Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Christians around the world celebrate today as Christ the King Sunday.
The Feast of Christ the King has been appointed for the last Sunday before Advent in the western liturgical calendar and celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church, as well as Anglican, Lutheran, and protestant churches, and the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia.
Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King with his 1925 encyclical letter, Quas Primas, as a response to the growth of nationalism and secularism between the two world wars.
The festival of Christ the King may be relatively new, but the subject addressed is both ancient and modern in nature. The lessons chosen for the day may reflect different perspectives on the Biblical understanding of kingship, but also serve as meditations on the relationship of God’s truth to authority and power exercised in the community.
The book of Jeremiah describes God’s intention to raise up good shepherd to guide his people. We read: “I will raise up shepherds over them, and they shall fear no longer…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.” The New Testament applies this imagery to Jesus, as the very definition of his kingship. Jesus has authority over humanity and creation.
A reading from the Book of Colossians. The passage envisions God’s Messiah. St. Paul writes: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven by making peace through his blood on the cross.”
The Gospel describes the encounter between Jesus and two criminals at the crucifixion on Good Friday. When nailed to the cross with the criminals, he says, “Father forgive them: for they do not know what they are doing.” He forgives others, even though they have not asked for forgives, just as God forgives each of us our sins by his grace.
The people gathered beneath the cross scoff at Jesus and his claim to be the Messiah. They say: “He saved others, let him save himself, if he is the Messiah of God his chosen one.” The soldiers also mocked him by saying If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” An ironic inscription on the cross proclaim, “This is the King of the Jews.” One criminal taunts Jesus, saying, Save yourself and us.” But the other criminal recognized the kingship of Jesus and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
By his death and resurrection, Jesus brings human rebellion against God to an end through the reconciliation humanity to its creator. He accomplishes this task by his suffering, death upon the cross and resurrection from the grave. His life sets the seal on a new order of creation.
Any discussion of Christ the King Sunday may veer in different directions. On the one hand, the theme for the day can take its tone and content from the Book of Colossians and focuses on speculation about the end time, the coming reign of Christ and the day of judgement.
But there is also a second possible direction. That theme returns to the confrontation between Jesus and the two criminals. The people, soldiers and one criminal mock Jesus, but the other criminal acknowledges the kingship of Christ and by this confession receives forgiveness and salvation through Christ and from God. Kingship does not suggest lording it over others, but reconciling God’s people to their Lord.
Think of the crucifixion of Jesus as the conclusion to the greatest story ever told. The story begins with the struggle between human and divine intentions in the Book of Genesis with the temptation of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve want to subvert God’s authority and power and intend to do that by eating fruit of the tree in the center of the Garden of Eden. They have been assured by the tempter, in the form of the serpent, they can mount God’s throne and grasp his power. That story plays out again and again every day in human history and on the front page of the newspaper. The story ends with the resurrection of Christ and the affirmation of his kingship.
We read stories about the transfer of power in many countries. We don’t call our leaders kings, but they exercise the power and authority of kings. The problem is that they do a messy job of exercising power and authority. Consider the last election and the conflict and division that created in our country. Now we try to transfer the power from one government to the next. Polls show people don’t trust our leaders and often with good reason. Political leaders often fail to embody what it means to be a good shepherd. Sometimes they seem to be the wolf at the door.
We need an authority that exercises itself and creates reconciliation and union among the people of our nations. Too often greed and ambition get in the way. On Christ the King Sunday we see in Christ the true character of leadership that reflects the values of our faith.
A hundred years Pope Pius XI saw the approach of fascist and communist movements in Europe with their demands for economic change and autocratic rule. Pius instituted Christ the King Sunday to remind the world only God has absolute power and that all knees shall bow to Jesus Christ alone, who reigns as king above all earthly rulers. He spoke truth to power.
You and I walk in the shoes of Adam and Eve. We stand beneath the cross on Good Friday. Like all humanity before us, we seek God’s power and authority for ourselves. The other day I read a quotation by Queen Elizabeth’s mother who once reigned in Great Britain, as the wife of George VI. She said this, “When one is exhausted and maddened by the idiocy of everybody, one is sustained by the feeling that people need a sovereign.” Undoubtably, people, individually and collectively, do dumb things, but the idea of giving sovereign power makes no sense, unless their intentions reflect what it means to be a good shepherd.
We believe Christ to be the sovereign of our lives individually and. collectively. He commands us by his word in scripture, God endows him with all authority and power. We call him our Good Shepherd because he leads us in God’s way, not by threat of force or violence, but by wisdom and the decision of faith. Only God’s truth, revealed in Jesus Christ, brings peace with our neighbor and harmony within creation. On this Christ the King Sunday, may we again profess our submission to Christ alone as our Lord and Savior. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.