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. Besides, we Americans aren’t too keen on kings. After all, we fought a Revolutionary War to rid ourselves of English monarchs. Of course, we remain fascinated by them. Just look at the television ratings for royal weddings.
Today we celebrate the real King, Christ the King. A title clear in scripture – even if Jesus seems to push aside or even reject the notion. Yet it is part of the genealogical inheritance from his ancestor King David. Which raises the question, 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, Ruth, Judith, – and none of them are kings. Here is how it all came about.
Once the people of God arrived in the promised land after about 200 years, they grew envious of their neighbors and wanted to be like them. In effect they said they no longer wanted God as their leader, protector, the one upon whom they would depend – they wanted a king. They wanted to be like other people, rather than 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 – the people still wanted a king.
It started out well enough with King David, but too quickly the core humanity of the king came through – absolute power corrupts absolutely. There were too many like King Manasseh, a cruel and idolatrous king, who led the people farther from God. It eventually led them to exile in Babylon.
Not a great track record, yet, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday – it is part and parcel of being Catholic, right? It is probably one of the oldest solemnities we celebrated, right? Actually, no. You might be surprised to find out that the celebration was only established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.
1925 was an era when the monarchs of ages past were themselves passing away, holding ceremonial and symbolic power among their subjects while secular republics ruled the affairs of state. But 1925 was also the era when Communism and Fascism was 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 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, apart from our own ideas of kings, 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.” Even as the Church seemed increasingly powerless, just like the people to whom the Book of Revelation was written – we are reminded that we are indeed powerless.
And, let’s face it, we are powerless. Powerless to stop global pandemics. Powerless to stop political acrimony. Powerless to raise perfect children, have the perfect home, or attain the perfect job. Powerless to assuage our own guilt and shame. Powerless to change the past—things done to us, and things done by us. Powerless to stop death from taking us or our loved ones to the grave.
Powerless, yet not without Hope. Our Lord stands with us. Just as He does in the gospel as our Lord and Savior stands before Pilate. 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. Seemingly powerless.
Yet he came to establish his reign over the earth, over all created things. Not within the boundaries of old Israel, not within the confines of an earthly realm, but in the hearts of we who succeed him in our royal inheritance. We who have been baptized and anointed as priest, prophet and as king. We who are called to work towards the Reign of God on earth to establish within ourselves, our families, our neighborhood, city, state and nations, the reign of God. A 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.”
And so we follow our king – bloody, beaten, crucified and resurrected. Not for power, but in peace. Not with jihad, but in joy. Not in helplessness, but filled with hope. Ascending to our inheritance not with a lavish coronation, but in lavish outpouring of love. 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, to him be glory and power forever and ever.”
This is the King we celebrate. May his love and forgiveness reign in our hearts, forever and ever. Amen