Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The last Sunday of the Church Year in the current calendar emphasizes humanity’s need for salvation. It speaks of our kind being “divided and enslaved by sin,” and prays that we may all be “freed and brought together.” Ah, but exactly how?
The desire to conform the divided and contentious human race to a single standard and rule is an ancient one, fueling millennia of empires, wars, intrigues, and revolts. It has also led to some of the greatest art and literature humans have produced. The difficulty is that the usual attempt at uniting peoples has been through force or coercion – which ends up just bringing us to the next chapter in division, enslavement, and alienation.
This Sunday gives God’s response to our need for salvation, healing, and freedom: Christ Jesus, a different kind of king.
When the earliest Christians began calling Jesus “Lord,” they were being quite specific in this term of address. Using a title reserved for earthly rulers (and, in the Roman world, for only one ruler – you know who) revealed Christians as a dangerous and subversive community of people. In an empire built on force and coercion, the Christian Church exalted service, self-sacrifice, and meekness – as did its Lord Jesus. The currency of this rival empire was in an untried coinage, one which did not take death as its starting and ending point: the coinage of love.
In addition to positing a higher loyalty than the to the Emperor, this alternative vision for humans was utterly despicable to those who were invested in the world-as-it-is. As Jesus had predicted, his Gospel brought conflict with the Powers that Be, who quickly decided that they must stamp the mutiny out.
As long as humans think that true freedom or peace can be found at the end of a gun’s barrel, or by putting a boot on someone’s neck, we will be caught in the cycle of insanity that is recorded history. When any of us, even for a season, step out of that cycle and put into practice the Gospel vision for freedom and peace – this Sunday expressed in the words of the crucified Christ: "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”– by praying for one’s enemies and by handing over all hatred, judgment, and condemnation to the only one who sees all things in truth, then for that moment and in that place the Kingdom of God is present. Fleeting, perhaps, but present. For a moment, the lie is overcome in truth.
This final Sunday of the Church Year reminds us that no other solution to the conundrum of human brokenness will, in fact, work. Only Christ’s “most gracious rule” can give the freedom and peace we desire. Only his peculiar lordship, one completely devoid of a desire to coerce, will unite a divided world. Try as we might to avoid it, this is humanity’s destiny. It is what we proclaim in our faith, what we enact in our worship, and what we are challenged to practice in our daily lives.