Pope Pius XI universally instituted the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King in 1925 in his encyclical Quas Primas. At the time, secularism was on the rise, and many Christians, even Catholics, were doubting Christ’s authority, as well as the Church’s, and even doubting Christ’s existence. Pius XI, and the rest of the Christian world, witnessed the rise of dictatorships in Europe, and saw Catholics being taken in by these earthly leaders. (excerpt from “thepracticingcatholic.com”)
Though established almost a century ago, the concerns that gave rise to “Christ the King Sunday” are rising again. Across the world, we see a steady decline in interest in God and God’s work, and a frightening increase of nationalistic rhetoric, strong-arm dictators and disregard for human rights. Perhaps Pope Pius XI believed that by establishing an annual festival in honor of Christ the King, those trends would be curbed. But even as the Pope placed this new commemoration on the church calendar, myopic nationalistic fervor was boiling all around him, and would, within the decade, erupt in another world war.
Christ the King Sunday marks the end of the church year for us. Most years, it is a benign event marked by triumphal hymns and scripture texts reminding us of God’s power in our lives. But “benign” does not apply to the context of this year’s festival. Every day new concerns are voiced about abuse of power somewhere in the world. (see “Saudi Crown Prince involved in assassination” or “Michigan university president charged with lying.”)
How do Christians balance respect for elected leaders with faithfulness to their call as disciples of Jesus? Who holds our leaders accountable when they seem to stray from concern for the common good? To whom do we hold final allegiance: the kingdoms of the world or the kingdom of God? These questions are not idealistic nagging, but are as old as the church itself. Remember when the Apostle Paul wrote to the congregation in Rome, a congregation living under Roman occupation: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” (Romans 13.1) There was nothing benign about that imperative. Christ might have been their king, but Claudius was their emperor and he wasn’t willing to share the throne with anyone, not even the Son of God.
“Please,” you are shouting at your computer screen, “lay off the political rhetoric! Can’t you write about something pleasant for a change? Can’t you opine about Thanksgiving dinner and autumn leaves and football championships? Just once?”
Don’t worry. I won’t shout back at you. I struggle, too. The preacher must always strike a balance between competing claims, competing realities. Do we offer breathless hope or brutal honesty? Do we harp on sin or just hand out grace? Do we leave the world idling in the parking lot on Sunday morning, or invite it to sit next to us in the pew? How do we speak of the intersection—or collision—of the world’s ways and God’s ways? When does the highly political nature of Jesus’ teaching tempt the preacher toward partisan musing?
I know many of you are either traveling this weekend or entertaining the masses in your own home. If you are able, please join us for worship this Sunday. I promise that Christ the King Sunday will be, for us, a joyful reminder of the power of God in and over and through all things. We will join the questioning and exude the confidence of Christians across the ages: “The Lord is King with majesty surrounded! The Lord our King shall reign forevermore!” (Psalm 93)
Whether in spite of or because of our complicated lives, I find myself deeply grateful. For my life, saturated with blessings. For you. For this blessed work. For the challenges we face, faithfully, together.
Pastor JoAnn Post