What is Christ the King ?
The Reverend Canon Charles Royden
The Christian year of worship has been progressing through the Sundays we know as Ordinary Time, the colour of green. These are the Sundays after Pentecost and Trinity Sunday all the way back in May. For all of that time every Sunday we have been reading bible passages about ordinary Christian living which challenge us to live extraordinary Christian lives. Today we come to a special Sunday the Sunday of Christ the King which lands us on the threshold of the great season of Advent when we prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. We are going into a time of watching and waiting a reflective time of purple before the razzmatazz of Christmas itself.
This special feast in the church liturgical year of Christ the King has not been around for that long. The idea of a special Sunday to remember the Kingship of Christ was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius X1 in his encyclical Quas Primas. He believed that for as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Saviour, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.
You can read the papal encyclical online, it is not dull or boring. Pope Pius was concerned at the range of doctrines ideologies which were spreading false hopes across the world. He saw the dictatorships of Mussolini’s Fascism, Hitler’s Nazism, Stalin’s Communism, he saw Freud’s psychological determinism, nationalism, secularism and of course American materialism which has infected our own society so badly.
Pope Pius XI wanted to explain that only Jesus and his kingdom could answer the humanity’s deepest yearning. Only in submission to Christ as our Sovereign does the human soul find any peace. When we look at our world we see the rise and fall of empires, the enthusiasm and then decline of different political ideologies. Stability and truth are found only in God. In the midst of the turmoil of world events the Pope encouraged the faithful to seek "the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ".
The faithful, moreover, by meditating upon these truths, will gain much strength and courage, enabling them to form their lives after the true Christian ideal. If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and 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 spurn natural desires and 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 for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.
— Quas primas, §33
Well Pope Pius was living in challenging times and we have been living through some very dramatic times ourselves and last week was no different with the election of Donald Trump, which very few people expected. You had to feel sorry for Hilary who looked a totally defeated woman. The looser is left with nothing and the winner Donald takes it all. There will be enormous power, fame and fortune and a sort of coronation as president. He will be the world leader and everywhere he does he will be treated with huge respect and want for nothing. It is interesting that when many people think of the Kingship of Jesus they imagine this kind of worldly power and authority. The language of some of our hymns and prayers is not very helpful because it tends to show Jesus as a King like an earthly king or a powerful president.
A person coming into a Christian church today might think that we have all gone quite mad. We proclaim Jesus as King and choose a passage from the Bible which is probably one of the most humiliating passages available. When we think of the majesty of Jesus, we should look to the cross. Crucifixion was an execution for common criminals - It was for enemies of Rome, people who they wanted to make examples of as a warning to anybody who was guilty of challenging the power of Rome. As a body was left to decay on a cross it was an example and warning to anybody out there ‘don’t even think about it‘
There were three crosses of course, two men, one either side who had been brought to the same hill, Golgotha. One man cries out for Jesus to save them. The other man looks at Jesus and see in him somebody who should not be there because he didn’t deserve it. But Jesus was not on the cross as an accident, he wasn't there because of a misunderstanding. He was crucified because the religious leaders very much believed that he did deserve it.
The reason why we choose to look to the cross as the central and most significant and obvious place to see Jesus for who he really was, is because it is no accident that Jesus is there. Jesus had set himself on a collision course which meant that it was inevitable that he would end up on the cross. Jesus challenged the system, he exposed and challenged the leaders, and their corruption. He used every means at his disposal from clever stories to miraculous healings to demonstrate that the rules which governed society were ridiculous and loaded in favour of the powerful whilst they crushed the poor and vulnerable.
Jesus did everything in his power to show that God loved the poor and the weak ones and that those at the top had to come down from their high and mighty perches. He literally turned the tables and challenged the authority of the temple itself by proclaiming that not one stone would be left standing. The Jewish leaders, the religious authorities, were determined that he would die and they were determined to find a way to kill him.
So to be a part of the Kingdom of God is not to join in with triumphant crowds claiming that we have power and the victory. Joining Jesus is not like throwing in our lot with the winning side and going to the after election party. Joining Jesus does not leave very much room for triumphalism. Whilst we know that the cross was a victory over sin and death, that resurrection morning lies in our future. For now we live alongside people who are no different than those Jesus lived and died to show his love.
Jesus calls those who would be a part of his kingdom to join him and work to extend his justice and peace in our world. As we share in this work we are a part of his kingdom, we share in paradise.
So we are to join Jesus in a new kind of kingdom as we seek to see that
- Hungry ones are fed
- Those without even clothes and the basic things of life are looked after
- The sick find people who care for them
- people are not persecuted for the way they were born
because of the colour of their skin, gender, their sexuality, their creed
Christians recognise that if we want to see God and understand what he was doing in Jesus Jesus most clearly, then the place we look is the cross.
What Jesus does on the cross is the most dramatic things ever to happen in human history. God in Jesus takes upon himself the sins of the world and against all the odds and human expectation, God proclaims forgiveness.
Jesus is a different kind of leader,
- He refuses power but appears rather in vulnerability.
- Jesus does not stand with the powerful but alongside all of those who suffer injustice and oppression, the poor and the vulnerable.
- He does not vow retribution on even those who crucify him but instead offers forgiveness.
- He does not come down off his cross to prove his kingly status but instead remains on that instrument of torture and humiliation, the representative of all who suffer unjustly.
- He does not promise that he will give a better tomorrow but rather that today immediately we can know the paradise of his love and forgiveness.
Our King is a Crucified King and as his chest is pierced with a spear his last breaths are used to speak words of comfort to the lost and the lonely, to one who would die with him and those he would leave behind. As we follow Christ as our King may he give us grace and strength to follow in his way