Here we are…the Sunday before Thanksgiving, the last Sunday of the Season after Pentecost, the Sunday before a new liturgical year begins. And instead of having “feel good” readings for Thanksgiving, the lectionary drops us right in the middle of the Passion of Jesus. What’s going on here? What are we to do with the Feast of Christ the King with Thanksgiving and Advent on the horizon?
So perhaps we need a little history lesson first.
The Feast of Christ the King was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and was adopted by Anglicans, Lutherans and other Protestant churches in 1970. By why would Pope Pius want such a feast day? In 1925, the world was rapidly changing. Mussolini declared his dictatorship in Italy, Coolidge became President in the US, from March to May, the British were involved in Pink's War (when the British Royal Air Force bombards mountain strongholds of Mahsud tribesmen in South Waziristan), The Great Gatsby was published, there was a Communist assault on St. Nedelya Church which claimed roughly 150 lives in Sofia, Bulgaria, the Scopes Trial was underway, the Chrysler Corporation was founded, Adolf Hitler published his personal manifesto Mein Kampf. Mount Rushmore National Memorial was dedicated in South Dakota and the Grand Ole Opry, made its radio debut. This is just the short list of events! So scholars and theologians believe that Pope Pius’ motivation for establishing the Feast of Christ the King was in response to the growing world powers and the domination and oppression of those on the margins. A response that reminds us that it is ultimately Christ who holds power over the world, and not as a power-hungry warlord, but as a servant and friend. As one theologian reflected:
Christ “came to serve all, even His enemies. He truly was a Son of Man, with a vulnerable human nature. But He was also truly Son of God. Not in some mythological sense, like the Pharaohs, or the wishful thinking sense, like the Caesars, but really and truly, the Immortal, the Eternal, taking the form of a mortal man in a specific time in history. Rather than executing His opponents, He forgave them. Rather than dominating His subjects, He exalted them. He even called them not servants, but friends, and bestowing on them a share in His priesthood and kingship. Though He died, like other kings, it was for a different purpose than Augustus in his bed or Hitler in his bunker. He died willingly to save His people, and His death was not a result of a battle lost or a plan gone awry, but of a glorious victory planned before the world began.”
When I read this in preparation for my sermon, I not only had the “well duh” moment, I also realized that I didn’t want to get hung up on the gospel lesson. I didn’t want to try to untangle and make sense of the Passion narrative, not because it’s too hard, but because for me, it was distracting me from the bottom line truth of this feast day…that Christ came to love, serve and forgive.
The psalm for Sunday is number 46 and it has two of my favorite lines from scripture in it. The first is “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” and “Be still and know that I am God!”
These lines call me to remember that it is to God that I turn when faced with challenges and fears. It is to God that I turn when the world seems too chaotic and hopeless. It is to God that I turn for justice and peace.
When we consider all that was happening in the world in 1925, and then all that is happening in our current situation, we can begin to see that a feast day such as Christ the King is still important, relevant, and necessary.
It is so easy to live in a constant state of fear when we’ve experienced economic crisis, a government shut-down, the threat of nuclear war, bombings, shootings and buildings collapsing, natural disasters, and political uprisings. It is so easy to become overwhelmed by the powers of world domination and oppression and throw up our hands in surrender and frustration. But the psalmist reminds us: God is our refuge and strength, God is present with us in our trouble.
God became manifest in Jesus, not so that God could overpower, exploit or oppress us, but because God loved us. And it is in Christ that we find our strength, our hope and our joy. It is through Christ that we learn to love and forgive one another. It is with Christ that we are called to be disciples and friends.
The psalmist said “Be still and know that I am God”. When faced with a chaotic and fearful world, that’s where we have to begin.
As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving with our families and friends this week, as we prepare to enter into the holiday season, I think we have to take a moment to get grounded in God again. We need to remember that we do have things to be thankful for and that we are looking forward to the coming of Christ. And so I invite you into a meditation…we’ll practice together, but I encourage you to practice it again and again when you need to ground yourself in God.
Sit comfortable with both feet on the floor and your hands resting in your lap. Close your eyes. Imagine God is sitting next to you. And God says to you “Be still and know that I am God”. Breathe in. Breathe out. “Be still and know”. Breathe in. Breathe out. “Be still.” Breathe in. Breathe out. “Be”. Breathe in. Breathe out.
May you be filled with the blessings of the powerful and vulnerable Christ the King this week. Amen.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.