There are rumors that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle might soon be engaged, but the palace has issued a statement that they won’t offer commentary on the relationship. The gossip columns feature pictures claiming to capture Kate Middleton’s baby bump as she appears in a dress not unlike the Disney princess, Elsa, wore in Frozen. And today is Christ the King Sunday.
Paul wrote to the church at Philippi that we are to be royal watchers. We are to treat Jesus the way the tabloids treat royalty. Follow him. Try to catch a glimpse of what he is really like. Dream of living the way he does. Even have the same mind, the same attitude, he had. He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human form and humbled himself and became obedient unto death, on a cross. Therefore God has exalted him and given him the name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord. (Philippians 2:6-10)
John saw him, in his revelation, astride a white horse; his eyes like flame, his head adorned with many crowns. Robed in a robe sprinkled with blood, inscribed with “King of Kings and Lord of Lords. “(Revelation 19:16)
Methodist pastor Sue Haupert-Johnson points out that “The Church through the ages has gotten a lot of mileage from this regal imagery. The royal pageantry, the cathedrals, the robes, the brass, even the crown: “All hail the power of Jesus’ name, let angels prostrate fall. Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown him Lord of All!” This powerful imagery captures our collective imagination.
And so, in 1925, Pope Pius XI set aside the last Sunday in October as Christ the King Sunday, hoping to capture the awe of Christians and reverse the culture trend of the 1920’s toward secularism. He hoped that the faithful would be reminded that “Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies.” In 1969, Christ the King Sunday was moved to the last Sunday in the church year. It seems fitting to look back over the last year and look for the places and ways we have seen the Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, even as next week the first Sunday in the church year is the first Sunday in Advent, the first Sunday of waiting for the coming of Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah.
Whenever I think of kings, I inevitably remember playing checkers with my brother when we were kids. When our piece reached the opponents’ side, we would boastfully shout, “King me!”
Never did we consider being shepherd kings. So, it might seem odd to us that the lectionary offers us this passage from Ezekiel. The imagery of kings as shepherds predates Biblical times, though. Biblical scholar, Dr. Gregory Mobley writes, “The image of a king as shepherd is older than the Bible and Hebrew tradition itself. It is part and parcel of the metaphors for a king throughout the ancient Near East and it attested in Mesopotamian texts from a millennium before the Bible began to be written. [around 3000 BC]
The shepherd image is the ancient way that monarchs communicated, “I feel your pain.” The focus of the image is on the care and protection the shepherd offers the flock.”
Israel asked for God to give them a king. They wanted to be like all the other nations and have a king to govern them and go out and fight their battles. But God kept telling them, you don’t know what you are asking for…but finally, God sent Saul to the prophet Samuel and he was anointed and became the first king of Israel. He was followed by King David and then Solomon. But then the kingdom divided. The kings have not been good shepherds. They have taken care of themselves and not their sheep. They have clothed themselves with the wool; they have slaughtered the fatlings and eaten the fat. Now, God’s people are in exile. “The weak,” says God, “you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the crippled you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered…and became food for wild beasts.”
So, I will go and search for them myself. I will gather them and feed them, make them lie down, I will strengthen the weak and watch over the strong. I will save my flock, promises God. I will set up over them one shepherd, a restored monarchy like King David’s reign.
It is this monarchy we celebrate on Christ the King Sunday. We are royal watchers of the reign of a king who identifies with hungry and thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned. Jesus said, “As you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”
We serve a king who was a first time Room in the Inn guest this week. When asked how his night was, he responded “I have never been treated with more kindness in my whole life.” We worship a king who suffering in South Sudan, walking for miles for clean water, watching for the ominous movement of militia on the road. We honor a king who mourns in Egypt, in Mexico City, in hospital rooms and the muck and mud of receding flood waters. We exalt a king who knows us as a shepherd knows his sheep and feeds us with justice.
Last week in Sunday school, we got on the subject of being called sheep. It’s not really a complement. Sheep are not really able to take care of themselves, and they have a tendency to wander off because they put their heads down to eat and follow the greenest grass, wherever that might take them.
A new study was released this month on sheep, though. The article that caught my eye was titled cleverly “Ewe Look Familiar.” British researchers studied the ability of sheep to recognize faces and proved that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities. The sheep were trained to recognize Emma Watson, Barack Obama, Jake Gyllenhaal, and British journalist Fiona Bruce. I was disappointed that they didn’t teach them to recognize the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge or Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. But it did make me think…who are we training to recognize?
May we be royal watchers, training to recognize Christ our King and our Shepherd. Amen.