In 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in the Roman Catholic Church. It was intended to be a celebration of the all-embracing authority of Christ, which will lead all mankind to seek the “peace of Christ” in the “Kingdom of Christ.” Since 1970, this observance has been kept on the Sunday prior to the beginning of Advent in the Church of Rome. In the spirit of kinship and ecumenism, the churches of the Anglican Communion also observe this day. Our collect for the day portrays Christ as the king who frees all those who are bound by sin and unites under his gracious rule all who are divided. This is a day of looking around at the brokenness of the present world while simultaneously looking forward to a future when the rule of heaven will be universal.
The readings for the day begin with the prophet Jeremiah. The passage we will read is the conclusion of a survey of the kings of Judah and is an oracle against the “shepherds” (kings) who have driven the flock away, into exile in foreign lands. The Lord promises to reunite the flock, bringing them back “to their fold” in their homeland, where they will be led by “a righteous Branch” out of the house of David, who will “reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
In the place of the psalm this Sunday, we will sing Canticle 16, sometimes called the “Benedictus,” or the “Song of Zechariah.” It is the response of the father of John the Baptist to his child’s role in the life of the coming Messiah, the one who will bring salvation, and it is found in Luke 1:68-79. The text affirms the realization of Jeremiah’s prophecy in its own present day.
The reading from Colossians is a prayer for future growth, especially in endurance and patience. It contains what may be a fragment of a baptismal hymn that asserts the supremacy of Christ over the cosmos and the Church, describing him in the same terms as the lady Wisdom, or Sophia. He existed before all things, and in him all things are held together. All things were created through him and for him. He is the head of the Body that is the Church, and he is the beginning of its eternal nature, as the firstborn from the dead. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” This is the full picture of Christ the King.
The gospel for the day is Luke’s account of the crucifixion. In it we hear Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And as Jesus is mockingly portrayed as the King of the Jews, while his clothing is divided and the crowd taunts him, we hear his exchange with the two criminals being crucified with him. One jeers that he should save them all, if he is the Messiah. The other rebukes his companion and asserts the justice of their lot and the injustice of his. Then he says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” To which Jesus replies, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” His forgiveness is universal; he gives the criminal more than he has asked. His acts declare that God’s kingly power in him is a present reality, not just a future hope. “Paradise,” as used here, would have been a contemporary term for a dwelling place for the righteous souls awaiting the resurrection.
Our experience of Christ as King this Sunday will fold time together, bending and blending the present and the future, earth and heaven, the cross and the resurrection, our brokenness and our forgiven life in love.