Sometimes as I begin preparing for Sunday, I get curious about one of our traditions and go online or dust of one of my seminary text books and start reading about whatever it is that has peaked my interest. This week it was Christ the King Sunday, also referred to as the Feast of Christ the King.
Christ the King Sunday is observed on the last Sunday of the church year. And, though we are observing it today, I was surprised to learn that the Episcopal Church does not officially recognized this as a feast day, it does acknowledge, however, that “some” parishes unofficially celebrate it.
I also learned that the collect for this Sunday is, quote “a ‘somewhat free’ translation of the collect of the Feast of Christ the King in the Roman Missal.” This is according to Marion Hatchet – one of the authors of our Prayer Book and a former liturgics professor where I attended seminary. Furthermore, Hachet says, “This collect [which we used at the start of today’s worship] prays that God, ‘whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords,’ will ‘Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule (BCP, p. 236)’.”
It is no wonder that I was surprised that our observation of Christ the King Sunday is unofficial – Marion Hatchet probably wrote the collect we use and my professors spoke of this day being Christ the King Sunday.
Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 to remind us that our first allegiance needs to be Christ. There are, of course, references in the New Testament to Jesus as the true King of Israel, and to him being the king of kings.
Our reading from Colossians speaks of Jesus creating all things – including thrones, dominions, rulers, and powers, “for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible.” We tend to think hierarchical, so this puts Christ as the ruler of all kings, presidents – anyone who holds authority over the peoples of the earth.
In Colossians, it also says that Jesus came to “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” Then, in Luke, we read of Jesus being crucified. Suggesting that Jesus becomes the ruler over all rulers by sacrificing himself on the cross. This is one of reason we should stop and consider what it means for Christ to be our king.
These lessons on this day are important reminders that Jesus turns the world’s understanding of power upside down. Jesus, our true king, gives himself, completely, that we might have life. He teaches us to lead others with love, a self-sacrificing love, that seeks to teach others the way to experience true life. Jesus is both our king and our Passover Lamb. The Passover Lamb, who in the Old Testament, is slain and whose blood is smeared on the mantle of the doors of the Israelites so the angel of death will skip their homes.
The idea that leadership requires such self-sacrifice is radical even today. Yet, that is what Jesus teaches us through his death on the cross. Death on the cross is perhaps the most inhumane form of public execution and is a statement about the depths of evil that sometimes fills the human heart. It is both torturous and humiliating. The soldiers mocked Jesus and post a sign above him which says, “This is the king of the Jews.”
Ironically, we now say that Jesus is Lord over all, King over both heaven and earth. We look back at his execution and see it as a testimony of God’s love for us, he submitted himself to death of the cross as an act of love. Even on the cross, Jesus demonstrates his desire to reconcile us to God. He forgives the criminal, who is being executed along with him.
And this is how we end our church year, with Jesus on the cross. Next Sunday begins the season of Advent and our new church year. Many denominations and certainly our city have begun celebrating Christmas – not the Episcopal Church. Advent is a season of anticipation as we prepare for the arrival the Christ Child. For us, the Christmas Season begins on Christmas Eve. Why the difference?
At one time, the church observed Advent as a penitential season, like Lent. We used this time to reflect on just how sinful humanity had become that God came into the world as one of us to teach us the way to truth and life. Over the years, however, we have moved to an observation of Advent as a season to prepare our hearts to receive the Christ child.
Christmas has become secular and we have parties to attend, presents to buy, concerts, movies, and plays to attend – but here at the church we can find some refuge in the quieter more meditative observance of Advent. We are called to use these four Sundays as a time to reflect and open our hearts to receive God’s greatest gift to us – God in the flesh, Jesus.
Let us pray.
Loving God, help us this day to remember that we are yours, help to remember that our first allegiance belongs to Christ for without Christ’s self-sacrificing love in our lives, our lives are meaningless. Help us, also, to approach this coming season with grace, that we might experience your peace as we prepare to receive your greatest gift to us. All this we ask in the name of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.