Here are my thoughts for today, Christ the King Sunday.
I am writing this on Saturday, November 25, 2006. But, depending on what particular calendar you might be using (1):
it is Day 329 of current year
on the Julian calendar, it is November 12, 2006
on the ISO Calendar, it is Day 6 of Week 47 of Year 2006
on the Hebrew Calendar, it is 4 Kislev 5767
on the Islamic Calendar, it is Shawwal 33, 1427
on the Mayan Calendars
by the long count, it is 22.214.171.124.0
on the Haab (Civil) calendar, 13 Ceh
on the Tzolkin (Religious), it is 7 Ahau
How we tell time is a matter of preference and culture. When we start the year and when it finishes all depends upon the calendar that we choose to use. With that in mind, let me wish everyone a “Happy New Year.” Tomorrow, November 26th, is the last day of the current liturgical year so it is, in effect, New Year’s Eve. With November 27th, we start the new liturgical year and we begin celebrating the season of Advent on December 3rd.
For some, tomorrow is just the last Sunday in Ordinary Time or the last Sunday after Pentecost. For others, it is called Christ the King Sunday and the three readings for the common lectionary reflect that name.
What I found out is that the naming of this particular Sunday, the last Sunday before the start of Advent, as Christ the King Sunday is not an old tradition of the church but rather a relative newcomer to the calendar. It does not bear the history of many long-held church traditions such as All Saints or Christmas or Easter and does not possess the deep and traditional biblical backing of these celebrations. Pope Pius XI brought Christ the King Sunday into the church’s liturgical year in 1925. He was attempting to do several things, but mainly to advance the message of God in Christ over and against that of the political forces moving in the world at that time–people like Mussolini and Hitler (2).
What I find interesting in this is that many of the denominations of that time were falling into line with the prevailing nationalism of the time, giving the political power of the nation over to the spiritual power of Christ. As I noted in my posting for 30 July (3), the German churches of that time frame were more interested in supporting the German nationalism movement and they had in effect turned a blind eye to the plight of the people. The churches then turned from Christ as King to Christ as an afterthought.
And what do we see when we read about the churches and many of the religious leaders of today? How many religious leaders today have not been tempted and corrupted by the power found in the political process. The problem is that we see political power as the means to the end, yet political power is often riddled with hubris and illusion. This is not to say that political power is not inherently evil. It was the moral power and authority exercised by Nelson Mandela to free South Africa from the tyranny of apartheid and it was the moral power and authority exercised by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others used to challenge the very nature of human and civil rights in the 1960’s.
But it should be noted that the political changes that were brought about through the fight for civil and human rights were done from the ground up. The cries for “moral values” today are more often driven by those who seek to gain personal power or status. Like society’s leaders in Jesus’ time, those who cry out the loudest today jostle with each other for the prominent places at the banquet table, instead of giving those seats to the less fortunate.
When Pilate asks Jesus if He is the King of the Jews, it is not a question based on spiritual leadership or the Kingdom of God (4). It is a question couched in the terms of current politics. But, if His Kingdom were of this world, nothing that Pilate or the religious authorities who opposed Jesus did would be able to stop him.
I think that those who opposed Jesus knew what would be the outcome if they allowed Him to complete His mission on earth; they would lose their prominent places, they would lose their status and power. They, perhaps more than anyone else, understood the call to be a servant that Jesus laid out as the basis for his Kingdom. And it was a call that they were not willing to answer; others could not answer it because they did not understand what the call meant. Nor would they understand what it meant until the Resurrection came.
In the Old Testament reading for today, we hear David’s final words (5). These are words that remind us that we must be servants before we can be king. We are reminded that those who choose otherwise will be cast aside.
As the liturgical year comes to an end, as we read John the Revealer’s words of God being the Alpha and the Omega, we are reminded that the King is truly coming. But those who long for a powerful, earthly king will be severely disappointed because the King that comes will come as a child, born in an obscure town to ordinary parents. Even as John was writing of the coming of Christ in all His glory, he understood that there must be a beginning as well as an end (6).
That is what today represents. One year is coming to an end but another is beginning. We celebrate the presence of Christ as King, leading us first as a servant. And now we celebrate the beginning of the New Year with our preparation for the coming of Christ as the child born in Bethlehem. So let us end this day and this year with a rousing cry of “Happy New Year”. Let us end this day by celebrating that Christ is King and let us rejoice that He is coming.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
(4) John 18: 33 – 37
(5) 2 Samuel 23: 1 – 7
(6) Revelation 1: 4b – 8