Reign of Christ

Lectionary readings for the Reign of Christ, November 25, 2015

II Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-12, (13-18); Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37.

At year’s end, Christian thoughts turn to words beyond our current trials, to words about the Reign of Christ.

The last Sunday of the Christian year, the Sunday just before Advent, has been known traditionally as “Christ the King” Sunday, or nowadays, “Reign of Christ” Sunday. The Church year ends looking toward a sovereignty bestowed by God on Jesus, making him the Messiah, the Christ, heir of King David.

II Samuel 23:1-7.

(The alternate reading is Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, the empowering of one like a Son of Man by God on High.)

The readings for this Sunday from the Prophets and from the Psalm present God’s promise to David of an “everlasting covenant” and a perpetual dynasty.

The II Samuel reading presents what in Hebrew is a primitive-sounding song, the Last Words of David. This poem has a good claim to be an actual composition of David the king. The opening words, “The oracle of David, … oracle of the man whom God exalted,” is an early style, not common in later Israelite verse. (See, for example, the oracle of Balaam in Numbers 24:3-4.)

The ecstatic speaker declares what the deity has said to him. In this case, God has said:

He whose rule is upright on earth,

who rules in the fear of God,

is like the morning light at sunrise

(on a cloudless morning)

making the grass of the earth sparkle after rain.

(New Jerusalem Bible translation)

The one anointed by God rules justly and makes the world glisten with prosperity.

The rest is David’s commentary, declaring to the world his own status with God, and then contrasting with it the fate of wicked ones.

Yes, my House stands firm with God:

he has made an eternal covenant with me,

all in order, well assured;

does he not bring to fruition my every victory and desire?

But men of Belial he rejects like thorns,

for these are never taken up in the hand:

no one touches them

except with a pitchfork or spear-shaft,

and then only to burn them to nothing!

(Verses 5-7, NJB translation.)

Psalm 132:1-12, (13-18).

The Psalm reading also refers directly to David and God’s promise to him of a perpetual reign (though here the perpetuity is conditional).

The Lord swore to David a sure oath

from which he will not turn back:

“One of the sons of your body

I will set on your throne.

If your sons keep my covenant

and my decrees that I shall teach them,

their sons also, forevermore,

shall sit on your throne.”

(verses 11-12, NRSV)

That divine promise is presented here as God’s response to David’s firm decision to find a true sanctuary, a “dwelling place,” for God. David’s vow was:

I will not give sleep to my eyes

or slumber to my eyelids,

until I find a place for the Lord,

a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”

(verses 4-5)

These two oaths, David’s and Yahweh’s, established Jerusalem (religiously known as Zion) as the central sanctuary of the world and David as the founder of the one supreme dynasty which would benefit all the nations of the world (see Psalm 72).

In this view, Solomon may have built the later famous temple, but David had already made the critical decisions that established Jerusalem as the residence of Yahweh. The references to “Ephrathah” and “Jaar” (verse 6) recall the stories of the Ark of Yahweh being brought from the Judean countryside to the sanctuary in Jerusalem (II Samuel 6). From that, all Israel was to know where Yahweh’s “dwelling place” was located, and therefore where access to the mightiest God could be found – namely, at David’s capital city.

The optional part of the reading (verses 13-18) clinches this conclusion by repeating God’s own words sanctioning Zion and its religious services:

For the Lord has chosen Zion;

he has desired it for his habitation:

“This is my resting place forever;

here I will reside, for I have desired it….”

(verses 13-14)

Revelation 1:4b-8.

It is appropriate on the last Sunday of the Christian year to have an Epistle reading from the last book of the Christian Bible, the Book of Revelation.

The passage is the beginning of the address to the seven churches. It has the elevated speech of high liturgy and doxology, virtually a heavenly cantata, of which this book contains several later on.

The greeting passage proceeds by triads. It prays for peace from God “who is and who was and who is to come” (verse 4, NRSV). Note, the third phrase is not “who is to be,” a more Greek ontological turn, but “who is to come,” the active perspective of salvation history.

Peace is also asked from Jesus Christ, who is also characterized by a triad: “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (verse 5). The faithful witness was performed in the earthly ministry of Jesus, the firstborn of the dead is the victory over death signaled by the resurrection, and the rule over the kings of the earth is the assurance of Jesus’ heavenly rule, later to become more dramatically evident in this book.

The drama continues with an exclamation. Someone sees it:

Look! He is coming with the clouds;

every eye will see him,

even those who pierced him” (verse 7).

The Son of Man, who in heaven received full authority over all powers, now descends to exercise it. (The empowerment in the heavenly court portrayed in Daniel 7:13-14 is assumed here as the sequel to the resurrection of Jesus on earth.) And over the scene of the one coming on the clouds the voice of God is heard: “I am the Alpha and the Omega” (verse 8).

This is the assurance that over and above all the struggle into which the Anointed One descended and in which he died, there is a greater ultimate (and kingly) power moving – even if often mysteriously – to bring deliverance and new life to God’s faithful.

John 18:33-37.

The Gospel reading is the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus as reported in the Gospel According to John.

The question at the beginning is whether Jesus is the King of the Jews. By the end it has become the question of truth about kingdoms that are – and are not – of this world.

Let us conclude this church year by listening to the reflections on this passage by William Temple (Readings in St. John’s Gospel), written on the eve of the world conflagration initiated by Adolph Hitler (1939, opening of the Second World War).

The kingdoms which are from this world rest in part upon falsehood – most conspicuously upon the necessary but false, false but necessary, supposition that the State really acts in the interest of the whole community, whereas in fact it always acts primarily in the interest of that section of the community which is able in practice to work its machinery. It is a pretended community; this is far better than no community at all, which is the only actual alternative until the Kingdom of God is come. But that Kingdom [God’s] rests on truth – on the real constitution of the universe wherein God the righteous Father is supreme. To that truth, the real constitution of the universe, Christ came to bear witness; not to beautiful dreams but to bed-rock reality…

The acclamation of a heaven-sent king, bearing truth for God’s people, is an appropriate transition from the old year to a new, in the sacred pilgrimage of followers of Jesus the Christ.

CRS