concept that no longer has meaning?
The answer is to be found in our hearts and minds. For many, the notion of kingship may be so restrictive that it will not make any sense for them to think of Christ the King. Others will see it as a concept that has no power and is meaningless in our own age.
Some people may still cherish the notion of Christ the KING but, at the same time, may be tempted to be sentimental about it. Others will be tempted to triumphalism. And still others will be caught up in the pain of realizing that we proclaimed Jesus King one day and then crucified him five days later.
The place to look for meaning in Christ the King is in that meal that we normally call Holy Communion or the Holy Eucharist.
There are two primary ways to experience the Lord’s presence in the Holy Communion. One way might be described as “an audience with the King.” In this way of being in the presence of the Lord, we emphasize dignity, beauty and formality. The protocol of the ritual is very important. The phrase “decency and order” comes to mind as a way to describe being present with the Lord. Many of our church buildings are designed to enrich this understanding of what Holy Communion means. Music for celebrations of the Holy Eucharist can be extremely important – it is often formal, sung by a choir, and accompanied by an organ. Worship is the primary feeling of those present. Silence and reverence are the virtues practiced prior to the actual service.
In the context of the Eucharist, the personal experience of Jesus can be intensely private, personal, and deeply felt. Christians often leave the Eucharist with calm souls. If we grew up in the Episcopal Church, this way of worship is what we may remember most vividly from childhood. If we came into the Episcopal Church as young adults or adults, it may be the experience of meeting Christ in the Eucharist that first drew us to the sacramental life of the church. .
This is an authentic way to know Christ the King.
The other way that we experience Jesus in the Holy Eucharist might best be described as “supper with our friend who is also our Lord and Savior.” The model for this is the Last Supper. In this way of experiencing the presence of the Lord, we emphasize intimacy, community, and joy. This way of doing Holy Communion can be relaxed and informal. Children are not just tolerated but welcomed, despite all their fidgeting and noise. The sermon will likely be more informal. It may be a Bible-study discussion. And sometimes, these informal celebrations happen in informal spaces. There may be chairs rather than pews. The music may be contemporary-and it may be simple (but it must be heartfelt and personal). Rather than an organ, the instrument that accompanies the worship might be a guitar. This experience of Holy Communion may remind us of a camp setting. This, too, is an authentic way to know Jesus.
The real issue here is understanding Jesus as the Christ, the anointed of God, and understanding him as both personal Savior and King.
The key to this understanding is the text. In this Gospel text, Jesus came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. In the culture of Jesus’ own time, it meant that he came in peace, not as a conqueror. He also came to offer himself as a sacrifice. In his death on the cross, we discover the authority that creates his kingship. His authority is sacrificial love. His authority is not political. While his kingship does have political consequences, it is not derived from politics. His authority is not military. His authority is not financial. Although his authority may have financial consequences, it is not based on or derived from money. Jesus did not come to entertain us. But his kingship provides joy.
Christ’s kingship rests on the authority of complete, sacrificial, never-ending, and all-encompassing love. It is the complete love of God.
So, if you are one who prefers the “audience with the King,” the formal and stately celebration of the Eucharist, as your way of worship, feel blessed. But remember that the reason Christ the King receives you into his presence is because he loves you completely and is your personal Savior.
Or if you are a person who prefers “supper with your friend,” an informal celebration, as a way of being in the presence of Jesus, you should also feel blessed. But remember the reason your friend is the host at the table and feeds you with himself is because he is the King of all that is and will be. His authority is love.
And if the idea of Christ the King make no sense to you at all, don’t worry. What you think about Jesus is not nearly as important as what he thinks about you. Whatever your point of view may be, you are the object of his complete, unconditional, sacrificial love.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the Sermons That Work podcast to hear this sermon and more on your favorite podcasting app! Recordings are released the Thursday before each liturgical date.