“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! Says the Lord.”
I thought I would do a little Jim Campbell history lesson today on why we have Christ the King Sunday as our last Sunday of Pentecost. I obtained this information from Sojourners magazine and the article was written by T. Denise Anderson who is the acting director of Racial Equity and Women’s Intercultural Ministries of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Denise notes that “Reign of Christ Sunday has resonance for any church leader accused in these times of being “too political” in their preaching and teaching. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast day in December 1925.” Then Denise lists the following events that might explain why he did this.
“In July 1925, Adolf Hitler published the first volume of his manifesto, Mein Kampf. In August 1925, approximately 40,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan marched on Washington, D.C. With membership of nearly 5 million, the KKK was reputed to be the largest fraternal organization in the U.S. at the time. In October, the Locarno Treaties divided Europe into eastern and western sections. The aftermath of World War I saw growing nationalist sentiment throughout the world. That same year, Mussolini became the fascist head of the Italian Republic and was actively trying to win over Italy’s Roman Catholic majority through several religious appeasements. Pope Pius XI wanted to counter what he perceived to be unhealthy nationalism and called the church to declare Christ’s kingship over all of creation. In other words, no matter one’s nation of citizenship, the first identity and allegiance of a Christian is to Jesus.”
The Jeremiah passage we read refers to the fall of Jerusalem to Babylonian forces. Even though the leaders of the Jewish nation were guilty of bad shepherding, God would redeem them eventually. Jeremiah is admonishing the people to recognize that the power wielded by Nebudchadnezzar, Cyrus and any other king or emperor is temporary and does not compare to the power held by God. And calling Jesus a king in first century Palestine was also a political statement that recognized the impermanence of the Roman Empire.
Pope Pius XI was taking his cues from Jeremiah and Jesus. So, here we are living in another time when nationalism, populism, and fear of the other have raised their heads. And, we are reminded this day that Christ is King and God has power over all of Creation. This knowledge doesn’t mean we can sit back and assume it will all work out without any input from us. After all, Jeremiah took to the streets and warned people of the corruption in leadership, of God’s displeasure in the way marginalized folks were being treated: the widow, the orphan, the alien, and the poor. And Jesus, in his kingship, did the same.
I don’t think any of us here are ignoring the plights of the widow, the orphan, the alien or the poor. And, I hope with the information we all have, that we are talking to others about these issues. That we are pointing out when our leaders destroy and scatter the sheep.
Christ our King reigns this day and for all eternity.