Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“The Lord is King” (Psalm 93:1)
November 22, 2015
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In the nineteenth century Matthew Bridges (1800-1894) wrote the hymn, “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” which begins:
Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne;
Hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own;
Awake, my soul, and sing of him who died for thee
And hail him as thy matchless King through all eternity.
(Hymn 494 in The Hymnal 1982).
Today is the final Sunday of the liturgical year, Christ the King Sunday, during which we are reminded that ultimately God will complete the establishment of his Kingdom in Jesus Christ, a kingdom of mercy, a kingdom of grace, a kingdom of love. Along these lines I am preaching on the opening sentence from today’s psalm, Psalm 93, which simply states: “The Lord is King” (Psalm 93:1).
The Lord is King. This means you are not…and neither am I.
Even though many of us pray the Lord’s Prayer regularly—“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done”—the reality is that many of us remain preoccupied with building our own little kingdoms—“my kingdom come, my will be done.” Is this ever the case with you? How’s that working for you?
Building our own little kingdoms can be quite stressful, to the point of robbing us of sleep. This is the case with King Henry IV in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part II. Unable to sleep, he roams the halls of his castle at Westminster, musing to himself:
How many thousands of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep? O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frightened thee,
That thou no more will weigh my eyelids down,
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude;
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
(III, i, 1708-1712 and 1730-1735).
Being a king is not always what it’s cracked up to be—as I heard someone say once, “It ain’t easy being king.”
But again, the Lord is King.
And the good news is that, as we prayed in the collect today, we worship a God “whose will it is to restore all things in (Jesus Christ), the King of kings and Lord of lords.” Moreover, we prayed, “Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule” (The Book of Common Prayer 236).
On a universal level our world is indeed “divided and enslaved by sin,” but this can often be the case on a personal level too. Many of us individually are “divided and enslaved by sin,” and are therefore in need of the restoring work only Jesus Christ can do.
Where are you enslaved to sin? Where do you feel divided?
One of my favorite bands when I was growing up was the amazingly talented British trio, The Police. Their final studio album, Synchronicity (1983), included a hit song called “King of Pain,” written by Gordon Sumner (aka Sting) in a season in which he felt divided after a painful separation from his wife. He sings:
There’s a little black spot on the sun today
That’s my soul up there
It’s the same old thing as yesterday
That’s my soul up there
There’s a black hat caught in a high tree top
That’s my soul up there
There’s a flag-pole rag and the wind won’t stop
That’s my soul up there
I have stood here before inside the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running ‘round my brain
I guess I’m always hoping that you’ll end this reign
But it’s my destiny to be the king of pain
Perhaps some of you may feel divided, enslaved by sin, or maybe like your destiny is to be the “king of pain.”
But Jesus Christ, the Lord who is King, has a different destiny for you.
Again, as we prayed in the collect, the Lord has destined you to be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule.
We see a moving image of this in J. R. R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, in one of the main characters, Aragorn, who would later be revealed to be the king who has returned to Middle Earth. Although Aragorn was of noble descent, that was not the determining factor; although he was a mighty warrior, that was not the determining factor; although he was wiser than his peers, even that was not the determining factor. The determining factor that Aragorn was the returning king was something quite different, and is revealed in a recurring refrain in The Lord of the Rings—“The hands of the king are the hands of a healer.”
The hands of the kings are the hands of a healer. In the third book of the trilogy, The Return of the King, Aragorn labors in a place called “The Houses of Healing,” and as Tolkien writes:
At the doors of the Houses many were already gathered to see Aragorn, and they followed after him; and when at last he had supped, men came and prayed that he would heal their kinsmen or their friends whose lives were in peril through hurt or wound, or who lay under the Black Shadow. And Aragorn arose and went out, and he sent for the sons of Elrond, and together they labored far into the night. And word went through the City: “The King is come again indeed” (The Lord of the Rings, 50th Anniversary One-volume edition, 871).
And it is the same with Jesus Christ.
Although through King David Jesus was of noble descent that was not the determining factor. Although Jesus was a mighty warrior who in his death and resurrection would defeat sin, death and the devil, that was not the determining factor. Although even as a boy Jesus was wiser than the scribes and Pharisees that was not the determining factor. The determining factor was that the hands of Jesus were the hands of a healer.
Healing was a hallmark of Jesus’ earthly ministry—he healed lepers and demoniacs, he healed the blind and the mute, he healed the lame and the paralyzed. Like Aragorn Jesus often “labored far into the night.”
And in the night in which he was betrayed, King Jesus could not sleep. In the Garden of Gethsemane, as Peter, James and John rested in “gentle sleep, nature’s soft nurse,” Jesus was so stressed that capillaries in his forehead began to burst and tiny streams of blood trickled down his face.
And the next day on the cross King Jesus, beneath a sign Pilate ordered that read “King of the Jews,” whose head lay uneasily wearing the crown of thorns, became the King of Pain.
And yet, the pierced hands of King Jesus remained the hands of a healer—as Isaiah prophesied seven centuries earlier—“He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
So what about you this morning? Where are you “divided and enslaved by sin”? Where are you, like the inhabitants of Middle Earth, hurt or wounded or “under the Black Shadow”?
The hands of King Jesus are the hands of a Healer—and the good news of the gospel is they still are.
I believe churches are called by God to be “Houses of Healing”—places where people can receive various touches from the healing hands of Jesus through hearing the gospel and receiving the sacrament and being prayed for and listened to and welcomed and fed and accepted and cared for and loved.
Back to The Lord of the Rings for a moment…near the end of The Return of the King Aragorn is crowned, but when he is handed the crown, he refuses to place it upon himself. Instead, Aragorn has Gandalf the wizard crown him king. Afterwards, those present who had been personally touched by the healing hands of Aragorn, including Faramir, glimpsed his glory. Tolkien writes:
When Aragorn arose all that beheld him gazed in silence, for it seemed to them that he was revealed to them now for the first time. Tall as the sea-kings of old, he stood above all that were near; wisdom sat upon his brow, and strength and healing were in his hands, and a light was about him. And then Faramir cried: “Behold the King!” (The Lord of the Rings 968).
The Lord is King.
And on this Christ the King Sunday we remember that when Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords returns to establish his eternal “gracious rule,” we too will behold the King—the King who will not only restore all things but also free and bring together all the peoples of the earth with his unconditional, healing love.
The scarred healings hands of the Risen Jesus will communicate to all that “The King is come again indeed.” And it will seem to all that he has been revealed for the first time.
In the fourth chapter of Revelation John records a vision of heaven in which all the elders around the throne of Jesus cast down their crowns before him. I suspect we will join them—casting all the crowns and accolades and portfolios and resumes and degrees and trophies and ranks and titles of our little kingdoms before the feet of the Healing King. And in heaven, the eternal House of Healing, we will join the throngs in the eternal worship of King Jesus:
Crown him the Lord of heaven, enthroned in worlds above
Crown him the King, to whom is given, the wondrous name of Love.
Crown him with many crowns, as thrones before him fall
Crown him, ye kings, with many crowns, for he is King of all.