Ezekiel 34: 12-16, 20-24; Psalm 95: 1-7a; Ephesians 1: 15-23; Matthew 25: 31-46
The Feast Day
“Christ the King” is a feast observed in many mainline Protestant, as well as the Roman Catholic Church, and it is celebrated on the last Sunday of the liturgical year. It commemorates Christ’s messianic kingship and sovereign rule over all creation. The feast was originally instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and celebrated on the last Sunday in Oct. It has been observed on the last Sunday before Advent since 1970. This commemoration of Christ The King has its origins in the prophetic books and finds its roots in the lineage Jesus shares with King David.
In the prophetic writings of Jeremiah, we find the connection between Jesus and King David, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” David was the beloved King of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah somewhere around 1000 BCE. “Early Christians interpreted the life of Jesus in light of the references to the Messiah and to David; Jesus is described as being descended from David. David is even discussed in the Quran as a major prophet and figures in Islamic oral and written tradition as well.” (1)
The early followers of Jesus made this royal connection between Jesus and their most beloved King David, which alluded to Jesus as the anticipated Messiah or “promised one,” or originally an earthly king ruling by divine appointment. Jesus is the ultimate, expected, and promised “King overall. However, the nature of the reign of “Christ the King” is very different from the Messianic reign the Israelites had hoped. Christ the King’s reign I am afraid is also a reality that may be very different from what we expect today.
I want us today, to consider “Christ the King” more than a mere title for Jesus, or just another feast day celebrated on last Sunday of the church year. I encourage you to let this feast day serve as a reminder, a challenge for growth and spiritual development. Today, I want to ask you to ponder three questions about your own relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of our lives. First, consider this question, “Is Christ MY King? Next, consider this question, “If Christ is my King, what does that really mean?” Finally, consider this question, “If Christ is my King, how does that change how I live my life?” As a follower of Jesus, the acceptance of Christ the King has consequences for how we live each and every day.
Presidents vs. Kings
Monarchies is an alien concept for American democracy. We live in a constitutional democratic republic where for 244 years, no sovereign has wielded power over this land or its people. Monarchical authority was something for which we fought against during the Revolutionary War. Our forefathers struggled with the hazards of having even a strong executive branch, potentially undermining the balance of powers of government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
When George Washington was chosen to sit in that first seat as the head of the Executive branch, the early founders did not know what title they should give to his position in government. “Some delegates to the Constitutional Convention suggested “His Exalted Highness,” others sought a more democratic “His Elective Highness.” Other suggestions included the formal ‘Chief Magistrate’ and the lengthy “His Highness the President of the United States of America, and Protector of Their Liberties’.” Thankfully, Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution states that “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States.”
So, in our DNA we Americans have a hard time with someone claiming ultimate power over our lives, because it seems like a violation of who we are as a people; rugged, independent, “pull ourselves up from the boot straps” people. We may find it hard then, to accept a relationship in which, we are called to embrace Jesus Christ as the King, the ruler, the guide, and the center of our lives. However, bear with me today because, I believe scripture and tradition offer us a way to understand who this “King of Glory” really is, and who he is supposed to be to us.
Christ the King
One the clearest metaphorical images of Christ the King for me can be found behind the altar of the Chapel of the Apostles at my seminary Sewanee. There behind the altar stands a near life-size crucifix of our Lord, nearly naked, hands and feet pierced, and hanging on the cross. This image is the earliest depictions of the throne of grace for the King we describe today. However, in many Episcopal churches behind the altar you may often see a more modern image of Christ unattached to it, but standing in front of a cross, with arms outstretched, and clothed in western eucharistic vestments, with a royal crown on his head. This image portrays several concepts of Christ as King: the historic event of the crucifixion, Christ as the King in his kingdom post-resurrection, and Christ as the victorious sacrificial Lamb presiding at the Eucharistic feast. We often see this image as Christ the King in many venues, however the image that most clearly depicts the concept of “Christ the King” of our lives, the nature of his mission or reconciliation, and the love he has for creation, can be found in the gruesome images of the crucifix. This images shows us the God of love, offering himself to us, vulnerable, rejected, and yet, still loving beyond our imagine..
