It’s the Sunday of Christ the King. What kind of king is Jesus?
Who needs a king these days? The idea of monarchy has faded in the modern age, although a few remain – most notably that of the “United Kingdom.” Some still revel in the trappings of royalty: the wealth, jewels, palaces, intrigues, and love affairs. It does make good theatre. But most of us prefer more democratic political structures.
So what kind of king is Jesus? What does our declaration “Christ is King!” mean to us?
The recent spate of movie and TV productions about the British monarchy have fascinated many of us, starting with “The King’s Speech,” and continuing with Netflix’s “The Crown” and others. Queen Elizabeth II has just celebrated 70 years of marriage. These have given me a new appreciation for the hardships a monarch can bear.
King George VI (of “The King’s Speech”) came to the role with great reluctance when his brother (Edward VIII) abdicated the throne after less than a year, in order to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, which was considered a scandal. George VI, known to his family as “Bertie,” never wished to be king, but was forced into the role. In a few years, Britain was embroiled in an existential struggle for survival in World War II. King George VI struggled with a stutter – an all-too-evident weakness – masterfully portrayed by Colin Firth. (I love Colin Firth!)
I bring all this up because of the way George VI and his wife remained in solidarity with the hardships of the people of the UK and in particular London. The monarchs stayed mostly in London through the Blitz, observed the rationing rules, and visited bombing sites. A bomb at Buckingham Palace nearly killed them. They forged a spiritual alliance with their embattled people. They suffered with the people of Britain.
George VI also presided over the dismemberment of the British Empire, allowing that behemoth to unravel with relative grace into a “commonwealth” of associated independent nations. He relinquished the title “emperor.”
All of this does not make George VI into a modern-day Jesus, or even a particularly saintly man. But it helps us imagine a model of kingship as servant leadership – of one who sacrifices much, shares the burdens of his people, and seeks to strengthen them. King George VI did not give his physical life for his people, but he gave his best to the unwelcome task of serving as king. His brother, Prince George, was killed in the war in 1942.
I’m not sure how helpful the image of “Christ the King” is to modern people; there is so much baggage associated with kingship and monarchy. But perhaps we can get a glimpse of the kind of king Jesus was: one who gave his love and his life for his people – for us – to lead us into a better country, a place of peace. JBM