Pope Pius XI published in 1925, a statement of faith which said, “Jesus' Kingship is not obtained by violence. "'Christ,' he says, 'has dominion over all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence nor usurped, but his by essence and by nature.” He instituted the feast of Christ the King in 1925 to remind Christians that their allegiance was to their spiritual ruler in heaven, as opposed to earthly supremacy, which was being claimed by Mussolini and Hitler at that time. And so, 1900 years after Christ lived and died, it was finally decided to have a feast of Christ the King. Even King James of England in the early 1600s directed that the most popular Bible in history be made, to bring Christianity more easily to the people. What took so long?
It took the threat of Mussolini and Hitler to decide to produce this proclamation? We have had well-known various and different examples all through human history of those who have been kings or rulers of their areas of influence or domination:
- the pharaohs of Egypt
- kings David and Solomon of the unified twelve tribes of Israel
- Alexander the Great in the Mediterranean about 150BC.
- the emperors of the Roman Empire, including Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus, Nero, and others
- the kings and queens of the British Empire and later Commonwealth, including the present Queen Elizabeth II
- the many rulers of China and Japan for thousands of years
- the royal families of Saudi Arabia, and other countries in the Middle East
These “kings” have led their “empires”, some benevolently, and some very ruthlessly, with their authority to rule being either through a family lineage, selected by their own people, or many times taking over by force. Many have proclaimed that they rule by the power or authority of God, while others have even claimed to basically be God. Most of these kings possessed or now possess great earthly wealth and possessions. The present royal family of England is estimated to have accumulated a long-standing fortune of lands and investments to make them one of the wealthiest families in the world. So it is also with the King of Saudi Arabia, and with several other royal families in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
All of these earthly kings and their wealth are NOT what we should have in mind when we talk about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as the “Kings of Kings”. We are not talking about worldly power, leadership, authority, and wealth.
Over the centuries there have been many hymns and praise songs that try to describe God and his Kingdom in earthly terms (“Crown Him with Many Crowns”, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”, “Lift High the Cross”, and the more recent “The King of Glory Comes” and “Our God Reigns”), but as well-known and great as these may be to us, even they do not properly describe what this Heavenly Kingdom is and who Jesus Christ is.
Even in the Gospels Jesus is given earthly royal context:
- The Magi ask, “Where is the child who has been born King of the Jews?”
- Matthew established that Jesus was of the royal Davidic lineage.
- After the feeding of the five thousand, the crowd follows Jesus to try by force to make him king.
- When Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowd shouts, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”
- And, he is referred to as “the King of the Jews” several times during the Passion Gospel up to his crucifixion.
All these references are for kingdoms and kings that are concrete, finite, and time-bound, limiting the scope and realm of God to that which we can describe and see.
Today we have in many countries and even in our local governments those who preside over their people with many different types of governing models. No matter what the model, the issue of governing power comes up—what is the basis for their power to govern, and how should this be dealt with?
This issue of power showed up in Jesus’ encounter with Pilate. Jesus asserted that “his realm is not of this world.” Jesus response to Pilate, basically is: “My kingdom is not made up of the values, structures and people of Rome’s political, economic and religious systems which are designed to oppress, exploit and dominate society for its own wealth-- and power. If my kingdom were this kind of society, committed to dominate and control the people, then my followers would rise up in revolt and seek to overthrow you by force. But my kingdom is not that kind of kingdom. It is a kingdom totally outside your capacity to understand, Pilate, because you understand power only as being unilateral and dominating, and you do not understand the power of relational love in community. So you and I, Pilate, come from two entirely different kingdoms, two entirely different perspectives of what society and life is to be about, and thus two entirely different “worlds”.
Jesus contrasts the difference between liberating power and coercive power. Jesus’ power is grounded in divine values of grace, transformation, and relationship, not destruction and domination. Healing power enhances unity, interdependence, creativity, and freedom, whether this power reflects divine or human initiative.
Our readings today made me wonder why they were being used for this Christ the King Sunday, because I do not see much of what I described above in them. But I found out that this Christ the King Sunday (or Reign of Christ Sunday as some call it), is not an official feast in the Episcopal Church. It is widely just celebrated in the church as the completion of Pentecost and the church calendar year.
However, in our Colossians reading, it says, “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself 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, so that he might come to have first place in everything.”
That’s the Christ I recognize as so much different than the earthly rulers and leaders we see today.
I will close by reminding you what we say at the end of the Lord’s Prayer each week:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.