Christ The King Sunday: November 22, 2020
Year A, Proper 29: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46
Today, we celebrate New Year’s Eve, so to speak. No, I haven’t lost touch with time in these many months of being at home. But today, this Last Sunday after Pentecost, which is also designated the Feast of Christ the King, is the last Sunday of our liturgical year. Next Sunday we will celebrate the first Sunday of Advent.
Surely, a grand feast like the one we celebrate today goes back hundreds if not more than a thousand years in the church calendar, especially given the context of today’s readings, especially the Gospel from Matthew, which is all about God’s kingdom and God’s throne.
But it doesn’t. Christ the King Sunday was instituted by Pope Pius XI in his Encyclical Letter, Quas Primas, meaning literally “in the first”. That letter was written in response to growing nationalism and secularism, which were outgrowths of the first World War. Other churches, including the Episcopal Church, then adopted this observance on the last Sunday of the church year.
The historical context in which Quas Primas was written included the rise of Mussolini and racism in Italy and the rise of Hitler and Nazism in Germany. Benito Mussolini came to power in 1922. Hitler’s Mein Kampf was published in 1925.
In Quas Primas, Pope Pius XI proclaimed “the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ” to a world afflicted by “manifold evils,” in which, he observed, the majority of people had “thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics …”
Pius wrote the Encyclical with faith and optimism, indulging in “the hope of a brighter future at the sight of a more widespread and keener interest in Christ and his Church, the one Source of Salvation, a sign that men [sic] who had formerly spurned the rule of our Redeemer and had exiled themselves from his kingdom were preparing, even hastening, to return to the duty of obedience.”
To some in today’s world, celebrating Christ the King Sunday seems anachronistic. Some argue that “Christ the King” is too male oriented or too imperialistic. Some denominations have changed the name of Christ the King Sunday to Reign of Christ Sunday to avoid the male image of “king”. Admittedly, words like king, kingdom and kingship may sound far away in both time and place from what we see as the democratic society in which many of us live today. Perhaps they do sound patriarchal, even sexist, and classist. They might even be uncomfortable reminders of a time when the church was very closely allied with the systems that produced horrors like slavery, violence fueled by anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism, and the execution of heretics and of women who were perceived to be witches.
Pondering who Jesus was and is runs underneath all the talk of kingdoms and trials, glory and power in the readings for the Christ the King Sunday. No matter how it is referred to, the Feast of Christ the King has an important message for us today. It’s not so different from that intended by Pius XI when he first drafted Quas Primas in 1925 as nationalism and secularism spread throughout Europe. As Christians, we have one ruler, one Lord, to whom we owe all allegiance. It is not Donald Trump or Joe Biden, or any elected official or leader. As Christians, our sole allegiance is to Jesus Christ and his kingdom.
Our worship of God is grounded in our gratitude for God’s love for the world and for all who suffer from injustice. Just listen to the words of Matthew’s gospel. God has a particular care for the lost and vulnerable and sick and starving. When we care for the vulnerable, we are implicitly caring for God.
Do we think of Jesus Christ as “king” of our life? Is Jesus quas primas? Do we give Jesus authority, power and dominion over our lives? If not, we need to ask ourselves: “If Jesus Christ is not king of our life, who or what is?”
We’re celebrating the last Sunday of the liturgical year. The end of fifty-two Sundays of hearing about the work of God throughout history, in Israel, in the time of Jesus, and in the early church. We’ve reflected on how we fit into that story and its purposes, even though we live in a very different place and a very different time.
This Sunday is our gateway to our Advent anticipation of the birth of Christ. Next week we start to think about Jesus is coming. Each time we proclaim the Gospel and break bread together Jesus comes. Each time we proclaim Jesus the Christ and not any worldly power or principality as our Ruler, Jesus comes.
It is time for us as Christians to follow the one who is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). This is the One who commands us to love our neighbor as ourself: Jesus, before who’s throne we will all one day stand as he judges the nations of the world, judges each one of us, and separates the sheep from the goats.
May God bless you and keep you safe.
 Pius XI. Quas Primas, accessed November 22, 2020, Vatican.va, 1.
 Barbara K. Lundblad, “A Different Kind of King: John 18:33-37”, odysseynetworks.org/news/onscripture-the-bible-john-18-33-37.org, Accessed November 24, 201
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