Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Christ the King Sunday started in 1925 when Pope Pius XI instituted it through a papal encyclical. Mussolini had been in charge in Italy for three years, a certain rabble rouser named Hitler had just published his autobiographical manifesto Mein Kampf, and economic frivolity that led to the Great Depression was in full effect. And it was at that moment the Catholic Church decided they needed a Sunday, every year, to remind the Christian community that we have our own King and it is to him alone that we owe our allegiance.
Today, nearly one hundred years after the institution of Christ the King Sunday, it is usually overlooked on the liturgical calendar in order to celebrate themes of Thanksgiving. Instead of reading about the lordship of Christ, churches talk about the blessings made manifest through turkeys and potatoes. And, to be clear, that’s all good and fine. However, Christ the King Sunday is a rare and blessed opportunity for the church to be unabashed in our convictions about power, allegiance, authority, and a host of other aspects of our discipleship.
It is the perfect time to be reminded that Jesus Christ is Lord, and everything else is bologna.
The first time I traveled to Guatemala for a church mission trip, we stopped briefly in the town of Chichicastenango, known for its traditional K’iche Mayan culture. We were told to explore for a few hours before returning to the various vans that were taking us to our final destination. And, after only a few minutes of wandering down a variety of streets, I realized I was completely lost.
So I did what anyone else would do: I looked for a higher vantage point to get my bearings. Eventually I found myself on the steps of a very old church. I trudged upward and yet, before turning back to look over the town, something (read: the Holy Spirit) drew me inside the church.
The sanctuary was damp, dark, and devoid of just about anything. The ground under my feet felt like soft soil, the walls were covered with black soot from centuries of fires, and the paintings of the walls were so smudged that I couldn’t even tell what they were portraying. The smell of melted candle wax filled my nostrils and I crept closer and closer to what I imagined was the altar.
Frankly, it was one of the least churchy churches I had ever experienced.
Without the help of lighting, I stumbled over a rickety wooden pew and fell on the floor right in front of the Lord’s Table. And there, hovering above my head, was the most pristine sculpture of Jesus that I had ever seen. The Lord stood in complete contrast with everything else in the space. Jesus stood with robes draped over his shoulders, his hand was outstretched as if inviting me closer, and upon his head rested a crown of thorns.
Christ the King.
What kind of king is Jesus? In that Guatemalan church I was confronted with the stark reality of what it means to confess Jesus as Lord. For, while I was surrounded by decay, desolation, and even disregard, Christ stood firmly in front of me as the King of the cosmos. Just as the psalmist proclaimed, I was still before the Lord, and saw God’s exaltation above all things; even death.
Our King reigns from a throne not made by the blood of his enemies, but with his own blood spilled on the cross.
Our King wears a crown not of gold, but of thorns.
Our King rules not by the power of judgment, but through the gift of mercy.
On Christ the King Sunday we confess the truly Good News that our King reigns not above us, but for us, beside us, and with us. Thanks be to God.