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Christ the Crucified King: Reflections on Christ the King Sunday

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Photos: David Bennett

Christ the King Dome, photographed by David Bennett

We are approaching Christ the King Sunday, also known as the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, which is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time before Advent. Although many probably assume that this universal feast day dates from the Middle Ages, Pope Pius XI added it in 1925. He intended it as a day to celebrate and remember Christ's kingship over all creation, as well as remind us that all mankind must submit to Christ's rule. It has also been a somewhat controversial day among a few Christians because they consider the language of kingship outdated or oppressive. Some Protestant worship book revisions, during the Eucharist service, even say, "blessed be God's realm" instead of "blessed be God's kingdom" which I think shows a lack of critical theological reflection on Christ's Kingship. Unfortunately, the root of this mistake is the curse of modernism: culture transforms Christianity instead of the other way around.

For many, the images of kings and kingdoms conjure up thoughts of tyrants. Of course, few living Americans have ever lived under a king and even those are all immigrants. I would guess just as many people simply picture a character from a fairy tale or a movie, which could be positive, negative, or neutral. Regardless, the concepts people bring to the table should not dictate Church language. Rather, the unchanging Christ proclaimed by the Church should transform all secular notions.

First, it is important to look at how Jesus, as King, acts. Jesus' earthly ministry was not one of military might or oppressiveness. Rather, it was one of peace, liberation, and above all, service. Jesus turned the whole concept of lordship and primacy on its head:

You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to become great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45, NAB, emphasis mine).

Thus, Jesus knew the popular images of kings and lords and he specifically redefined them, but did not reject them. In the new age, in order to be a ruler of all, a person must be a servant of all. Jesus demonstrated this servanthood in his life and miracles. Even the Incarnation is an example of this: God the Son, King of all creation, humbled himself to become human, even sharing the ultimate fate of his captive subjects: death.

Second, Jesus' role of King is closely tied to his role as Judge, which is another contentious theme in popular religion. We say in the creed: "he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end." Even now, he is the all powerful Lord, King, and Judge and someday he will return (called the Parousia or Second Coming) and everything will be fully submissive to his will. We must remember, however, that unlike our judgments, Christ looks at the heart and does not judge by human standards. Also unlike our justice, which is generally retributive, Christ's is restorative, designed to lead to repentance and salvation through the Sacraments of his Church. Christ knows that we often fail to submit to him in all ways, which is why he has left us with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Bible also tells us that God delays the return of his Son for all to come to repentance.

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Christ the Crucified King B and W, photographed by David Bennett

Third, we are used to democracy and everyone receiving a voice; but that is not Christianity and it is certainly not God. Due process and the majority vote can and do err especially in regards to religion. God is wholly other, but has chosen to reveal himself in history and become one of us in the person of Jesus Christ. He has also left us his Church, founded on the rock of Peter. We have not elected God President and God's creation is not made up of registered voters. There are no referendums on God's will and there is no chance of recalling him in favor of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Consequently, certain images of God, such as Lord and King will always seem foreign in a democratic, individualistic society. But, once again, we must remember that God is a different type of King: all-powerful, but also all-loving, all-merciful and in a loving relationship with his creatures through his Church. We must submit to Jesus as our Lord and King, but it is a submission that paradoxically brings with it liberation, freedom from sin.

Finally, a search of the New Testament for the word "king" yields some interesting results. The vast majority of the references to Jesus as king occur during the Passion narratives in the Gospels. Jesus' kingship is proclaimed multiple times while he is on the cross. Although vindicated through his resurrection, the cross is still a primary defining point of Christ's Kingship. The Son of God became human and died a horrible death on the cross to release his subjects from captivity. The King of the World, the Lord of Glory made this ultimate sacrifice out of his love for the world, a world constantly in rebellion against him. Christ's kingship is not like a king with a jewel-encrusted crown in purple finery on a gold throne wielding an oppressive rod of iron. Rather, he is the crucified God with a crown of thorns hanging half naked on a cross of shame to set us free from our bondage.

All Praise be to Christ the King. Amen.

Please check out some of our related links: Tis (Not Quite) the Season...But There's Still Plenty to Celebrate provides ideas about how to celebrate Christ the King Sunday.

Last updated 11-21-2009

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