Christ: the King.
The feast of: Christ the King.
This is what we mark and celebrate today, but what does it mean?
Back around the time our current Prayer Book was approved, it wasn’t uncommon to hear clergy say, even lament, that confirmation was a sacrament needing a theology. Our understanding of baptism has changed, and with it, the understanding of confirmation. With baptism leading to full inclusion in the church and welcome admission to communion, the rite of confirmation is no longer the rite of passage that people have to undergo in order to be considered full members of the church and to receive the body and blood of Christ. Confirmation used to be the necessary “ticket,” but with the change in theological understanding of baptism, confirmation is of more questionable need.
In similar fashion, the Feast of Christ the King is a celebration in need of a reason. We mark it on our calendars and in our liturgical celebrations every year on the last Sunday of the season of Pentecost. Some people celebrate it as a sort of “New Year’s Eve,” marking the last Sunday of the church year before we roll over into Advent and the beginning of a new liturgical year. For some, it is observed in a fashion similar to the Feast of Pentecost, when people sing “Happy Birthday” to the church, marking the beginning of the church, when the disciples were visited for the first time by the Holy Spirit.
So what is this feast we mark today? What can we say about the Feast of Christ the King?
Not much, if we look to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, which has been a standard reference of seminarians and clergy for decades. This respected tome has barely a paragraph detailing the history and describing the Feast.
“The Feast of Christ the King”: What does that mean?
What do you think of when you hear the word “king”?
Baby George, son of Duchess Catherine and William of Wales, newest prince of the realm, has been recently hailed as third in line for the English throne. King!
It’s fine for the British to hail baby George as their future king, but here in America, our experience doesn’t include kings – at least not of the political sort.
“The King.” Say that to Americans, and who doesn’t think of Elvis, the King of Rock ’n’ Roll? Or what about Michael Jackson, crowned the King of Pop?
We have the King of Wall Street in Donald Trump, the Los Angeles Kings in hockey, the Sacramento Kings in basketball, king snakes, kingfishers, king crab, chicken a la king, king of the mountain, the Rev. Martin Luther King.
Is it starting to become clear?
The Kings of Leon for rock and roll fans, and B.B. King for fans of blues, Stephen King, and Burger King.
King Arthur flour, Carole King, king salmon, the Lion King, Steve Martin singing “King Tut” and the King James Bible.
Has the notion of “king” taken on a different meaning for us?
It seems that “king” is no longer the most effective, most evocative, of titles. We could say, instead, “Christ the Messiah,” but isn’t that redundant? And lately “messiah” has become weakened, perhaps even trivialized, by its popularity as a name.
ABC’s “Good Morning America” recently reported that the name Messiah now ranks 387th in popularity as a baby name in the United States. According to the news show: “If you count yourself among those Americans who believe there is only one true Messiah, you may want to speak with the parents of the 811 children who were given the increasingly popular name last year.”
Prince and Princess are both becoming popular names as well, but the popularity of King as a baby name has risen faster than all other “royal” names: It is now the 256th most popular baby name in this country – more popular even than Jonathan.
Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychologist and author of the book “Narcissism Epidemic,” told “Good Morning America” that the rising popularity of these royal-sounding baby names “mirrors a current national preoccupation with money, power and fame.”
That’s today. And remember: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Back in the 1920’s, to counter a sense of growing secularism, Pope Pius XI declared that there should be a celebration of the reign of Christ marked by a special occasion set aside proclaiming Christ as King. Anglicans followed suit, declaring that the last Sunday of ordinary time, the last Sunday of the season of Pentecost and of the liturgical year, would be celebrated as the Feast of Christ the King.
Other churches have done similar things in marking and keeping this observance, with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden perhaps being most honest about the lessons appointed to be read. They refer to it as the Sunday of Doom. Here we are, in between the turkey and football of our Thanksgiving feast and the twinkling lights of Christmas, reading a gospel lesson about the crucifixion of Jesus. Doesn’t “Sunday of Doom” sound about right?
So what does all this tell us about ourselves, or about the Christ we celebrate as King on this day?
Once upon a time, Christ might have been hailed as king in the midst of a people who understood kingship, and particularly Christ’s kingship over them. But we no longer understand kings, as evidenced by the naming of our children with this title. We need a corrective to our consumer culture that puts us at the center of the universe, whatever our name. And today’s lesson from the Epistle to the Colossians offers a balance:
“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”
That’s the point of the Feast of Christ the King in this time: to remind us that we are not the center of the universe; Christ is. To challenge us to gird ourselves for whatever will come, whether the Day of Doom or Christ’s return in glory. To give praise and thanks and glory to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Again, from today’s reading from Colossians:
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
We talk a lot about kings, name many things with this title, but in the end, there is only one who matters for our life together in this world and the next: Christ the King.