Reflection for Sunday – November 21, 2021
Readings: Daniel 7: 13-14; Revelation 1: 5-8; John 18: 33B-37
Preacher: Christine Nowak Kvam
It would seem that a feast like Christ the King must go back many centuries in Church history to an entirely different era. Surprisingly, this feast is less than 100 years old. Rather than being a product of the heyday of monarchies, Christ the King is more of an aspirational feast.
It was initiated post-World War I when old political orders were falling apart and there was a great deal of economic and social chaos. Pope Pius XI established this feast to remind Christians of the sovereignty of Christ in the face of the many challenges of the day. Our modern, democratic, American sensibilities might leave us with a bad taste in our mouths about a feast focused on monarchical rule—especially if we’ve watched all four seasons of Netflix’s The Crown or paid attention to Prince Harry’s distancing from the royal family.
A close look at this Sunday’s readings, however, can help us to identify an element of this image for Christ that may be appropriate and even helpful in our current context. The reading from Daniel asserts that the Son of Man’s dominion is everlasting. The psalmist exalts that the Lord’s throne stands firm. In the Book of Revelation, the Lord declares himself to be the one who is and who was and who is to come. In short, the readings emphasize that Christ the King is a figure of stability. Our faith is rooted in One whose values and presence remain constant.
From this vantage point at the end of the liturgical year, we can look back and recognize that Sunday after Sunday Mark’s Gospel presented us with a portrait of Jesus as a teacher who was consistent in expressing (in both words and actions) his values. Today’s second reading and selection from John’s Gospel echo some of those values—love, freedom, and truth. The person who this Sunday is proclaimed as King is the same person who showed abundant love not only to the Jewish men he called to be his disciples, but also to those who were not valued in his cultural and religious context—lepers, Samaritans, people with disabilities, “sinners,” and women of various backgrounds and statuses.
Christ who today we proclaim as King is the itinerant teacher who offered the freedom of salvation to anyone who dared to cast their lot with him. He is the embodiment of truth; even when his life was on the line he was unwaveringly true to his identity and mission. Today’s leaders—political, religious, economic, even familial—often disappoint us with their failure to uphold good and just values. In the face of that disappointment, Christ the King remains a stronghold.
What makes this Good News even better is that Christ the King is not some distant authority figure, but rather an ever-present companion who wants to be in relationship with us. The last line of today’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus came into the world. We Christians take this for granted, but recall the psalmist’s description of the Lord robed in splendor on an everlasting throne—why would you give that up to become a vulnerable human being?!
How remarkable it is that God wants to be with us! The King of all creation wants us to see his face and hear his voice. And that desire for connection with us doesn’t come and go. Of course Jesus was willing to teach James and John, the sons of Zebedee, when they showed their loyalty and left everything behind to follow Jesus at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. But more significantly, he remained willing to teach them when (9 chapters later in the Gospel and a few Sundays ago in the lectionary) they still didn’t really understand what he was about and were vying for positions of honor in Jesus’ kingdom. They remind us that our “worthiness” is irrelevant. We are beloved members of Christ’s kingdom not because of our own merit but because of the generous relationality of Christ the King.
While we may not feel a particular affinity for this seemingly dated title of Jesus, the stability it conveys can be a great consolation today. In a world where almost everything feels tenuous, the stability of Christ the King is something to rely on.