Planning - Christ the King/Last Sunday after Pentecost
Sunrise gleaming off the morning grass. Public Domain.
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
2 Samuel 23:1-7.
David's final song: "One who rules over the people justly... is like the light of the morning, the rising sun of a cloudless morning glistening off the dew."
Psalm 132:1-5, 11-12 (UMH 849).
A plea to God to remember David's devotion in wishing to build a temple for God and God's promise to sustain David's line if his descendents kept God's covenant. If you plan to sing the Psalm, consider using Tone 5 in D minor with the sung response.
The opening salutation to John's vision: "Grace to you from the one who was, and is and is to come, and from from the seven spirits and from Jesus Christ, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth."
Jesus answers the charge that some call him "King of the Jews": "My kingdom is not from this world."
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In the Christian calendar, today is Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday, the last Sunday after Pentecost. "Normal" Advent (Year C) begins December 2. However, if you are following the "Restored Advent" calendar, today is Advent 3. For this and other Advent and Christmastide options, see "Restoring Advent and Christmas 2012/2013."
On the denominational calendar, today is United Methodist Student Day, which includes a special offering. While the special offering should be taken, the celebration of this day should be woven into the larger themes of Christ the King Sunday, which takes precedence on this day.
December 1 is the World Aids Day Observance. United Methodist resources for this day are made available by the United Methodist Committee on Relief. If you do not observe the day on December 1, you may wish to collect a special offering or designate your Communion offering for this purpose.
Christ the King/The Reign of Christ is one of the most recent additions to the Christian liturgical calendar. Begun by the Roman Catholic Church in 1925, the celebration of Christ the King was adopted fairly quickly thereafter by a number of Protestant denominations with European roots who were already seeing the gathering threats of fascism and communism. The day is now celebrated worldwide by Roman Catholics and most Protestant denominations.
Whether you celebrate this day as the end of Ordinary Time or the Third Sunday in Advent, the message is the same: Jesus Christ is Lord of All. Readings in the three years bring somewhat different perspectives on what the ultimate Kingship/Reign of Jesus means, but all of them draw bright lines between the ways of his Reign, ongoing and yet to come, and the ways of the kingdoms of this world. If you are celebrating this as part of Advent, you may want to focus on how signs of Christ's reign already present point to their fullness in the age to come.
David's Song: Christ's Kingship Means Justice and Beauty
David's song in 2 Samuel contrasts what happens when a king rules justly "in the fear of the Lord" with what happens when "the godless" are in charge. One who rules justly makes the whole world inviting and beautiful, like morning light on the dewy grass. Those who rule unjustly make the world hostile and undesirable, like thorns one only dares touch with tools to transfer them to a burn pile.
How do we experience the reign of Jesus bringing light and beauty and an inviting and enduring softness to the world?
How do we experience those who rule unjustly bringing thorns, and with them pain, hurt, and destruction?
What does a "beautiful" and "inviting" politics of justice look like where you are? What people or organizations already seem to embody such a beautiful, inviting politics of justice?
If you have painters or other graphic artists in your congregation, you might invite them to develop a painting or other pieces of art that help make these connections in the context of your particular community. Or you may move from the reading or projection of this text into a time of meditation and community sharing or testimony about how just leadership or justice itself already is or might become so embodied in your congregation, community, nation, and world.
Revelation: Christ's Kingship Means Our Priesthood
The exalted language of Revelation may conceal its startling claims even as it reveals them. The one who is "ruler of the kings of the earth" is the very one who both freed us from our sins in his blood and who now empowers us to be a kingdom of priests in service to God. The idea of "primal king" who frees one group of people from bondage to another would have been normal or even expected in the ancient world. That this same king would do so at the cost of his own blood, and then decree that all the people so liberated were now priests in the new kingdomthat was unheard of!
Christ's kingship means, at least, our priesthood. How do the individuals in your congregation and your congregation as a whole embody the priesthood entrusted to you by King Jesus? Specifically, how do individuals and your congregation enact your Christ-given priestly roles of intercession, sacrifice, and ensuring justice for those with fewer resources and weaker voices? Spend some time in your worship planning team becoming aware of the ways you do and perhaps additional ways to strengthen or add.
Related to this last point, it is important to remember these words were written to and first read aloud by a few, small and struggling late first-century Christian communities in Eastern Turkey who were facing persecution and the threat of death because they proclaimed the sole Lordship of Jesus. What has or does such a profession of faith sound like when made by those the world recognizes as powerfulthose who control economies, companies, nations and armies? Where is your community of faith on that spectrum from marginalization to majority? If you are among the marginalized, how will you claim the power Christ gives you? If you are among the majority, how will you use the power of the voice you have to serve and speak for the marginalized?
John: King Jesus Witnesses to Truth
The flow of today's lectionary readings transports us from the throne room of heaven (Revelation) to the examination chamber of Pilate (John). Here the claims of the church about Jesus' kingship are put to a "real-world" test. If we fall too closely in line with "earthly" understandings of kingship and apply these to Jesus, we and the whole world miss the Truth God reveals in Jesus Christ.
