Editor’s Note: Today’s post originally appeared in Bird Treacy’s weekly email Wiggles & Wonder on Tuesday, November 15th and is shared today her permission. Click here to subscribe to receive Bird’s weekly reflections on formation and the liturgical year. —Allison, ed.
We’re almost there: the ending of the season after Pentecost which is also the beginning of Advent and a new Church Year. But, as we move into this final Green Growing Sunday, we also encounter a potential stumbling block. In many traditions, this is Christ the King Sunday, but what do we mean when we proclaim Christ’s Kingship?
In Godly Play, we talk about Jesus being a king in a very particular way that threads through our stories. During Advent, for example, we explain that a King is coming, but that he is not the king people *thought* was coming. This king didn’t have a great house or armies or riches. This king was a baby who was born in a barn.
This idea that Christ’s kingship is different from that of earthly kings is important enough that we talk about it in the parables sometimes, too. When the people followed this wonderful person – the one who said and did such amazing things – they heard him talking about a kingdom, but it wasn’t like any kingdom they had ever visited or heard of. They had so many questions, and so they asked him, “What is the kingdom of heaven like?”
All of this is to say that, regardless of our feelings about kingship more broadly, when we talk about Christ the King, we might as well be speaking an entirely different language from the one we use in our daily lives. Christ’s kingship is just too different from what’s familiar to us for the idea of him as King to retain its old resonances. And if that’s hard for us as adults to imagine, what does it mean for us to talk to children about Christ as king?
One of the first things I find that children notice when they come into our Godly Play rooms is the baby doll used in the baptism story. Compared to everything else in the room, this item is so common and can even seem out of place. It seems a little less serious and a little more familiar. And yet there it is, and it’s not far from the baby Jesus in the manger sitting just a shelf above. From their own and their friends’ younger siblings to these or even the younger children down the hall, babies generate a tenderness and interest among many of them. After all, they know the vulnerability of being small and they revel in opportunities to help and guide, rather than be the ones who are helped and guided.
So that baby who would be king, well, it makes me think about some of the problematic questions we ask when we tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan, questions many trainers have been doing away with:
What might happen if the people in the story were women, or children?
What happens when a vulnerable baby is also a great king?
How does that change what we expect?
And, what’s more, how does the story change when our great king, the one who declares that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first,” is crucified alongside common criminals, as we are reminded of in this week’s lectionary?
This is the king who will remember us in his kingdom and unlike typical elites, someone we can trust with our eternal lives.
In a society weighted by the harms of Christian nationalism, I think we’d all benefit from remembering what kind of King Jesus is. It’s not necessarily the language of kingship that is a hazard, but our distortion of who this King really was and is.