We are right on the threshold of being crazy busy: Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, and all that comes with the holiday season. And right here on the threshold of all this we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. What should this solemnity mean in your life?
After all, the word “king” conjures up many things in the American mind. I suspect if I asked most people, “Who is the King?” the answer might well come back “Elvis.” There is just part of us that lives in a pop-culture world. But then the idea of King is rich in the heritage of our literature, movies and imagination: Richard the Lionhearted, Henry V giving the “band of brothers” soliloquy on the fields of Agincourt – Louis King of France, the original namesake of our parish, and all the modern royal family of England. Even though we fought a Revolutionary War to no longer bow before English monarchs. We retain the dismissive, “Who died and made you king?” Yet we remain fascinated by Kings and Queens.
From the Bible we know the stories of King David, but how did Israel get a king? When we look back into the pages of salvation history the great names are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the 12 sons of Jacob, Moses, Joshua – and none of them are kings. After 200 years in the promised land, it seems the people grew envious of their neighbors and wanted to be like them. In effect they said they no longer wanted to bow before God as their leader, protector, the one upon whom they would depend – they wanted a king. They wanted to be like another people, rather than be the children of God. Even when warned about the rights and privileges of a king – to take for himself the best of their lands, their crops, and their children as servants – the people still wanted a king. And they got to bow down before their chosen king.
It started out good enough with King David, but too quickly the core humanity of the king came through – absolute power corrupted absolutely. There were too many like King Manasseh, a cruel and idolatrous king, who led the people farther from God. Even the good kings like Josiah were unable to restore the glory of a united nation seen during the reign of King David. In the end, the kinds led the people to ruin and the captivity in Babylon as refugees. They got to bow down as captives.
That is not a bad description of the Church in 1925 – powerless before the world. 1925 was an era when the monarchs of Europe were themselves passing away, holding ceremonial and symbolic power among their subjects while secular republics rules the affairs of state. But 1925 was also the era when Communism and Fascism were on the rise. For the Church, thoughts of the Holy Roman Empire were distant and remembered no more. 1925 was when the remaining secular power of the Vatican and the Bishop of Rome was waning as the Italian states had effectively reduced the holdings and property of the Bishop of Rome to just the walled Vatican City. The secular power of the Vatican was increasingly powerless on the world stage, the Italian stage, and even in the city of Rome.
It is that midst that Pope Pius XI rightly reminded the world – and perhaps ourselves – that despite all the machinations and plans of men, despite the lure of power, there was truly but one King – the one whom the Book of Revelation describes in 19:16 as the “King of kings and Lord of lords.” There is only one king before whom we are to bow; the One standing before Pilate in our Gospel.
There is no pomp, no circumstance, no projection of geo-political power. There is just our King, this Jesus – as the psalm proclaims: “The LORD is king; he is robed in majesty.” The majesty of a crown of bramble and thorn, and whose robe is saturated with blood, this King will begin to ascend to the throne with arms outstretched as he is mocked and scorned. His heads of state are naked thieves, even as all his subjects, the apostles, run away. It is a vision that goes against every image, every idea, that we hold about kingship. Our history is filled with the rise and fall of kings and kingdoms. The Solemnity of Christ the King calls us to stop and consider which king we will serve; which kingdom we will spend our energies building.
Will we bow before this king – bloody, beaten, crucified and resurrected? Will we the rise and follow; not for power, but in peace. Not with jihad, but in joy. Not in helplessness, but filled with hope. We who were baptized as priest, prophet and king, will we ascend to our inheritance not with a lavish coronation, but in lavish outpouring of love. Will we follow our King, “…the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.”
Will we who believe work to build a kingdom without borders, not within the confines of an earthly realm, but in the hearts of all. Will we work to establish the reign that is described in our prayers of the Eucharistic Rite: “…making all created things subject to His rule….an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”
What should this solemnity mean in your life?
It means that today before the crazy busyness begins, we are reminded before whom we kneel. We are reminded about the kingdom we are to build. We are reminded about the people we are called to be. We are reminded of our inheritance – priest, prophet and king.
It means we have the answer to “Who died and made you king?” Jesus did. And now you are charged to build his kingdom on earth. And what kingdom are you building? What kingdom will you build? Build one that will reign forever and ever as we bow before the King of Kings and Lord or Lords.