Jesus states it not once, but twice in verse 36: "My kingdom is not from this world," "My kingdom is not from here." As proof of this, Jesus notes that if his kingdom were from this world, his followers would be fighting to keep Jesus from being handed over to the authorities.
The Reign of Jesus does not cause his followers to fight to preserve him or themselves. As we see at the arrest in the garden (John 18:1-11), the disciples were perfectly willing to fight, and Simon was even armed with a sword which he used against a slave of the high priest. Jesus, however, rebuked Peter for this. "Put your sword back into its sheath!" he said. King Jesus will not rule or allow himself to be defended by violent means. He really could say that those who are his do not fight.
This brings us to a word about Christ's kingship that may be even more difficult for some in Western cultures to hear: Truth. While Pilate called him "king," Jesus claims his purpose is to bear witness to the Truth. Citizens of his kingdom are those who listen to (and so obey) the Truth. Pilate's question in the next verse (not in this week's reading, but you might consider adding it if needed) echoes the considered skepticism of postmodernism: "What is Truth?"
It's a real question. For Pilate, "Truth" could not exist apart from the power interests that backed it uphimself, those he oversa, and those in authority over him. Truth was thus always a strategy game, its contours and sometimes its essence shifting with the winds of power.
The Truth of Jesus, the truth of God's reign, however, is unchanging and always knowable to those who know how to listen for it. As the communities around John put it, Truth is God's love of all and our love of God and neighbor. It is in the "new commandment" Jesus gave his disciples: "Love one another as I have loved you." It is in the question Jesus keeps asking Peter after the resurrection, "Do you love me?" (John 21:15-17). For Peter or any of us to "feed his sheep," to take on leadership, this is the critical question. And it is in the letters: "Beloved, let us love each other, for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love has not known God, for God is love" (I John 4:7-8). Look for and listen to the signs of God's love active in the world, and you will see and hear the Truth that shapes and changes everything. This is the Truth to which King Jesus came to bear witness.
Beauty, priesthood, non-violence and Truth: these are the four key descriptors of the Reign of Jesus in this year's celebration of this day. Around which of these, or what combination of these, can your congregation offer itself best in worship? About which of these does your congregation need most to hear today? Which of these may best help your congregation be sent forth to live as empowered citizen's of Christ's Reign? Discuss this in your worship planning team, and when you choose the one or ones on which you will focus most, develop the plan for your worship space (arrangement of people and things as well as art and sound) that will support the theme best where you are.
However you choose to approach planning for this celebration, remember that today is not a day for lecture on the philosophy or theology of kingship as much is as it is an opportunity for the congregation to claim and confess Christ's kingship more profoundly, and so gather and be sent from the Lord's Table with bolder faith to live their confession in every relationship they encounter individually as disciples wherever they are or together in the life and ministries of the congregation.
Advent and Christmas are just around the corner. Next Sunday will mark the beginning of a new liturgical year. Perhaps you will want to introduce the Advent-Christmas cycle in the bulletin or church newsletter this week so that people are alert and expectant about worship next Sunday and beyond. Consider including a digest of the material in The United Methodist Book of Worship, 238 and 269. (The copyright permission for this is found on page 12.)
- Greeting: UMBOW 420 (Christ the King)
- Greeting: UMBOW 451 (Christ the King)
- Canticle: UMH 734, "Canticle of Hope" (Revelation)
- Prayer of Confession: UMBOW 478 (2 Samuel, John)
- Prayer: UMH 721, Christ the King (Revelation, John)
- Prayer: UMBOW 421 (Christ the King)
- Prayer: UMBOW 511, For God's Reign (2 Samuel, Revelation, John)
- The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea
- Prayer of Great Thanksgiving: "A Great Thanksgiving for Christ the King Sunday"
- Prayer of Thanksgiving (if no Communion): UMBOW 556 (Revelation)
- Blessing: UMBOW 563
- See 419 for additional Christ the King suggestions.
- See Thanksgiving Day (The United Methodist Book of Worship , 416-418) for other suggestions if you plan to celebrate Thanksgiving Sunday on this day.
Call to Worship
Come, let us gather in the name of the Son of God, the son of David.
He rules over people justly,
ruling in the fear of God.
Jesus Christ is like the light of morning,
like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.
-- Adapted from 1 Samuel 23:3-4.
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.
-- Adapted from Revelation 1:4b-7.
Appropriate Advent Hymns for Today (even if you "officially" start Advent next Sunday!):
From The United Methodist Hymnal
- 196, "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus" (Revelation)
- 202, "People, Look East" (post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas)
- 203, "Hail to the Lord's Anointed" (2 Samuel)
- 211, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" (especially Antiphon 1, Christ the King)
- 214, "Savior of the Nations, Come," verses 1, 2, 4 (John)
From The Faith We Sing
- 2087, "We Will Glorify the King of Kings" (Revelation, Christ the King)
- 2091, "The King of Glory Comes" (Revelation, Christ the King)
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