A few friends and a son of mine have been suggesting that I should get into the TV series Game of Thrones.
It’s set in medieval times with multiple plots in several settings but effectively it is a struggle for power of people across different Kingdoms
Is that good background for today?
On a day that is at times called “Christ the King” Sunday.
There is indeed something that draws us back to stories like this and stories where we see the “King” end up on the throne, in power and with full praise.
So at times when we read or hear the gospel story, we overlay that perspective into it.
When we hear the terms “King” or “Lord”, we seem to be taken into a mediaeval setting and think of Jesus as a “Lord” – a bit like the Game of Thrones, or Lord of the Rings. And we can think of him as a king, with a crown and a throne. A golden crown and a celestial throne.
And in doing so we miss and even undermine the Jesus of scripture. There is something very tempting about sticking Jesus on a throne in the clouds and trying to convince ourselves deep down that this throne replaces the cross.
But if we take away the cross, we take away the reality of Jesus. If Jesus is king of anything, he is the king of irony.
For all the musical wonderment of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus I am nervous of the pomp and wonder of “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” I am worried about the triumphalism of trumpeting that “The kingdoms of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” without sensing the irony and the deep subversive nature of those words from Revelation
When a minority and underground movement talks about an executed prisoner as a king or a lord or a ruler, then the hearers will get the feeling that there is some mocking going on, that it is an act of defiance about the way that power and authority is exercised
When an established and powerful institution talk and sing about King and Lord and Authority, then that very language and imagery become tools of oppression and control.
We are seeing it, and will continue to see it unfold over the next few years in the Royal commission that will be taking place, – the way that the church in various ways has established itself in power and has protected itself because the strength of the church is supposedly a sign of the kingdom of God.
It’s one of the things that gets lived out when we use the language without retaining the setting of irony and subversion. It is so much easier to follow a strong king who leads a great army than it is to follow a crucified peasant who spends his life with those who are outsiders.
We want to be part of the Game of Thrones and we would like Jesus’s words that say “My Kingdom is not of this world” to mean that it is isn’t yet, but that one day Jesus will come as a new Caesar with the same sort of power and authority and glory.
There are some nice echoes between Mark’s gospel and John’s gospel and both of them (in their own style) have Jesus “crowning moment” as his crucifixion.
Mark has Jesus talking with his disciples about who will be on his right and his left when he comes in glory. And in Mark’s gospel, we are told that “They crucified him with two bandits – one on his right and one on his left”
In John’s gospel, the dialogue with Pilate (the one who is representing the King) ends on the unanswered question: “What is truth”.
So what is truth in this setting?
John’s gospel is the one that is punctuated with the “I am” statements.
I am the Bread of life. I am the way. I am the Resurrection
And of course “I am the truth”
In the context of a discussion about Kingdom’s and rulers and truth the answer is left for us to discern – that Jesus, the abandoned, betrayed and about to be executed subversive teacher is the truth.
The festival of Christ the King runs the risk of losing its irony.
Too many songs we sing have shifted us into being players in the Game of Thrones.
Too many affirmations have become powerful weapons of correctness and exclusion
Too many institutional elements of the Church have lost the way that they are to be expressions of the movement of God.
But if we can reclaim that irony. If we can reclaim that subversive element then it is truly good news.
It means we don’t have to get sucked in to power games – the Game of Thrones.
It means we don’t have to try to protect the church as the place that God lives.
It means that we don’t have to try to control, to get our way.
The festival of the Reign of Christ captures the fact that the throne is a cross and it propels us towards a dirty stable and it opens our eyes to the subversive, ironic grace of God.
And that is a festival that IS worth celebrating.