LONGING AND REJOICING – Reign of Christ / Christ the King, Year B

November 21, 2021

Revised Common Lectionary
2 Samuel 23:1-7 or Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 132:1-12 (13-18) or Psalm 93
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Daniel 7:13-14
Psalm 93:1, 1-2, 3 (1a)
Revelation 1:5-8
John 18:33b-37

Whenever I hear today’s reading from Revelation, I think immediately of Paul Manz’s magnificent choral piece, “E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come.” I find the combination of music and text to be profoundly moving as it gives voice to both deep longing and jubilant rejoicing at the coming of Christ and his rule.

The short passage from Revelation that we hear today comes from the very beginning of that book and includes some important verses not heard in Manz’s anthem. The author of Revelation suggests that Christ’s coming and Christ’s rule are not just future events; rather, they are already being accomplished in the present. Jesus Christ is “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev 1:5). Even now we participate in the rule that he came to establish; he has “made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father” (1:6).

Revelation is addressed to communities in Asia that were being severely tested by persecution. The teachings and apocalyptic visions that follow are meant to reassure these believers that their suffering is joined to Christ’s victory and that he will come again to destroy the oppressive powers and bring all things to fulfillment. The Roman state may have been wielding its might with brutal force, but the Lamb who is seated on the throne has already begun to rule, holding ultimate sovereignty and dominion.

Jesus himself came face to face with the power of the Roman authorities, as we read in today’s Gospel. Pilate, the representative of imperial power, encounters Jesus of Nazareth, whose “kingdom is not from this world” (Jn 18:36). Battle lines are drawn over truth. Which holds greater sway: the “truth” of Roman domination or the “truth” of God’s rule? What Pilate is missing here is that “truth” cannot be reduced to a set of propositions. Jesus had revealed this mystery to his disciples just a few short hours earlier, declaring, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). Pilate—and the power he represents—fail to recognize that Truth is standing right there.

Pilate would appear to have the upper hand, but the Gospel of John portrays the cross as the throne on which Jesus is glorified and reveals his sovereignty as he is “lifted up” and “glorified.” His rule is expressed not in domination and conquest, but in love. Christ is the ruler who pours out his blood and lays down his life for others.

The early communities of Christians who first heard these texts from Revelation and John mostly lacked privilege and political power. The author of Revelation writes to reassure them that the reign of Christ has already begun and that he will come again at last to bring all things to completion.

Unlike the early believers, many North American Christians have a voice in the political process and even participate in civic leadership. Today’s feast reminds us that as disciples of Christ, our first allegiance is to the reign of God that Jesus came to announce and inaugurate. In God’s reign there are no national boundaries, no political parties, and no divisions by race, class, language, or gender. Proclaiming the reign of Christ today involves rejecting systems that divide or exclude. As members of Christ’s rule, we are called to act with and on behalf of those without power or privilege, with confident trust in the God “who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev 1:4b, 8).

A Hymn for Today: “Christus Paradox”

To proclaim Christ as a king requires believers to embrace the paradox portrayed in today’s readings: Jesus is condemned and executed by the power of the Roman state, yet he is the bearer of truth and the ruler of the world’s rulers. United Church of Canada minister Sylvia Dunstan, FHS (1955-1993) titled this text “Christus Paradox,” because it expresses this and other seeming contradictions that are revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

You, Lord, are both Lamb and Shepherd.
You, Lord, are both prince and slave.
You, peacemaker and sword-bringer
Of the way you took and gave.
You, the everlasting instant;
You, whom we both scorn and crave.

Clothed in light upon the mountain,
Stripped of might upon the cross,
Shining in eternal glory,
Beggar’d by a soldier’s toss.
You, the everlasting instant;
You, who are both gift and cost.

You, who walk each day beside us,
Sit in power at God’s side.
You, who preach a way that’s narrow,
Have a love that reaches wide.
You, the everlasting instant;
You, who are our pilgrim guide.

Worthy is our earthly Jesus!
Worthy is our cosmic Christ!
Worthy your defeat and vict’ry.
Worthy still your peace and strife.
You, the everlasting instant;
You, who are our death and life.

Text: Sylvia G. Dunstan, 1984 © 1991, GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-729857

Image Credit: Christ with Beard, Catacomb of Commodilla, Rome, 4

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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