|El Greco's Christ|
- Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 and Psalm 100 •
- Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 and Psalm 95:1-7a •
- Ephesians 1:15-23 •
- Matthew 25:31-46
The last Sunday of the Christian year is now quite widely celebrated as the Feast of Christ the King, or The Reign of Christ. This is a relatively new practice, instituted by the Roman Catholic church in 1925, and one that has been followed by other churches for only the last few decades. Although it rounds off the year appropriately with a culminating affirmation of the supremacy and majesty of the risen Jesus, there are at least two reasons to hesitate.
First, the language employs a rather antiquated conception – kingship. The world in which kings and queens, surrounded by immense wealth and splendor, were held in awe because of their absolute power, has long since disappeared. Apart from a few isolated cases, no one attributes such an elevated status to another human being any more, or makes the mistake of treating them like gods. So how can applying ancient royal images to Jesus Christ enrich our understanding or increase our devotion? Second, invoking the image of Christ the King runs the risk of being unattractively triumphalist. Is this not an expression of Christian superiority in a world that rightly emphasizes the need for inter-faith dialogue?
In this week's Epistle, Paul, even though he is writing for a world in which supreme imperial power was indeed the norm, offers us a way of responding to the first point. He tells the Ephesians that God -- the creator of all that is -- has used his power to raise a criminalized Jew in an obscure part of the empire ‘far above all rule and authority and power and dominion’. That is to say, the truth about Jesus sets the political power of earthly kings in its proper perspective. For all their majesty, such rulers are powerless when it comes to redemption and saving us from sin and death. Their worldly power is real enough, but also importantly hollow. This is an assessment that applies to modern democratic states with Parliaments and Presidents no less than to ancient ones. As the Psalmist says using the horse as an analogy for military might -- 'for all its strength it cannot save'