SERMON 11/21/19 “Christ the King” St. Monica’s Episcopal Church, Naples, FL
The Feast Day
“Christ the King” is a feast celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church on the last Sunday of the liturgical year. It celebrates Christ’s messianic kingship and sovereign rule over all creation. The feast is unofficially celebrated in some Episcopal parishes, but it is not mentioned in the Episcopal calendar of the church year. 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 origins in the lineage Jesus shares with King David.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “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) So, Jesus follows this royal line through his kinship.
The early followers of Jesus made this royal connection of Jesus with their most beloved King and the promises of the prophets, which foretold of the one coming from David’s line. It established 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 reality of “Christ the King” in actuality was very different from Messiah that the people expected. It is a reality very different from what we expect as well. Today, I want us to consider “Christ the King” not only as a title for Jesus, or the feast day and last Sunday of the church year. I want to challenge us to wrestle with these three questions, as they relate to our relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King. (1) “Is Christ MY King, (2) “If Christ is my King, what does that really mean?” and (3) “If Christ is my King, how does that change my life?”
Presidents vs. Kings
This whole concept of “Christ My King” is foreign to we Americans. We live in a constitutional democracy where for 243 years, no monarch has held power over this land or its people. Monarchical authority was something we fought over during the Revolutionary War. Our forefathers struggled with the hazards of having even a strong executive branch, which could potentially undermine 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.” We refer now to the person sitting in that seat of power merely as either Mr. President or Madam President.
So, we Americans have a hard time with someone holding ultimate power over our lives, because it seems like a violation of who we are as a people. We struggle to accept, conceptualize, and internalize the very relationship we must have with Jesus Christ, which is that of the King of my Life. Do not fret though, scripture and tradition will give us clues to understanding who is this King of Glory and who he is supposed to be for us.
Christ the King
One the clearest images of Christ the King for me was found behind the altar of the Chapel of the Apostles at my seminary. There behind the altar stood 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 will see a more modern “Christus Rex” where Christ stands unattached in front of a cross, with arms straight out, but clothed in western eucharistic vestments and with a real royal crown on his head. This image portrays several concepts at the same time: the historic event of the crucifixion, Christ as the King in his kingdom, and Christ as the victorious sacrifice in the eucharistic feast. We often see this image as Christ the King, but we cannot forget that the image that most clearly shows who this king really was, is now, and will be forever is the gruesome cross.
Jesus’ real throne of power is not a seat covered in gold or fine Italian leather. His throne is a torture device for criminals. Jesus crown is not one with diamonds, rubies, and other jewels, but circular wound thorns that pierced his flesh. Most importantly, the power he wields as monarch is not imbued with might and manipulation, nor with military or economic power, but 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.
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 my life, even when in my naivete, I will not want to release that power to him. Christ the King is “Christ My King,” and yet we struggle to make the commitment of being loyal subjects that his kingdom requires.
Christ My King
Despite our democracy, we Americans still 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 oversight of that governing same system. Maybe this paradox helps us understand our relationship to Christ the King. We love the crown but rejection of its authority and maybe that is the nature of our relationship with Christ. Maybe we have a mere affinity for a popular, famous, good teacher, rather than being 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, maybe our relationship is one of a parasocial nature, in which we are merely attached to him, without actually interacting with him in a meaningful way.
You see, God seeks 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 is; 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 question, which only you can answer for ourselves: “Is Christ MY King.” Because if “Christ the King” really is my king, then my sisters and brothers we all need to get ready, because when we make that choice, everything will change. I find the answers to this question in one of my favorite contemporary Christian songs:
Who is this King of glory that pursues me with His love And haunts me with each hearing of His softly spoken words My conscience, a reminder of forgiveness that I need Who is this King of glory who offers it to me.
His name is Jesus, precious Jesus The Lord Almighty, the King of my heart The King of glory.