As most traditionalist Christian denominations this week celebrate “Christ the King Sunday,” it seems a perfect time to remind ourselves that we owe fealty to no earthly ruler and that no earthly leader offers us salvation.
(The United States gets it right, by the way: Here, our leaders are elected to serve us, not rule us, while we try to lead lives that prepare us for salvific grace rather than depending on other humans to step in and set our lives aright.)
The Revised Common Lectionary readings for this Sunday provide necessary perspective. Jeremiah, for example, points to the only one who can save us: “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.'”
The president is not our righteousness. The queen of England is not our righteousness. Only the Lord is our righteousness and salvation.
Likewise did Zechariah (John the Baptist’s father) say that “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old … that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”
Again, the focus is on The One sent by the Lord on high; all the rest, if they claim special powers, are false prophets or illegitimate rulers.
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul beautifully lays out the joyful truth about The One: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
To hold all things together indeed. Against this world’s forces of entropy, what a blessing it is to have a spiritual center that will hold even if earthly affairs spin out of control.
And yes, The One who is or should be our center is one who was not exalted by us but who instead suffered and died, as an innocent, for us. We can look at Him, as one thief on a cross did (in today’s Gospel) and see what we moderns would call “a loser” hanging there on the neighboring cross.
Or, instead, we can look at the suffering savior and believe, just as the other thief did: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
To which, Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
This is a great promise. This is the best news we can ever receive. And no leader of earthly government can provide it for us.
On this day, then, let us celebrate. Again citing Paul, let us rejoice that God has, through a beloved Son, “enabled [us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”
It is an inheritance not of lucre but of a Holy Spirit that fulfills us. Yes, let us all hail that heavenly king who offers us such a heritage.
Quin Hillyer is a veteran conservative columnist. He has an undergraduate degree in Theology from Georgetown University and has served for years in various forms of ecumenical lay leadership.