This morning, my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, let us consider the Feast of Christ the King…what we celebrate today.
Today is the last feast of the Church’s year. Next Sunday, we begin Advent…a brand new year for the Church…a season of penance and waiting…a season of preparing ourselves for the Second coming of Christ.
The Feast of Christ the King is arguably the newest or most recent feast in the life of the Western Church and has what some might consider unusual beginnings.
Pope Pius XI universally instituted The Feast of Christ the King in 1925 in his encyclical Quas Primas[i]…it was immediately adopted by the Anglican Church and to this day we celebrate it along side our Catholic brothers and sisters.
Pope Pius XI saw in the world during his reign what he considered to be a rampant and rising denial of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Pope Pius attributed much of this rising and rampant denial of Jesus Christ to what is called secularism.
That is to say, during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s there was a massive push in governments and universities to separate religion from the public realm- to separate the nation state from Christianity.
This idea of secularism was also a push to totally and completely remove religion or the Christian ideal from all politics…or that all political activities and decisions should be made or based on secular or political evidence, totally removed from the influence of religious belief.
And the political and educational landscape of the day was rather violent in this regard. In Europe dictatorships were rising that saw the ousting of Christianity all together…making the practice of religion illegal, rendering the influence of the Church ineffective and even non-existent.
In the universities, the negative effects of Darwinism were taking hold and swirling around in the classrooms and in the war rooms. The notions of the will to power and the survival of the fittest were replacing notions of love for fellow man and any ideas of mercy or humanity.
Within twenty years of Pope Pius XI’s encyclical, the world would see some of the most horrendous atrocities it had ever known…places like Dachau, Auschwitz…and names of agencies like the Gulag that literally unleashed Hell on the world.
The 1900’s would see more murders and deaths from war than the entirety of the rest of combined history. The 1900’s would see more inhumanity and atrocity that at any other time in recorded history.
Secularism was rising, and Christians of all swipes, both Catholic and Protestant, were doubting the authority of Jesus Christ, doubting the authority of the Church, doubting Christ’s life and his very existence.
This notion of secularism has gotten worse from that day to this…and given rise to something much worse and even more damaging…that of individualism.
Individualism considers the highest form of authority as the individual self. The very idea of Christ or His church as having any authority is firmly rejected as being oppressive both physically and intellectually…Christ, it is thought, must submit to the individual self…
It was the hope of Pope Pius XI that the nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state.
Pius hoped leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ.
Pius hoped the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies.[ii]
I find the feast just as needed today, if not more so, and think today has much to offer and challenge us with. For with less than half of the population even bothering to go to Church… And with more than 1,500 denominations, where one can find whatever belief one wants, we as a country have become seriously infected with individualism.
If we begin to contemplate this idea of Kingship or Lordship, we must first understand those terms…for I am willing to guess that none of us here have ever lived under the reign of a national King or Lord.
A King or Lord would be a person to whom we pledge allegiance and undying loyalty…a person for whom we would die…a person to whom we are subject…and in a very literal sense, a person who owns us.
I think we are plenty use to seeing secular examples of dictatorships and kingdoms. Some of the worse that come to mind would be Stalin…Hitler…Idi Amin…Marxism in South America in the 70’s…la Junta…the list of horrendous reigns goes on and on.
So, with the end of one Church year and the beginning of another, I think it is a good idea to ponder what Christ’s Kingdom is all about…to ponder what kind of King it is we claim as Lord and Savior.
And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”[iii]
This scene is a brutal one. Our Lord hanging on the cross, scourged and bleeding, naked but for the crown of thorns ripping the flesh on his brow.
And the people stand by watching. Watching someone they may have thought was a King…may have thought had a power and authority…they may have been waiting to see if He would come down or the masses would come to His rescue.
The rulers scoffed at Him. His claim of king utterly ridiculous. There he hung…humiliated…defeated…no king at all. What kind of rule is to be had hanging from a cross?
The soldiers mocked Him. They taunted Him to exert force…to put up a fight…any kind of fight…to be a man…to be the ruler He claimed to be.
The onlookers perhaps wished for a military coup…The rulers were looking for any sort of show of authority or presence…any sign at all of leadership and control…and the soldiers wanted to see Him put up a fight…to push against the goads…to prove He was truly a king.
Our Lord Jesus Christ’s reign defies the human logic of Supremacy. The reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ defies any sort of power or presence according to the logic of the world.
The logic of the reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ is born in a manger in humility…the logic of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the logic that casts out demons…that dines with the outcast and the sinner…
The logic of the reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the logic that bows down to wash the feet of others…that serves the poor and the needy…it is the logic of the cross on which He gives His life for the life of the world.
The great and terrible irony in today’s Gospel is that the people wanted a great leader…a king. The rulers wanted to see someone rule…and the soldiers wanted to see a great showing of power…and hanging from the cross was all of those things.
Hanging on the cross that day was Love itself…the base and foundation for a true and lasting rule…for the King of Kings and the greatest power in the universe was in their midst…the power that overcomes death itself.
Hanging on the cross that day was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and they could not see Him for their blindness and hatred.
So, on this day, the question is raised…whom do we serve? Ourselves? Human logic and reason? Or do we serve Love….
Do we submit ourselves to Jesus Christ and His Church…or do we submit to no one?
On this Feast of Christ the King, let us submit ourselves anew to Jesus Christ…to His Holy Church…and let us show to the world what the Kingdom of God is about….
Let us act in humility and love…let us wash the feet of others…let us serve the poor and needy…let us submit ourselves to Christ the King and employ the logic that sees the cross as the outpouring of love that is the foundation of the world and not as something to be mocked and scoffed.
[i] Borrowed freely from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_11121925_quas-primas_en.html accessed 10/20/2010
[iii] Saint Luke 23.35-38 RSV