“Being a real king mean[s] being a slave first.” Fred Rogers
During my pilgrimage to England in March, I had the joy of praying at the Shrine of Edward the Confessor, who lived and reigned around the turn of the millennium. As king, Edward became known by his people for his acts of mercy, kindness, and holiness. He’s buried today at Westminster Abbey, the Benedictine monastery that he helped to found during his lifetime, and where he rests in an enormous shrine in the center of the Chancel. Edward’s tomb is now surrounded by the tombs of many other kings and queens of England.
You have to climb a short staircase into his shrine and once you’re in the shrine you find the Edward’s coffin is in fact even another 7 or 8 feet directly in front of and above you. Those who make the journey to the shrine are invited to sit just in front of his coffin where a small altar has been erected.
Most kings and queens of England visit Edward’s tomb during their own coronations. They approach the tomb, there in the heart of Westminster Abbey, and surrender Edward’s scepter, orb, and crown, before kneeling in prayer.
It’s fitting, I suppose, that before St. George was the patron saint of England, it was St. Edward, wasn’t an especially successful king. Neither was he a martyr. At the end of the day, he was what I would hope we’d consider a normal Christian. Someone convinced of his own being beloved by Christ. And in response to that love, he loved others. He cared for others. Edward is a saint because, among other things, he showed his fellow people the love of Christ, his life, his whole person became a window through which others could look to see God in their lives. For Edward, being a king did not mean lording his own agenda over his people, but rather making his own people first.
Fred Rogers once said, “Being a real king mean[s] being a slave first.”
Being a slave first…. I think that’s what we see in Edward’s reign. A king who showed his people how to be servants, how to put others before themselves.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, which is supposed to put in mind the kind of reign and rule that Christ has over the world. Christ’s reign isn’t partisan or polemical. There’s no one form of government that Jesus prefers over another, except, I assume, his own. Rather, Christ’s kingship, he sovereignty extends from his creation of all things, visible and invisible, to the life of the world to come, to quote our creed.
Today, however, if you’re anything like me, you look at a King like Edward the Confessor and hope for more leaders like him, leaders who followed Christ’s example. We year for harmony in our country, for justice, for an end to strife, to see peace in our days. We hope for leaders like that. We look to someone like Edward in hope.
But, take note, Edward wasn’t the kind of king that he was because he thought he himself was a model worth emulating or putting our hope in. Rather, he himself emulated the only King worth being called King, Christ. Edward wouldn’t have wanted us to place our hopes on him.
After all, Christ isn’t just another ruler amongst rulers. Christ is the ruler from which all authority comes, and the ruler that will judge all other authorities.
As grand as that sounds, it also makes Christ’s rule sound rather far off, very end of time.
It sounds like the kind of reminder that makes light of our contemporary problems, as we look to the end of time reign of Jesus.
And yet, it’s Christ’s kingship, it’s surrendering to Christ, the king of kings, that made Edward the kind of self-effacing ruler that he was. It’s recognizing that the only ruler worth placing our hopes on is Christ that leads rulers to see their authority in perspective, to see their obligation to care, and shepherd, and be true.
In fact, surrendering to Christ for the average Christian does not mean giving up on any of our contemporary problems, any more than it means abandoning our contemporary joys. Rather, surrendering to Christ liberates us from seeing the world through our own narrow gaze. Seeing the world this way, through the eyes of faith, hope, and love, we’re enabled to begin to approach the world’s problems as he would, yes, as a king, but as a king who first became a slave, a king who preached the love of neighbor.
Still, Christ the King Sunday does ask us to give up one thing; it asks us to give up the idea that anyone, but Christ will save us. Not an earthly king, not a president, not a philosopher or guru, not a spouse or mentor, not even we can save ourselves. Instead, we must come to recognize that we have one savior. And then it asks us to enter into our pains and trials, as well as the world’s pains and trials, as Christians, as followers of the King who was first a slave, and to love others as he loves us.
Christ the King Sunday asks us to look forward in hope.
Have we forgotten how to do that? When our preoccupation is this day, this year, this life, have we forgotten how to look forward like that? Do we know how to hope?
I’m not sure if we’re supposed to have favorite Christians, but if I’m honest, I do. One of my favorite Christians is a man named Basil who lived in the 4th century. He once said, “If there has been a beginning do not doubt of the end.” The Bible narrates in many different ways the beginning of the cosmos as coming from God and being unequivocally good. Basil wants us to see that if God made it good from the start, God will bring our cosmos to a good ending. We should place our hopes in that.
But again, that hope does not get us off the hook here and now. In fact, because we have hope, we should be strengthened in courage, faith, and love to live as Christ has called us, and as we promised we would in our baptisms, to resist evil, to proclaim the good news, to lift up the lowly, the poor, the orphaned and widow, and to love the stranger.
The last two weeks, we’ve listened to enigmatic parables about lamps and bridesmaids and servants and extraordinary wealth. What ties both of these parables together is Jesus’ uncanny reminder that the master will return, and he will return as the master. Our job is not to predict that return, it’s exact place or nature, or even what will take place before it. We are called to be ready, to be ready in hope, faith, and love for his return, whenever, wherever, and however it will be.
Brothers and sisters, my prayer for you is expressed beautifully in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”