Feast of Christ the King - Cycle C
2 Sam 5:1-3
The two books of Samuel describe a time early in Jewish history when the 12 tribes were forming one nation under a single king. After the death of Saul, their first king, the tribes decided upon a successor, as we will hear in this reading.
In our age of space travel, there is sometimes speculation about Christ’s place in the wider universe, particularly if life were found on other planets. Today’s passage quotes an early Christian hymn which describes the kingship of Christ in cosmic terms.
Bishop Untener’s Homily
The feast of Christ the King is a relatively new feast, which is to say, it’s not an ancient feast. It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925.
Looking back, I’m not sure if it wasn’t a mistake. It was well-intentioned, of course, and it was supposed to remind us that Jesus is the true leader of all people, the leader of the whole universe. But I think our images of "king" keep getting in the way.
When we call Jesus "king" we apply to him the trappings of the kings of this world. I’ve seen paintings of Jesus with a royal crown on his head. The only crown Jesus ever wore was a crown of thorns. I’ve seen paintings of Jesus sitting on a throne. The only throne he ever had was the cross. Jesus turned our image of power and glory upside down.
** Early in his public life the people wanted to make Jesus a king, and he fled from them.
** When he entered Jerusalem and the people waved palm branches, they thought it was a triumphal royal entrance. Jesus knew that it was a death march.
** In John’s Gospel, when Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king, he said: "My kingdom is not of this world."
** The Roman soldiers thought that he wanted to be a king like Caesar, so they dressed him up like one, and then made fun of him.
** The religious leaders taunted him on the cross and said that if he was a king he should come down from the cross. But he hung there and died.
** In the Gospel passage we just heard, the other criminal on the cross calls him by his first name. He said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." You don’t talk that way to a king. Or, for that matter, to a queen.
** Jesus might have been a king in one sense, but his burial was the smallest funeral a king ever had.
Jesus came to be our leader, there’s no question of that. He came to connect with the whole human race and lead us in a new direction. But Jesus didn’t call himself a king. He called himself "the good shepherd." He came to lead us into new pastures, a new way of living.
In a way it’s easier to hail him as a king, bow down before him... it’s easier to do that than follow him as a shepherd, and live his way of life.
Jesus came to be the "New Adam." Jesus came to take hold of the whole human race, the whole universe, and change our course – turn us in a different direction toward God, move us away from violence, selfishness, separatism. But he didn’t accomplish this by military might. He accomplished this by living a new way of life, and by sending his Spirit upon us so we can live it too, and so that we can change the course of the human race, change the course of history.
What we accomplish when we live his way of life doesn’t seem like much on any given day. But I always have to remind myself that the smallest act of love changes the balance of love in the universe. Think of that: The smallest act of love changes the balance of love in the universe. It turns all creation a bit more toward God.
That’s what Jesus came to do. He didn’t come simply to die, and earn points for us by his suffering. He came to lead a new way of life. And he would live that way of life even in the face of suffering, even in the face of death. His death was an expression of his life. Ultimately, he showed us that his way of life – the way of life to which we’re all called – is the way to the fullness of life, even in the face of suffering and death.
At baptism we are not crowned. We are drowned. We die to one way of life and rise to a new and different way of life. At Confirmation, the sword of a knight isn’t placed in our hand. Soft, holy, consecrating oil is placed on our head, and the Lord’s Spirit comes upon us in a special way. At the Eucharist we don’t listen to His word and then go out shouting like a king’s army to do battle. After we hear his word, his way of life, we respond by placing ourselves on the altar with him. We bring forward the symbols that symbolize us – bread and wine – and we put them right on the altar, with him. By this we say that we’re going to walk with him in his way of life. We’re going to live this way. We’re not looking for suffering. We’re not looking to be sneered at, jeered at, insulted as he was on the cross. But if that happens because we are walking with him, we’re still going to walk with him. We’re going to join him in turning the whole family of the human race, the whole cosmos, toward God, toward our destiny. Every "Amen" we say at Eucharist is a way of saying, "I will walk with you in your way of life." We especially express this when we receive the Holy Bread and say, "Amen," and then receive the Holy Cup, and say "Amen" – "I will."
On this, the last Sunday of the Church year, we think long thoughts, deep thoughts. We look at the whole stretch of history behind us, and the whole stretch of history ahead of us. And we see Christ at the center of it. And we re-commit ourselves to walk with him.
Let’s listen again to the early Christian hymn that was quoted in today’s reading from Colossians:
He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;
all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace by the blood of his cross
through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.
Originally given on November 25, 2001