All the history buffs out there will recall that the climactic battle of the War for American Independence occurred at Yorktown in 1781. The upstart American army led by General George Washington trapped the pride of the British military forces and compelled them to surrender. The rag-tag Americans were so ill equipped that many didn’t even have uniforms, much less a proper band to entertain the troops. So the English army band in resplendent red uniforms and with the latest instruments played during the striking of the colors. The tune they chose was a popular one at the time called, “The world turned upside down.” How apt! England – a world-class superpower that used to boast that their influence was so wide-spread that the “sun never set on the British empire” – had been defeated by thirteen not very united colonies of backwoods bumpkins. Truly when the fledgling republic on these shores defeated a mighty European empire the world was turned upside down. Things would never been the same thereafter.
Today we are celebrating the feast of Christ the King. But the scripture readings for this Sunday remind us that in calling Christ our King the world is turned upside down. When we think of kings we imagine thrones and treasures and jewels and crowns and ermine robes and palaces and titles and nobility and all those things associated with the upper-crust, with the elite. The parable Jesus tells of the separation of the sheep and the goats starts off the story with a king seated on his throne but in an upside down world. The treasures of this king are the hungry. The jewels of this king are the thirsty. The crown of this king is the immigrant. The robes of this king are the naked. The palace of this king is the stranger. The titles of this king are the ill. The nobility of this king are the imprisoned. Instead of the upper-crust, the elite, the hoity toity, Christ our King is associated with the least of the brothers and sisters. In his kingdom the true aristocrats are those who serve, those who help the neighbor, those who reach out a hand, those who see other’s needs, those who aren’t about getting but about giving. In acknowledging Christ as our king we commit ourselves to seeing things in this upside down way. We don’t try to associate with the rich and famous but with the meek and lowly. We don’t want to get the most but give to the most. Things don’t look the same with Christ as king.
The world is also turned upside down when we image Jesus as the Good Shepherd. According to the Old Testament lesson from the book of Ezekiel, our shepherd does not pasture the sheep as we would expect. Ordinarily one would think that the sleek and the strong would be the preferred sheep, the ones who look good, the ones who are robust and powerful. But according to the prophet, our shepherd finds the scattered sheep, looks for the lost sheep, brings back the strayed sheep, binds up the injured sheep, heals the sick sheep. Since Christ is our Good Shepherd we too look after and tend such sheep: the alienated youth, the isolated elderly, the struggling parent, the abused and neglected child. We don’t believe in the survival of the fittest but in the serving of the frailest. We don’t focus our energies on cultivating the best and the brightest but on involving the estranged and the excluded. Things don’t look the same with Christ as king.
The world is turned upside down when we look upon the cross which served as the throne of Christ the King. Before Good Friday, the cross was the instrument of torture, suffering and death. Death was the enemy, the thing to be avoided above all others. And yet, as St. Paul reminds us in his first epistle to the Corinthians, Christ has been raised from the dead, love is stronger than death, the enemy has been conquered, in him all shall be brought to life. Since Christ is our king we need have no fear of death. Death does not look the same with Christ as our king.
Since Christ is our King things are not as they appear. The least of the brothers and sisters are members of his royal family. The lost and lonely sheep are the most valuable ones. Death itself can no longer terrorize us. God connects with us when we encounter the hungry and thirsty, in the lost and the scattered, amidst grief and in loss. In all the stuff of human life God is saying, “Can you hear me now.” We don’t need caller ID in order to hear God in the voice of those who are in need all around us. We don’t have to request operator assistance in order to hear God calling to us in the voices of the lost and abandoned. No 800 number is required in order to recognize the voice of God at moments of bereavement. Can you hear me now, God says. I don’t have an unlisted number. You know how to contact me. Just dial the Holy Spirit, at et cum spiritu tuo. Can you hear me now, God says. Get down on your knees and pray every day. There won’t be any busy signal, any call waiting, any answering machine. Can you hear me now, says God. You know the area code: John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten son.” Can you hear me now, God says. And no text. I expect for us to have a person-to-person call and you can reverse the charges. Can you hear me now, says God. Spend some time caring for your family, your neighbors, your church because this is a local call, no long distance carrier is needed. Can you hear me now, says God. If you need directory assistance just pull out your Bible and start to read. It’s much more effective than any yellow pages. Can you hear me now, says God. I’m open to having a three-way conference call. Get together with your Bible study group, your prayer group, your prayer partner and I’ll be there. Can you hear me now, says God. You have the high-speed access, the fiber optic cable, the T-1 line by sharing in the body and blood of Christ. Can you hear me now, God says. You have the right carrier for you have been baptized in water and the spirit, you are washed in the blood of the lamb, you are a child of God, you are a holy nation, you are a member of the body, you are a follower of Christ the King.