From Crown to Crown
Festival of Christ the King: Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 20, 2022
“From Crown to Crown”
In a little over six months from now, on Saturday, May 6, 2023, King Charles III will be crowned as King of England in a ceremony at Westminster Abbey in London. This will be the first coronation in seventy years since Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on June 2, 1953. Charles automatically became King the moment his mother, the Queen, died, but the coronation formalizes the monarch’s role and marks the handing over of title and powers. The plans for the coronation are a closely guarded secret under the code name “Operation Golden Orb.” But we do know a few things about what will take place. In a ceremony that has largely been unchanged for 1000 years, the King will be anointed, and then presented with items such as the Royal Orb, representing religious and moral authority; the Scepter, representing power; and the Sovereign’s Scepter – a rod of gold topped with a white enamelled dove, symbolizing justice and mercy. Finally, the Archbishop of Canterbury will place St. Edward’s Crown on the King’s head. We remember these same items atop the casket of Queen Elizabeth at her funeral earlier this fall (King Charles III's coronation: What we know so far - BBC News). This is what we usually think of with kings, queens and royalty – lots of pageantry, tradition, and extravagant regalia. Compare that kind of coronation with that of Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson, Luke’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion. Christ our King did not wear a crown of gold, but one of thorns, and his throne was the wood of the cross. On this last Sunday of the church year, the Festival of Christ the King, the message is entitled “From Crown to Crown.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
The way in which Jesus is King doesn’t square up with the world’s definition of power and authority, then or now. The way in which Jesus is King was not at all what the people were looking for or expecting in who and what the promised Messiah should be. The expectation was that Messiah would be a conquering hero, a holy warrior, who would be restore the kingdom of David, remove outsiders and foreigners, and set his chosen people above everyone else, granting them most favored nation status. Clearly, Jesus did not fit the bill. What kind of King rules without an army? What kind of Messiah suffers in weakness and dies such a shameful death on the cross? All of this is the upside-down kingdom that Jesus came to bring. It is a kingdom where the last will be first and the first will be last (Matthew 19:30, 20:16; Mark 10:31). It is a kingdom where the proud are scattered in the imagination of their hearts; where the mighty are cast down from their thrones, and the humble are exalted. It is a kingdom where the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty (Luke 1:46-55). In truth, we’re not that different from the people of Jesus’ day. People today speak and write about a Jesus who is needed to bring back the “good old days,” throw out the foreigners, and enshrine this country as the new Israel. Jesus was quite clear when he stood before the embodiment of Roman power, Pontius Pilate, who questioned whether Jesus was, in fact, a king who would be a rival – a threat – to Roman rule and authority. Jesus stated to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). What Jesus said to Pilate then, he says to us today as well.
Even as he goes to the cross, Jesus ministers to others: the women who were mourning and lamenting for him. Even as he is nailed to the cross, Jesus prays to the Father that there may be forgiveness for those who are doing the nailing. Even in his agony there on the cross, suspended between heaven and earth, Jesus endures the abuse from the crowd who hurl insults at him. Even as he is dying, Jesus ministers with compassion to the repentant thief, assuring him of salvation: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). This is the kind of King we have: One who has taken our place in suffering and dying; One who has borne in his own body on the tree of the cross all of our sins and iniquities; One who has taken upon himself “the evil we have done and the good we have failed to do.” Everything that should have been ours – the righteous judgment, the sentence of condemnation, the punishment for sin – Christ our King has done for us. He became our Substitute, offering his life in place of ours, and calling us to new life in him. It is Jesus’ upside-down kingdom alone that will set everything right-side up.
It is precisely because Jesus wore the crown of thorns and was enthroned on the wood of the cross that Paul the apostle’s words in today’s Epistle lesson (Colossians 1:13-20) are so striking. Within just a few short years following Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus’ followers had a completely new world view because of who and what Jesus is. He is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). He is “is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). He is “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18). “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). It’s quite likely that this, in fact, is one of the earliest Christian hymns. We don’t know what the music may have sounded like, but the words here are awe-inspiring, majestic, and glorious – all in praise of Christ our King. There’s something very counter-cultural here as well because Jesus is countering the claims of empire. When all is said and done, we cannot say to any earthly ruler what we can say about Jesus. He alone is worthy of our worship and praise because he alone is the One who has saved and redeemed us from sin, death, and hell.
As we gather in the week ahead with family and friends for Thanksgiving, of all the blessings that we have received and for which we give thanks, chief among these is the gift of faith in our risen, reigning and returning Savior Jesus Christ. From the crown of thorns to the crown of eternal majesty of Christ our King, there is no game of thrones here. There is only one throne and one King. Amen.