For Sunday November 22, 2015
Celebration of Christ the King

Lectionary Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, Year B)

2 Samuel 23:1–7 or Daniel 7:9–10, 13–14
Psalm 132:1–12, (13–18) or Psalm 93
Revelation 1:4b–8
John 18:33–37

We're almost there. Just one more week.

It's been twenty-eight weeks of "ordinary time" since the church celebrated Pentecost Sunday on May 17 — an entire half-year. Next Sunday November 29, the church calendar pivots to a new liturgical year with the sacred season of Advent.

But not yet.  For now, on this last Sunday of the liturgical year, the reading from 2 Samuel 23 records "the last words of David."

The "last words" of a king are inherently auspicious.  Even today we try to divine some special something from the last words of a dying person, whether it's your mother, your father, or someone famous like Citizen Kane ("Rosebud").  Does the dying person have a special word for us as they pass from time to eternity?

 Samuel anoints David as king, Dura Europos Synagogue, Syria, 3rd century.
Samuel anoints David as king, Dura Europos Synagogue, Syria, 3rd century.

King David's "last words" in 2 Samuel 23 are presented as an oracle, a song, a poem or a psalm.  He might be living his last days, but he says that "God has made with me an everlasting covenant." 

Every king hopes and plans for his progeny to continue his rule, but David's oracle seems to expand the horizon of his legacy beyond his son Solomon.  Unlike every other mere mortal, the death of David would not be the end of his kingdom.  He says that his kingdom is "everlasting" and that it would never end.

David's dying words echo a promise that he received at the beginning of his reign.  Through the prophet Nathan, God gave David a promise in 2 Samuel 7:12-13.  It's a promise that has reverberated down through Jewish history for three thousand years:

"When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever… And your house and your kingdom shall endure before me forever; your throne shall be established forever."

This ancient promise, along with other similar Hebrew texts, have led many Jews to hope for a Davidic descendant who would deliver Israel.  A divinely anointed one, a messiah, sent to fulfill Jewish destiny.

King David, Westminster Psalter illuminated mss., c. 1200.
King David, Westminster Psalter illuminated mss., c. 1200.

Leila Leah Bronner puts it this way: "In the Jewish imagination, the Davidic persona and era became the pattern of the Messianic figure and age. The later prophets, such as Amos, Isaiah, Micah, Hosea, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and others, embellished and expanded the vision of the Davidic King and the Messianic Age to come." 

And so even today, in the Shemoneh Esrei, the central prayer of the daily Jewish liturgy that's over two thousand years old, the fifteenth blessing, the "blessing of David," asks God to “allow the branch of David, your servant to swiftly flourish and may his horn be exalted through your deliverance.”

The first followers of the Jewish Jesus were all Jews who remembered him in various ways.  Jesus was a healer and a miracle worker.  A teacher.  A religious renegade who broke purity laws.  A prophet who defended the vulnerable and the outcasts.  He was a shepherd, as we see in the earliest Christian art.

They also remembered Jesus as a king.  In the first chapter of Mark, the first words of Jesus announce a "kingdom."  In the gospel of John for this week, in the last words that he spoke, Jesus admits to Pilate that he's "king of the Jews."

Matthew is even more specific.  Jesus isn't just any king.  He has a special lineage.  The very first sentence of his gospel identifies Jesus as "the son of David."  That language might have mystified the later Gentile believers, but to those first Jewish followers of Jesus, to be called the "son of David" was a loaded phrase. 

The title "son of David" occurs seventeen times in the gospels, beginning with the very first sentence of the New Testament in Matthew 1:1.  For Paul, Jesus was "a descendant of David" (Romans 1:3).  For John, he's "the root and offspring of David" (Rev. 22:16).

The aging King David, c. 1435.
The aging King David, c. 1435.

The title "Son of David" points to more than a genealogical connection.  It's a remarkable confession.  Jesus is greater than Abraham.  He's more than Moses.  He's the Descendant of David who was sent by God.

In apocalyptic dreams and visions, this week's Old Testament reading from Daniel traces the rise and fall of the political kingdoms of his age — Babylon, Persia under Cyrus the Great, Greece under Alexander the Great, and then Rome.

Unlike these human kingdoms, Daniel imagines a kingdom that isn't temporally limited; it's "an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and will never be destroyed."

And what's unlimited in time is also unlimited in space.  This isn't an ethnocentric kingdom that's restricted to one land and one people.  The kingdom of God announced by Jesus welcomes "all peoples, nations and men of every language" to worship the one true "ruler of the kings of the earth" (Daniel 7:14–15; Revelation 1:5).

Funeral of King David as Solomon watches, medieval illuminated manuscript.
Funeral of King David as Solomon watches, medieval illuminated manuscript.

Instead of exclusion, which is the hallmark of human kingdoms, in God's kingdom there's a radical expansion and inclusion.  What's promised in the Davidic Deliverer isn't just the restoration of Israel, as the disciples understandably but mistakenly thought, but the redemption of the world.

Nothing that God loves will ever be lost.  No evil will endure.  All that God has created he will redeem.  The kingdom of God, proclaimed by Jesus the Son of David, is forever.  And it's for everyone.

Image credits: (1); (2); (3); and (4)