Text: Matthew 25:35-45 (“when did we serve you, Lord?”)
A few years ago when my dentist was installing a dental crown, I asked her if dentists thought of the hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns” as kind of a national anthem. Unfortunately, she didn’t get my joke. In this ever-more secular age, she had never encountered this popular nineteenth century hymn.
“Crown Him” is the second of ten “Reign of Christ” hymns found in “Voices United.” The first verse goes like this:
Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne:Voices United, #211
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!
While I like this hymn, I have never chosen it for a Sunday morning because of its words. I appreciate its idea that there are many crowns in the celestial monarchy, but not its idea that there is just one throne. In my image of the realm of God, there are billions of crowns and billions of thrones.
“Crown Him” imagines Christ the King the way the imperial church has done from the fourth century onwards. It suggests that Jesus is a singular monarch ruling with a merciful but firm hand from a heavenly throne.
Many passages in the Bible might support this image; just not ones that speak to me. A passage that does speak to me is the one we heard today from Matthew 25. It asks where we have seen the face of Christ and suggests it is in everyone we meet, especially in the faces of people we help – the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned.
Christ means “God’s anointed,” and was used to denote the kings of ancient Israel and was assigned to Jesus by his followers.
But Jesus is not a king like other ones. He is king who is executed and then rises not to a solitary throne but into the hearts of all who follow his Way.
The crucifixion of Christ reveals his followers’ dreams of a new tribal king like David as a form of idolatry. The Good News is that divinity and sovereignty are everywhere. We can find them on billions of thrones, within each person’s heart, which is a spiritual reality we call the Inner Christ.
When Jesus is executed, his followers are shattered; but his death is followed by resurrection. Accepting resurrection is like waking up to find the hero for whom you had yearned is within you. With Grace, we discover that the divinity associated with the name Jesus and the sovereignty associated with the title Christ lives in everyone we meet, including within ourselves.
This is sovereignty as revealed on Way of the Cross, a Way that winds through loss, pain, and the death of illusions and which leads to an awareness that the sovereign doesn’t reside a throne in Jerusalem or London, but in our hearts.
Not that I’m not fascinated by London’s contemporary sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II. Last week, Kim and I binge-watched season 4 of “The Crown,” which was released on Sunday on Netflix. Covering the years 1979 to 1991, its main focus is on the marriage of the Queen’s son Prince Charles to Diana Spencer. Like the first three seasons, I was impressed by the production and with the never-ending font of drama the Royal Family supplies for a soap opera.
But I am also glad that monarchy has largely been replaced by representative democracy over the last 250 years. Democracy has its woes, as we well know; and its imperfections are too often on display. Still, I view it is a step forward from absolutist monarchy.
What surprised and delighted me 20 years ago when I returned to church was the radical democracy found in the gospels. They don’t just contrast the sinful monarchy of the Roman Emperor to the rule of Jesus. They present a vision of a sovereign Christ living within the heart of each humble peasant. This is a more radical vision than of any regime that has yet existed.
It is also a vision we need today, I believe. We are the leaders we are seeking, both individually and as a world-wide community of love.
Of course, simply realizing this doesn’t solve all problems. For one, there are real-life dictators and presidents who misrule their subjects and who are usually incapable to tackling social problems like pandemics, racism, and war.
Nor does the realization that sovereignty is distributed among 7.8 billion humans do away with the hard work of developing leadership skills. This fall we looked at some of these – discerning reality from fantasy; communicating without judgement and in awareness of one’s feelings; being able to inspire; being accountable and responsible for our actions; and developing a sense of purpose in community. There are many others aspects of leadership we could discuss.
But I end today with the same message with which I began on August 23. We are the hero for which we have been searching.
Some may find this idea too daunting. Do we really want to be a sovereign? Isn’t the job of king or president too big be desirable?
I would agree except when sovereignty comes via the Way of the Cross. To wake up to the inner Christ, we first have to die to egotistical illusions. So, the extent to which we have gone through cycles of disillusionment and awakening – of death and resurrection — is the same extent to which our egos have shrunk; and with less ego, the awesome power of distributed divinity and sovereignty becomes less a heavy burden and more a weightless joy.
Pilgrims of the Way of the Cross bear collective leadership lightly. Yes, we have immense power and responsibility. But each of us still only a holy fool stumbling down the road with billions of other holy fools. Together we can wear our many crowns and rule from our many thrones in humility and joy and with trust in the eternal power of Love.
Thanks be to God. Amen.