Sunday is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday in Ordinary Time before Advent and the beginning of a new liturgical year. I thought that this celebration must date from the Middle Ages, but discovered recently 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 humankind must submit to Christ’s rule.
As you can imagine, it has, especially in recent years been a somewhat controversial day among those Christians who consider the language of kingship outdated or oppressive. For many, the images of kings and kingdoms conjure up thoughts of tyrants. But the kingship of Jesus takes on a very different form than does the kingship of earthly rulers.
Jesus’ comes to us not as a great conquering military leader who oppresses and abuses the conquered. Rather, he comes as the Prince of Peace, the One whose reign proclaims peace, justice, liberation, and above all, service. Jesus turned the whole concept of lordship and kingship 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,).
Images of God, as Lord and King seem foreign in a democratic, individualistic society. But our all-powerful God, is also all-loving, and all-merciful. God’s heart aches to once more be in a loving relationship with his creatures. This is what Christ’s kingship is all about. We must submit to Jesus as our Lord and King, but it is a submission that paradoxically brings with it liberation, freedom from sin.
Jesus knew the popular images of kings and lords and redefined them. In God’s resurrection world, in order to be a ruler of all, Jesus must become 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.
Interestingly, most references to Jesus as king occur during the Passion story. The symbol of Christ’s kingship is not a crown but a cross. The Son of God became human and died a horrible death on the cross to release his subjects from captivity. The One who is the true king of our world made this ultimate sacrifice out of his deep and abiding 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.