Jesus’ real throne of power is not a seat covered in gold or fine Italian leather. His throne is a torture device used by an oppressive government to silence criminals. Jesus crown is not one with diamonds, rubies, and other jewels, but circular wound thorns that pierced his flesh. Most importantly, the power Christ wields as monarch is not imbued with might and manipulation, nor with military or economic power, but with self-giving love manifested by the sacrifice of his own life for all.
Scripture tells that Christ the King: rescued us from the power of darkness, he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, in him all things hold together, he is the head of the body (the church), and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things. This is no earthly head of state who has the potential to succumb to tyranny and despotism. This is God in the flesh, love in action, restoration through sacrifice.
Christ the King is no mere wielder of power in a system made by human hands. Christ the King is God among us, who shows us how to live as we were created to live. Christ the King is the ultimate sovereign whose power is love alone. Christ the King is the overseer of our lives, even when in our naivete, we will not release that power to him. Christ the King is “Christ My King,” and yet, even today, we struggle to make the commitment to living as loyal subjects which that his kingdom requires. We may take issue with the monarchy concept, but we are still enthralled by it.
Christ My King
We Americans are obsessed with the British Monarchy. The American viewership of two incredibly elaborate Royal Weddings in the last 30 years attests to that fixation. Psychologists call “this obsession (with royalty) “parasocial behavior,” which can create a one-sided relationship in which someone becomes attached to a person without actually interacting with them in any meaningful way.” (2)
If we Americans love the monarchy with all its pomp and circumstance, why is it we reject the authority and rule of such a governing system. Maybe this paradox of distanced admiration, alludes to the challenges with have with a relationship of Christ the King. We love the crown but reject its authority. Maybe we have a mere affinity for a popular, famous, good teacher, rather than living a committed life in Christ fully engaged, living as a loyal subject of God’s Kingdom.”
The loyal subject of God’s Kingdom desires Christ’s will in all things, pursues Christ’s guidance in all decisions, studies scripture and looks to his example for the path, which we must travel, and speaks to him in loving conversation (prayer) each and every day. Alternatively, could our relationship with Christ be one of a parasocial nature, in which we are merely attached to him, without actually interacting with him in a meaningful way.
God desires to be with us in all things, but God wants us to be with him in all things. Pastor Edward Markquart asserts, “God entered this world as one of us and took upon himself our joy, fear, pain, and suffering. The nature of God is not to avoid suffering; the nature of love is not to avoid pain or the places of pain. That’s the way love really is manifested; that’s the way God is; not to avoid pain and not to avoid the places of pain.”(3)
“Christ the King” is the sovereign of our lives because we make the choice to invite him vulnerably and humbly to walk the path of suffering and pain, joy and peace, hope and salvation with us every day of our lives. That relationship requires no pomp and circumstance, no royal pageantry, and no fine china and silver dinner parties. It requires us to come before the throne of grace and seek reconciliation and transformation with God and with each other every day. So, when we come before that throne of grace, we will find no tyrannical despot, but merely the bearer of the cross of self-giving love.
So, I go back to my original questions, which only you can answer for yourself: “Is Christ MY King?” If so, then my sisters and brothers that means, we must let go of our sense of control and accept God’s will for our lives. “Is Christ my King and what does that really mean?” It simply means our lives are not our own, and we commit to a life of love; love of God and love of neighbor. “If Christ is my King, how does that change how I live my life?” It means simply that we will make different choices in everything we do, including how we invest our gifts given to us from God, how we cultivate and care for relationships, and how we serve others in the world.
If “Christ the King” really is the king, we can be assured we do not live under a power-wielding despot, nor a self-focused regime, we live under the one on whom we can trust, on whom we can rely, and by whom loves us with arms wide-open, even when we might reject him; Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, our God, our Brother, and friend, and our King.