Tomorrow is the last Sunday of the church year, which we observe as Christ the King Sunday. This is the day when we will definitely sing something like “Crown Him With Many Crowns.” Earlier this year we kind of ran “Soon and Very Soon” into the ground so we’ll skip that.
What do we mean when we say “Christ the King”?
The word “king” carries with it many preconceived notions – we think of crowns, thrones, ermine-trimmed capes, and Shakespearean heroes (or tragic figures). We think of the movie “The King’s Speech.” We might also think of kings and rulers whose reputation precedes them, and not in a good way.
One way to consider what we mean when we say “Christ the King” is to look at the gospel lesson for tomorrow: Luke 22:14-23:56. It’s basically the Passion narrative from Luke’s gospel, and it ends with Jesus’ burial. Not his resurrection or ascension, but his burial.
(Yes, I’ve got the right lesson. I double-checked.)
This doesn’t comport with what we think of when we think of a king. Kings are strong and powerful. They call the shots; they’re in charge, right?
But there is a term I’ve been hearing the last few years that really captures what kind of a king Jesus is: servant leadership.
I heard it first in the church, but I was surprised to hear it on my local NPR station, in an interview with the outgoing superintendent of schools for the City of San Diego. He talked about how he saw his job as servant leadership, and how he felt that this kind of approach was essential for the overall success of a school district.
The other person I think about when I hear this idea is Pope Francis. He has turned the world on its ear by his approach to the office of the papacy. “Servant leadership” is exactly what he embodies, and it has made the Vatican bureaucracy uncomfortable on more than one occasion.
We don’t need to look far to find examples of servant leadership – the British royal family has served in the armed forces. Queen Elizabeth II served in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War II, and her son Andrew and grandsons William and Harry have all served on active duty – Harry was on the front lines in Afghanistan until someone leaked that fact, and he was re-assigned so as to not bring harm to his unit.
“Servant leadership” is the approach I try to take when I am teaching people how to lead worship. While leadership is needed in worship, it’s important that said leadership be carried out in a spirit of service to the assembly. This means that those of us who are leading need to understand that it’s not about us – it’s about the assembly’s worship of the triune God. It can be a very fine line between leading worship and performing!
Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi (2:4-14) states the concept of servant leadership beautifully:
4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Not the sort of king who is distant, on a bejeweled throne – but a king who stands and walks with us. A king who meets us daily on our journey, and who calls us to his table to receive bread for that journey.
I’ll take that over the ermine-trimmed cape any day.