Windows over the chapel altar; Church of the Incarnation, Highlands, NC
I wonder if you were looking forward as much as I was to the the new season of The Crown. As we saw in September, while viewing the various events related to the Queen’s funeral, the British Royal Family is a source of enduring fascination for many of us. And yet, I think we -as Americans- have a hard time imagining what it means to live within a monarch’s sovereignty. Since the founding of our country as a republic, the framework for our government has made it difficult for us to understand the significance of having a king or a queen. Especially when these roles are transmitted through heredity, rather than resulting from whom we designate through our political will.
All this is especially significant for us this week, having celebrated the feast of Christ the King this past Sunday. For consciously or not, we are prone to an ancient heresy. It is this: in believing that Jesus was an ordinary and yet a particularly spiritual human being who, by faithfully serving as the Messiah, was then somehow ‘promoted.’ That is, promoted above and beyond his human family, to achieve a semi-divine status. It is easy to mis-read the passion narratives at the end of the Gospels and come to this misunderstanding. For in one way or another, the Gospel writers – especially John’s Gospel – portray Jesus’ Crucifixion, and his subsequent Resurrection and Ascension, as the sequence of his royal ‘coronation.’
Yet, in a monarchy like that of Britain, coronation does not suddenly make the forthcoming king or queen into something that he or she was not before then. Instead, a traditional coronation is an act of public declaration of what he or she has always been, even if only implicitly.
In other words, through a public ceremony of coronation we do not make kings or queens. As we will see next year with King Charles, who we should note is already king, his future coronation will recognize in an official public way how he has already begun to fulfill his sovereign role. This is very important for how we appreciate ‘the mock coronation’ of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel (23:33-43).
As Luke tells us in this passage, Jesus is crucified under an inscription that Pilate had written, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Judeans.”* The crowd at the place of the crucifixion protests the inscription. And following their lead, the soldiers mock him, saying, “If you are the King of the Judeans, save yourself!” They mock him while ironically mimicking the words of Satan during Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness.
The irony here is that, so far as we know, Jesus never directly said of himself, “I am the King of the Judeans,” which would have implied being a legitimate descendant and heir to the thrones of David and Solomon. But he died for having assumed this identity, an identity that was revealed in his teaching and in his works, and in his selfless fulfillment of the Scriptures.
Among the many things for which we can be thankful this week is the following fact. No one in the crowd at Jerusalem two thousand years ago, and none of us, makes or declares him to be the King. What we can affirm in faith is that his royal identity has always been in and with him. This fact has been revealed by God, whom he called his Father. For Jesus to be King in the sense of being the Messiah, the Son of God, means that he lived into the reality of God’s own abiding kingship of Israel.
May you and your loved ones have a blessed Thanksgiving.
This post is based on my homily for this past Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King, which may be accessed by clicking here. I took the above photo (note the crown above Jesus’ head) after the first Eucharist celebrated by the Rev. Kellan Day in that chapel in 2019, and someone whose path to ordination I and my former parish endorsed most enthusiastically. I offer this post with continuing thanks for her recognized gifts for ministry.
* “Judeans” is how N.T. Wright translates the word more traditionally rendered as “Jews,” with “Jews” being a contemporary translation that for readers may be misleading.
Note: John’s Gospel has the significant series of “I am” statements by Jesus, which may imply that he claimed legitimate succession from David and Solomon, but which do not approach anything like the political sounding self-identification that later condemned him.