11/25/12, Christ the King

Daniel 7: 13-14, Rev. 1: 5-8, John 18:33-37

Today is the very last Sunday of the liturgical year, a special day of commemoration in the Catholic Church.  This day is known as the Feast of Christ the King. 

 When you think “king” what picture comes to mind?   

 Most of us envision royal robes with crown and jewels worn by a power-wielding person who has servants that bow to him, perhaps in fear of his power.  On this feast day, we celebrate a completely different kind of king. Christ the King came to serve rather than to be served.  His robe was a common tunic and his crown was one of thorns. In the gospel passage today, Jesus is asked repeatedly by Pilate to affirm his identity as a “king.”  The kind of king Pilate has in mind is like the Emperor Caesar, a political ruler who has declared himself to be God.   If Jesus intends to take over that political throne, he must be eliminated.  But Jesus refuses to acknowledge any such political superiority. Instead, Jesus says, ''You say that I am a King. I was born and came into the world for one purpose - to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who seeks the truth hears my voice."  

            Not all of our liturgical events in the Catholic Church are really ancient tradition. This particular feast day was instituted less than a hundred years ago.  In 1925, new approaches to theological study found many Christians doubting the authority of the Church and even the authority of Christ. Besides that intellectual influence, European dictatorships were on the rise and Christians were being persuaded by these strong earthly leaders.  Pope Pius XI wrote an encyclical that year to declare that Jesus Christ was the ultimate authority over all people and nations.  This letter established the last Sunday of the church year as a commemoration of Christ the King. In the celebration of this Eucharistic feast the faithful people in the pews were to be reminded that Christ must have first position in our hearts, minds, wills and bodies.

            “King” language is somewhat disturbing to today’s progressive Christians.  It is associated with the history of tyrannical men who used power to manipulate their lesser subjects for self-promotion to political domination and wealth.   Consequently, the words “Lord” and “King” may convey the image of a God who wishes to dominate and control humans as kingdom subjects.  For many centuries, a judgmental, punishing God was the predominant image for most Christians, but over the last century a loving God has emerged into Christian consciousness.  This is a theological change that we have experienced during our very lifetimes.  We Baby Boomers have had to work through this transition of thinking of God as a distant judge on a throne to considering God as a loving parent (father or mother) who offers welcome to all.  So we might wonder, how is it possible to have the same relationship with someone I call Christ the King as I have with this one I call my brother, Jesus?

            We celebrate this feast on the last Sunday of Church Year B, as we look back over the journey we have taken with Jesus through the Gospel of Mark.  In this story, Jesus worked out his life mission to bear witness to the truth as prophet, priest and king.  His human journey is a model for our own life of faith.  Like Jesus, we are born and baptized, we grow and mature.   Like Jesus, the truth stories of our lives are being written as we live them. 

We see Jesus being a person who speaks for God and lives in a way that is so different it calls others to conversion.  This is what a prophet does.  We share in Jesus’ prophetic ministry by living as witnesses to the gospel message.  We call people to changed lives by our efforts to live with moral dignity, to promote justice and to live peaceably.

Jesus’ mature role also called him to be a priest.  A priest is one who serves as a mediator, or a bridge, between God and human beings.  Jesus was the priest through whom humans rediscovered the truth of our connection to God. As priestly people, we present our prayers and the use of our unique gifts in everyday lives as an offering to God.  Our offering of thanks (Eucharist) to God helps bridge the human-divine gap so that we and others may cross over into intimate connection to God.

Finally, Jesus was called to be “king” in the sense that the Jewish people understood godly kings like David to be king.  Putting aside self-interest, a godly king was expected to care for the people and wealth that God had given him to steward.  A godly king would cultivate the Kingdom of heaven on earth, promoting righteousness, justice and peace for all. 

On this feast day of Christ the King, we too are called to servant-kingship.  Our mandate is to take up the task of being good stewards of this world’s resources and honoring the diverse people who inhabit this world.  As mature Christians, we are to cultivate the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, partnering with God to bring about the transformation of the world.   We are always and everywhere called to participate in the building of the kingdom of God.

Next Sunday we will enter the season of Advent.  Once again we will begin retelling the story of our faith journey in Christ. As we do this in the darkness of the Advent season, move towards the light with anticipation, asking yourself these questions: How do I live prophetically?  How do I serve as priest?  Where is the servant-king role being worked out in my life?

 “I was born and came into the world for one purpose - to bear witness to the truth.”  You were baptized into Christ’s life.  His purpose of bearing witness to the truth is your purpose too.   May Christ the King bless you with courage and determination to be all that you are called to be!  

By Sandi DeMaster