Tomorrow is Christ the King Sunday. Rick Dugan has a good meditation on the topic over at St. George the Dragonslayer. The image of Christ as the King he is was one easily taken up by the Anglo-Saxon world, reflected in many pieces of literature, such as Andreas where Christ is portrayed as a King and the Apostles his thegns.
One piece of devotional poetry that comes from the earliest days of English writing and is preserved for us in the tenth-century Vercelli Book, a manuscript containing various pieces of Old English literature. It describes a dream the narrator had wherein he beheld the Rood (ie. Cross), and the Rood spoke to him, relating in dramatic verse and forceful power the scene of Christ’s crucifixion. There is a translation of the whole poem here. Read it; it’s worth the time, trust me.
For our purposes, I’ll quote the following from that translation:
The young hero stripped himself–he, God Almighty–
strong and stout-minded. He mounted high gallows,
bold before many, when he would loose mankind.
I shook when that Man clasped me. I dared, still, not bow to earth,
fall to earth’s fields, but had to stand fast.
Rood was I reared. I lifted a mighty King,
Lord of the heavens, dared not to bend.
With dark nails they drove me through: on me those sores are seen,
open malice-wounds. I dared not scathe anyone.
They mocked us both, we two together. All wet with blood I was,
poured out from that Man’s side, after ghost he gave up.
Much have I born on that hill
of fierce fate. I saw the God of hosts
harshly stretched out. Darknesses had
wound round with clouds the corpse of the Wielder,
bright radiance; a shadow went forth,
dark under heaven. All creation wept,
King’s fall lamented. Christ was on rood.
And this, later on:
Death he tasted there, yet God rose again
by his great might, a help unto men.
He then rose to heaven. Again sets out hither
into this Middle-Earth, seeking mankind
on Doomsday, the Lord himself,
Almighty God, and with him his angels,
when he will deem–he holds power of doom–
everyone here as he will have earned
for himself earlier in this brief life.
This is a clear, unequivocal statement of the Kingship of Jesus. Jesus is King. He truly reigns on high, perfectly indivisible from the Father as true God. Each age and culture tries to cast him into its own image of the ideal leader — we smile at the Dream of the Rood and Christ’s thegns and grimace at Thomas Bradwardine (d. 1349) when he says that God can do whatever He pleases since He is a Lord — and what we have to realise is that Christ is unlike any earthly ruler.
Christ is the King who laid down His life for His subjects.
His crown is of thorns.
His throne is the seat of his own execution.
He calls us to obedience and to follow his own example of self-giving love and endless charity. We are to give of ourselves for others, give our lives for life. We are to be humble. We are to turn the other cheek. We are not to consider our own esteem as something to be grasped. If we live walking in His path, then we shall see Him when He comes to “deem . . . everyone here”. He is King and, unlike any modern monarch, demands complete and utter obedience — an obedience, a service, that is perfect freedom.
So, “worship the King, all glorious above.” He is seated on a sapphire throne today; let us remember the glory of the Cross of yesterday.