Christ the King Sunday
Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the long season of Pentecost and the final celebration of our liturgical year. Next Sunday we begin a new year, a new season, as we start our Advent journey toward Christmas. Today we celebrate the kingship of Christ with hymns about royalty, power, and heavenly courts–all of this right before we begin a quiet, contemplative season’s journey to Bethlehem. We talk about Jesus as King today but soon the church and even the secular world around us will be focused on Christ the tiny baby in a manger.
Today’s celebration is not one of the ancient traditions of the Church; in fact, it was instituted a little less than 100 years ago in 1925 in the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Pius XI. He was concerned about the growing nationalism and secularism he saw in the world around him. He wanted the faithful to be reminded that to Christ our Lord has been given all power in heaven and on earth and this power embraces all men. Pope Pius said:
- Christ must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission & firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ.
- He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God.
- He must reign in our hearts, which should love God above all things and cleave to him alone.
- He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments of justice unto God.
It is particularly meaningful to me to think about today’s theme and scripture in light of our recent elections. We’ve heard a lot about leadership in recent months in campaigns at the local, state, and national level. What characterizes a great, or even a good, leader? If you were paying attention to our recent campaigns, you might think a good leader:
- Looks “right”
- Has the right contacts
- Makes the most noise
- Proves his or her worth by defaming his or her opponents
Jeremiah talks about leadership in today’s Old Testament reading. Evil shepherds (bad leaders) scatter their flocks rather than caring for them. Good shepherds keep their flocks together in safety.
Jeremiah also talks about a future king who will be a righteous Branch, executing justice and dealing wisely.
From our experiences, most of us really don’t know anything about shepherds. And, other than keeping up with the royal family in Britain, we don’t have a lot of experience with kings. So what does it really mean for us when we talk about Christ as King? What example of kingly leadership do we see in Jesus?
The Gospel choice for today could have presented many images of Jesus as a kingly figure. Beyond his teaching and healing, we could consider Jesus feeding the five thousand, Jesus walking on water and ruling the elements, Jesus turning over the money changers tables in the Temple.
Instead, on Christ the King Sunday, we consider Luke’s account of Jesus dying on the cross. Instead of a display of kingly power, we see Jesus mocked by the religious leaders,the soldiers, even the other criminals hanging near him while the people stand by in silence and watch. Yet, even at this dark hour–especially at this dark hour, Jesus is King. What actions does he take?
First of all, he forgives. This passage is unique to Luke’s Gospel but it signifies to us who Jesus is. Even as he is being tormented, mocked, and derided, he forgives those around him.
Secondly, even at this dark hour he ministers to those in need. When the criminal hanging next to Jesus asks to be remembered in his kingdom, Jesus shows compassion and solidarity with his suffering.
(And notice that this criminal identifies Jesus’ kingship and recognizes his kingdom.)
Finally, Jesus saves. Today, you will be with me in Paradise.
Jesus is a new type of ruler and he offers a new type of kingdom, a new way of living and being in relationship with others. When we look to Christ as King, we are not just replacing an earthly monarch with a heavenly one. Instead, we are becoming part of a new order, an upside down kingdom where love rules.
“The King of Love our Shepherd is”…..
We are called to be active participants in this kingdom of love, a kingdom that is not off in some far away time and place, but literally here and now.
By all accounts, this has been a difficult time in our history. Perhaps now–even more than ever–we need to remember that we are citizens of a larger kingdom that embraces more than just our political ideologies. As followers of Jesus, we are called today to look at the world around us with new eyes and:
- Be present with those who are suffering
- Be a voice for those who have no voice
- Show solidarity with the poor and the marginalized
One commentary I found this week mentioned that very famous quote from Leonard Cohen:
There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
We are called to look for those cracks:
- Cracks in unjust systems
- Cracks in dividing walls of hostility and hatred
- Even cracks in all kinds of glass ceilings that sustain unfair treatment
And then WE need to be the light of Christ that gets in through those cracks. Light that shines on those who have been overlooked and silenced and kept in bondage.
Light that brings the hope of new life in Christ’s kingdom.
St Catherine’s Episcopal Church (11/20/2016)