Feast of Christ the King
November 21, 2021 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Daniel 7:13-14 | Psalm 93:1-2;5
Revelation 1:5-8 | John 18:33B-37
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Patriarchy, Lordship, and Clericalism have received considerable negative attention in ecclesiastical circles over the past few years. Some of our “progressive” sisters and brothers want to do away with speaking of the Kingdom of God and think that we should not speak of Jesus as our Lord. However, I am neither ready, nor willing, to ditch Jesus as my Lord and king.
According to our so-called “progressive” sisters and brothers, Patriarchy, Lordship, and Clericalism are domination systems with no redeeming value whatsoever. Along those lines, they have advocated that the Church remove today’s feast, that of Feast of Christ the King, from the Kalendar altogether. Their reasoning is that kingship images evoke the negative characteristics of earthly kingdoms and earthly domination systems that elevate one person or group of persons over another in a tyrannical way.
The feelings of our “progressive” sisters and brothers are valid. Many come from negative lived experiences with ecclesiastical organizations that arose from not only the Roman Church, but Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, and protestant bodies as well. Having come to independent Catholicism from an Anglican background, I can tell you that I suffered considerable hurt and rejection in the Episcopal Church. Oppression in a church is no fun when you’re the victim, no matter what church does it to you and no matter what the motive.
However, oppressive authoritarian structures are not limited to churches, they are also found in secular life, particularly in governments, often with a dominant personality at the top. President Xi of China, President Putin of Russia are two prominent examples. And autocrats are not limited to right-wing regimes. There are left-wing autocrats as well. Consider Governor Newsom and his covid restrictions, particularly his stay-at-home order and his attempts to regulate the worship practices of churches, all of which I proudly disobeyed. Governor Whitmer in Michigan was just as bad and was the subject of massive protest demonstrations.
What all authoritarian leaders, whether left or right, have in common, is a power scheme with one person telling everyone else what to do and how to live, with the force of law to back it up. Why they do it does not matter. What matters is forceful domination. So I can fully understand the unpopularity of a feast like Christ the King in a country that values freedom from domination structures. Since its founding as a republic, the United States vigorously rejected any notion of kingship. Our founding mothers and fathers would not accept King George of England, nor would they crown George Washington as king.
The people who oppose the traditional Feast of Christ the King automatically associate kingship with authoritarian leadership and think that Jesus should not be considered in that context. While I can see their point, their argument fails. It fails because Jesus is not the king of an earthly kingdom. Jesus is the king of the Universe. He is a very different kind of king.
Today’s Gospel features a colloquy between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, that weak-kneed, politically oriented regional Roman governor of first-century Palestine.
He’s the guy who publically washed his hands to escape responsibility for condemning an innocent Jesus to death.
He’s the guy who sent Jesus to the cross to prevent a riot, not for doing something wrong.
So Pilate doesn’t have a whole lot of credibility. Pilate was nothing more than a crowd-pleaser to further his own interests. If you want to see what lack of integrity looks like, Pontius Pilate is your guy.
Pilate was concerned that Jesus might displace him from power. So Pilate said to Jesus, “Are you king of the Jews?” At that time, the Romans had the Jewish people under domination, so Pilate would feel threatened by someone who could lead an anti-Roman rebellion.
Therefore, you can expect that Pilate’s idea of kingship was very this-worldly. Pilate cannot conceive of any other king or kingdom than that of a human person with absolute power, like Emperor Tiberius, or at least with power limited to a territory and to some subjects, like the infamous Herod the Great.
Jesus, however, did not come from the human world, but from God. Pilate thinks of a kingdom founded on power imposed by the force of an army, while Jesus has in mind a kingdom imposed not by military force, but by God.
Thus, Jesus responded to Pilate’s question that his kingdom is not one of the human world and that if it was, Jesus said, his bodyguards would be protecting him from Pilate and the crowd.
Yes, Jesus was a king, but not in any way Pilate could have imagined. Smallness was his power. Persuasion was his scepter, along with an amazing ability to teach. He was, indeed, Jesus the King.
The attitude of Jesus during this interchange is crystal clear. He is a spiritual teacher. He makes no attempt to justify himself, to fend off the accusations made against him. He did not have to do that. He was, indeed, Jesus the King.
How Jesus replied to Pilate’s questions is a lesson in and of itself. The dignity and humility embodied in his answers proclaim his royalty. He was, indeed, truly Jesus the King.
The Kingdom of which Jesus is king is not confined to earthly boundaries. The role of his existence on earth is that he was born to tell the truth. But what does that mean? What is the truth that Jesus told?
In John’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t preach the kingdom of God or of heaven as in the Synoptic Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Instead, John the evangelist presents Jesus as one who uniquely reveals and speaks the truth about God. The followers of Jesus are not subjects in a secular kingdom, but they are people who hear the truth in his words and respond to it.
Today’s Gospel ends with Jesus telling Pilate that those who belong to truth listen to Jesus. However, today’s Gospel does not tell us the whole conversation between Jesus and Pilate. If you open your Bible to John eighteen, you will see that the arranger of the Lectionary cuts off Pilate’s response to the last statement from Jesus. Pilate’s response was a question. He asked Jesus, “What is truth?” The truth in question is not just any kind of truth at all. It was not scientific truth, but living into the true knowledge of who God is.
However, no variety of truth whatsoever mattered to Pilate. He was a man of zero integrity. What mattered to Pilate was staying in power. Those who focus on power don’t care about the truth. Trying to hold on to one’s grip on power is nothing new. We saw what that looked like in the events after the twenty-twenty election.
