In the early twentieth century, fascism was on the rise. Transforming a peasant society into a military superpower, Stalin began his reign of terror in the Soviet Union. Soldiering his paramilitary movement across the Mediterranean, Mussolini overtook Italy to further his sinister ambitions. And post World War I, expanding his Aryan nation across Europe and North Africa, Hitler seized power as the alpha Nazi in Germany.
Alarmed by the rise of dictatorships and their subsequent atrocities, the Church, in 1925, responded with Christ the King Sunday. The final day of the Christian calendar to be in solidarity with those who are suffering, to uphold the belief that God will finally defeat every despot, to affirm the true King of Kings and one the Lord of Lords.
In a world hell bent on the militarization, what makes Jesus king?
Luke 23:33-43 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
He was selfless throughout, even unto death.
He gave his life for the salvation of the world.
He treated the least of society, including the criminal beside him, with compassion.
He refused to use his power violently.
Regrettably, dictators remain. Men of hostility who march us towards bloody conflict, flex the strong arm of aggression, stockpile the weapons of conquest, stoke the fire of vengeance. But despite the megalomaniac kings in our land, 2000 years ago on Golgotha, a different kind of royalty was revealed. He didn’t show up on a war machine, only riding a donkey. He didn’t wear the crown jewels, only a tangle of thrones. He didn’t sit on a throne, only hung on a cross.
There Jesus was crucified with his arms wide open to the world, an eternal embrace and absolution of all those who participated in his death. The Roman Emperor who was threatened by him. The religious authorities who denied him. The Sanhedrin who tried him. The governor who convicted him. The soldiers who nailed him. The followers who abandoned him.
Christ became the King because he forgave, as his last and most miraculous act of ministry, the very people who ended his life. With his final breath, Jesus forgave his killers. And in doing so, through the mystery of faith, his crucifixion has become our resurrection, that we too now hold the power of pardon.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa brought an elderly black woman face-to-face with the white man, Mr. Van de Broek, who had confessed to the savage torture and murder of her son and her husband. The Commission turned to her and asked, “How do you believe justice should be done to this man who… has so brutally destroyed your family?” The woman replied. “I want three things. I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial. I want, secondly, for Mr. Van de Broek to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out to him whatever love I have still remaining. And finally, I want a third thing. I would like Mr. Van de Broek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. Van de Broek in my arms, embrace him, and let him know that he is truly forgiven.” The assistants came to help her across the room. Mr. Van de Broek, overwhelmed by what he had just heard, fainted. And as he did, those in the courtroom, friends, family, neighbors, all victims of decades of oppression and injustice—began to sing “Amazing Grace.”