Christ the King
God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.
Today is the final Sunday of the church year; this is New Year’s Eve! As most people do on New Year’s Eve, we can look to the future. Christ the King Sunday offers two ways; the first is pointing to the end of time when the kingdom of Jesus will be established in all its fullness to the ends of the earth. The second dimension leads us into the immediate season of Advent, the beautiful season of expectation and preparation as we look ahead to celebrating the birth of Jesus. In both dimensions we are reminded that Jesus, Christ in King.
Christ the King is a recent addition to the church calendar – and a Roman Catholic one at that! Pope Pius XI instituted it in 1925 – which is like 5 minutes ago in church time. He did this in response to issues he was facing in the church. There was growing secularism after World War 1. The Church was facing a huge crisis of faith and many people left the Church (both Catholic & Protestant) in Europe in the wake of the war. The men had left for war and they didn’t come back; and the women left the church and God. This context led the Pope to establish Christ the King Sunday as a reminder of Jesus’ power and authority above all else. Pope Pius wrote:
‘If to Christ Jesus 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, [paraphrasing now] He must reign in our minds, He must reign in our wills, He must reign in our hearts, He must reign in our bodies and in our members as instruments of justice unto God.’
This Sunday was instituted as a reminder about who is really in charge. It is good to remind ourselves that Jesus is King above all kings; whatever season we are in. I know that for many people 2021 has been, quite frankly awful. Others it has been fair to middling to better than 2020. Wherever you are at, God bless you. The King knows what is going on, is with you and loves you.
Christ the King Sunday reminds us that we live in the in-between. We are between the first Advent (The birth of Jesus) and the second (his return). The new born King has come and yet we wait for His return as the grown-up King. Most of us, I suspect, prefer certainty and security to uncertainty and chaos. We like to know where our next meal is coming from, when the next train arrives, and that there is money in the bank.
We might even prefer more certainty of Jesus or hold a view of Him that is containable, manageable and fits with our view of the world. The readings this morning counter any comfortable view we might want to hold. Jesus before Pilate just before the Crucifixion and John’s vision of the return of Jesus at the second coming.
Revelation is the start of John’s visions while he was an old man exiled on the Greek island of Patmos. John knew Jesus; he was the beloved disciple, he had spent 3 years with him, following him around, listening and learning from him. John was there when Jesus was crucified, a young man probably still a teenager!
Now John is an old man, having lived a life telling people the Good News that he heard and saw when he was with Jesus. In this final event of his life, John is given the most extraordinary visions of what happens when Christ comes again. It is dramatic, it is frightening and quite frankly hard to understand. John starts with God and Jesus as he knows the grace and peace he extends to others, he knows the faithful witness of Jesus. John knows the love and freedom that comes from the forgiveness of sins. He knows what Jesus did while he was on earth for he was there.
John received a glimpse of Jesus’ coming again; the arrival on the clouds and every eye will see him. In the first coming, as a baby in the manger, it might seem easy to overlook but there will be no mistaking this King’s return.
John’s Gospel presents us with another vision of Christ the King; maybe one that we are no more comfortable with but maybe more familiar. John gives us a picture of the human Jesus stood before Pilate; tired, beaten, exhausted. Again, not a great picture of a King!
Pilate has been put into a difficult position, he is puzzled over the charges brought against Jesus but has to decide whether Jesus should be sentenced to death or not. As Pilate is trying to work this out he asks Jesus point-blank, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus gives a rather vague answer, ‘My kingdom is not from this world’.
Pilate takes this as Jesus’ admission to being a king. Pilate is probably unsure about what kind of king Jesus is meant to be and likely doesn’t care. Pilates concern is more about whether Jesus is challenging his power or not. Is this Jesus supposed to be a king in a military-style way to come in and wipe out the enemies (those being the Romans) of the Jewish people?
We know the rest of the story: this King that goes on to be crucified. Again, this is not a great or comfortable view of a King!
Both the readings this morning give us two different perspectives on Jesus and his kingship. I wonder if there is one you relate to more deeply than the other? We have the huge vision of John and the glorious return of the King. We also have a very human Jesus standing before Pilate on his way to his death. In between this, we are to prepare to again celebrate and remember the first Advent, Jesus in the manger.
It is important to our faith to understand how we see Jesus. Where do we place him? Is he the tiny baby that comes out only at Christmas for some warm and fuzzy memories? Is the cosmic Jesus a little too different, too distant? What about Jesus the man? The human ‘king’ standing before Pilate.
Christ the King Sunday gives us the opportunity to adjust our eyesight so that we can see Jesus in all his fullness. If we have diminished Him in any way we can ask for Him to expand into our lives, our relationships and our understanding of who He is. We need Him! We need Him in this church badly!
We share in his Kingship in the practical matters of feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, being present with those in need. We also share in the hope of the King that is to come in all his fullness and glory; both the baby in the manger and the Son of Man who will return. The Son of Man who will descend on the clouds; who loves us and freed us from our sins and made us to be a kingdom.
Until then we have to wait and watch. Take the time to be prepared. As we stand on the cusp on another church year – which promises to be eventful – let’s look again at Christ our King.
Christ the King