Pilate did not want the crowd, the Roman empire, or anyone, to take his power away from him.
Pilate was just like the loser of a free and fair election blaming his loss on non-existent voter fraud. To sore losers, the truth does not matter.
The Kingdom of Jesus is not based on raw physical or political power, but on truth itself.
The truth that Jesus came to tell was that of a God who exists outside human concepts of time and place.
The truth that Jesus came to tell was that of a God who knows the existence of all creation all at once.
The Kingdom of Jesus is not like the present kingdoms of this earth.
The Kingdom of Jesus did not arise as the fruits of a conquering military force.
The Kingdom of Jesus did not come from a human political election.
The Kingdom of Jesus has no relation to time.
The Kingdom of Jesus is not coexistent with any physical space.
The Kingdom of Jesus always existed and will always exist. In the Nicene Creed, which we sing every Sunday and Feast Day, “His kingdom will have no end.” That is because Jesus has always existed and always will exist. As we are told in the prologue of John’s Gospel, Jesus existed before time began.
The entire point of the Feast of Christ the King is that human authority and domination count for nothing in the Kingdom of Jesus. That is why Pope Pius the eleventh placed this feast on the Christian Kalendar in nineteen-twenty-five.
Originally, Christ the King was the last Sunday in October, but now, it is the last Sunday of the liturgical year that segues into Advent as we anticipate the joy we will feel when we celebrate the coming of Jesus at Christmas. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. Everything for humanity begins and ends with Jesus.
When Pius the eleventh became Pope in nineteen-twenty-two, much of the world was in shambles. While the bloodletting of World War I had ended, there was no widespread peace and tranquility. Governments were in economic chaos, unemployment was rampant, and people in many places were literally starving to death. Pessimism, a sense of helplessness compounded by hatred among the nations, was overwhelming. The time was ripe for the rise of tyrants, and arise they did.
Think of Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin. They were bad people, all of them. But Christ the King is no match for any human despots, past or present. They are no more of a match for Jesus than was Pontius Pilate.
The kingship of Jesus is the antidote in our own day to the false hope created by a red-hatted tyrant promising to “Make American Great Again.”
The kingship of Jesus is the antidote to the false hope created by the oppression of the poor through people gaining a material advantage over each other in a dog-eat-dog world where only the fittest survive.
The kingship of Jesus is the antidote to the false hope created by oppressive secularism where the values of the compassion that Jesus taught are nowhere to be found.
The power of Jesus as King of the Universe is the power to give eternal life and defeat death.
The power of Jesus as King of the Universe is the power to liberate humanity from evil.
The power of Jesus as King of the Universe is the power to melt hardened hearts.
The power of Jesus as King of the Universe is the power to bring about reconciliation between people at loggerheads with each other.
The power of Jesus as King of the Universe is the power to bring good from evil.
The power of Jesus as King of the Universe is the power to kindle hope from despair.
The power of Jesus as King of the Universe is the power to shine light where there is darkness.
The power of Jesus as King is the power to bring about a better world. I’m talking about:
A world where healthcare is a human right.
A world where all have shelter.
A world where no one goes to bed hungry.
A world where all who want an education can get one.
A world where everyone works at what they love rather than what they have to do to survive.
In a world where Jesus is King, justice reigns.
A kingdom where justice is restorative, not punitive, where lambs lie down with lions.
A kingdom where justice does not depend on your race
A kingdom where justice does not depend on your gender.
A kingdom where justice does not depend on your sexual orientation.
A kingdom where justice does not depend on your wealth.
A kingdom where invidious discrimination based on immutable characteristics is unknown.
All of that is a far cry from earthly concepts of human power and domination systems.
The kingship of Jesus cannot be enclosed in any human society or organism, even the Church. Christ is the king, the Church is his servant. Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice and love and peace. We need not stand at a distance from him, afraid to approach him because of our human vulnerability. He is the one who loved us so much that he handed himself over to suffering and death so that we might live.
Yes, Jesus rules over every government on earth, whether left or right. Under the kingship of Jesus, we are all united.
Yes, Jesus rules over all royalty and all elected leaders. His everlasting kingship is over all nations, all political parties, all races, and all languages. Unlike earthly empires, all of which eventually end, the kingship of Jesus will never, ever be destroyed.
Jesus always was. Jesus is now. Jesus ever will be. To everyone, I say this: NO, I will never stop calling Jesus my Lord and King. I am glad he was, is, and always will be.
May this feast of the kingship of Jesus increase our fidelity to him, so that the authentic peace of his kingdom may take root in ourselves and the world.
To close, I will share with you a poem written by Michael Nicosia, my brother priest in the Ecumenical Catholic Communion of which our church is part. He elucidates very well for me who Jesus our King is, and who he is not.
“Jesus is the Anointed One in the beginning and the end of all Creation,
The One who is and was and is to come,
The King eternal who reigns supreme.
But how have we described the glory and power of our King?
With images of thunders’ shout and earth’s quake,
Shattering the cedars of Lebanon, rending the oak
And stripping the forest bare.
True, nature’s force is an image of immense power,
Overwhelming mere mortals,
But is that the dominion we bow before,
Inspiring our allegiance
Through domination and force?
No, we bow before the cross and resurrection’s glory,
Inspired by Jesus’ servant leadership and sacrificial giving,
A power that can transform our lives and our world.
No, Christ’s power is revealed in the tender compassion
That, like the dawn from on high, breaks upon us
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death
and to guide our feet into the way of peace,
A power so bright it knocks us to our knees
In awe and adoration.” AMEN.