Christ the King, Proper 29, 22 November 2015

Christ the King - the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 29 - 22 November 2015

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


Background: The Day of the Lord
There is a field of study in Biblical Literature referred to as “eschatology” – it is a study of the “last things”.  The name comes from the Greek word eschatos, the last, inferring the last things of an era of history.  Both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures have distinct eschatological references, with the Hebrew or Prophetic references centering on the Land, and the continuance of Israel.  The prophets often describe a pattern of behavior and response (Israel covenants with God, Israel is unfaithful to the covenant, God punishes, Israel returns) that is best seen in the “Day of the Lord.”  Such a day, when God is seen in full power and might, exacting God’s will upon Israel, or upon her enemies, was first seen in the writings of Amos, with the Isaiahs, and others following.  In the Christian Gospels it is seen in Jesus’ prolepsis about the Kingdom of Heaven, in which all are called to repent and to see the presence of God and to anticipate a messianic era.  The visions of St. John the Divine in the Book of Revelation also engage these themes.  The notion of the Day of the Lord is prominent in the readings for this day.

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.
As I watched in the night visions,
I saw 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.

This is the second Sunday in which we contemplate something from the Book of Daniel.  This reading is from the second half of the book, which is devoted to dreams and visions experienced by Daniel.  The reading itself is one of the most influential pieces in the Book of Daniel, making itself felt in inter-testamental thought in Jewish circles, and certainly in the development of Christian thought about the “Son of Man”. The material with which this vision is constructed comes from various streams of iconography and literature in the Ancient Near East.  In some respects we have a similar vision in Isaiah 6 and of Ezekiel as well, but here a new element is added to this description of the “Ancient of Days”.  The new element is the “human being” who is brought up to the throne and presented before the Ancient One.  The imagery comes from the mythology of the Canaanites who believed that the Ba’al known in the storm god, and who would ride the clouds up into the heavens.  Regardless of its derivation, the thought here is of a messianic figure that will restore Israel, an image that the Christians saw through the lens of Jesus.

Breaking open Daniel:

1.     How do you picture God in glory?
2.     How do you picture Jesus in glory?
3.     How do these images enter your spiritual life?

Psalm 93 Dominus regnavit

The LORD is King;
he has put on splendid apparel; *
the LORD has put on his apparel
and girded himself with strength.

He has made the whole world so sure *
that it cannot be moved;

Ever since the world began, your throne has been established; *
you are from everlasting.

The waters have lifted up, O LORD,
the waters have lifted up their voice; *
the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.

Mightier than the sound of many waters,
mightier than the breakers of the sea, *
mightier is the LORD who dwells on high.

Your testimonies are very sure, *
and holiness adorns your house, O LORD,
for ever and for evermore.

Psalm 93 is seen both in the Septuagint and in the Talmud as representing the eve of the Sabbath, in which God, having completed the work of Creation, now rests and meditates on what has been done.  The imagery is both of kingship, where in God is seen guised as the King, and the mastery of creation, where God has conquered the floods of chaos, so that they are not only subdued but become a voice of praise to the Creator.  The final stanzas are liturgical in nature, affirming the voice of God in the Torah, and in the sanctity of the Temple.

Breaking open Psalm 93:
1.     What does the psalmist mean that the world has been made so sure that it cannot be moved?
2.     How does God rule creation?
3.     How does God rule your life?

Revelation 1:4b-8

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.

"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

In this prologue to the Book of Revelation, the Seer is greeted and given a view of what is to come.  In a sense, the theme and the conclusion of the book are announced at the very beginning.  It is Jesus who is seen as the one who ascends on high (see the first reading).  The theological points are laid out, the foundation of the vision’s argument:  Jesus is one with the Ancient of Days, Jesus is the faithful witness to God, and the first fruit of the resurrection, and the ruler of all that exists.  To his is added the vision of Jesus as the one who is to come again.  All of this is tied into the Alpha and Omega phrase; Jesus is both the beginning and the end.  What follows this is the tribulation that comes with believing this vision of Jesus as the King of Creation.  The Seer knows that such belief has the benefits of salvation, as he views the followers as a kingdom of priests.

Breaking open Revelation:

1.     What does it mean to you that Jesus will come again?
2.     Does your life have a beginning and an ending? 
3.     What does it mean for you that Jesus is “Alpha and Omega”?
4.     What is your role in the “kingdom of priests”?  How do you exercise it?

St. John 18:33-37

Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "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 to the truth listens to my voice."

This conversation, which takes place in the Praetorium – in the heart of worldly power, turns on where that power is truly to be found.  Pilate wants to know what Jesus is in the world.  Jesus answers in turn from the viewpoint of another nexus of power – the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is a difficult conversation, one that Pilate does not fully grasp.  The nature of Jesus’ kingship, however, is of a more distinctive nature, and it is not really of interest to Pilate who is here concerned with matters of state, and national security.  Jesus uses as a proof of his unworldly kingship the mere fact that he is in captivity.  Were he a worldly ruler, his followers would have besieged the Praetorium.  That, however, is not the case.  The truth of the situation is the distinctive cusp between these two worlds, that of the political leader, and that of the Son of Man.  The former attempts to define truth in terms of the world.  Jesus, however, witnesses to the truth – the truth that seems to evade Pilate and his kind.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     In Pilate’s place, what questions might you have had for Jesus?
2.     What is the difference between Pilate’s power and that of Jesus?
3.     How do you live both in and outside of the world?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller


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