Last Sunday after Pentecost
Christ the King
The Rev. Dr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 22, 2020
Today the Church commemorates the Feast of Christ the King. As we prayed in our opening Collect, we praise and worship Jesus Christ as “the King of kings and Lord of lords.” The Feast of Christ the King is a relatively new addition to the church calendar, having been instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. It falls on the last Sunday of the church year, drawing a parallel with the end of time, the last days, when Christ will come in all his power and glory.
Although the feast is relatively recent compared to other feasts that have been around for centuries, it is firmly rooted in Scripture. In today’s Epistle, we read that God “raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet” (Ephesians 1:20-23). And in today’s Gospel, we read: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him” (Matthew 25:31-32).
In the Orthodox Church, this vision of the exalted Jesus has expressed itself down through the ages in the iconography of Christos Pantocrator (Χριστὸς Παντοκράτωρ) or Christ Almighty. We have an example on the cover of today’s service leaflet: the mosaic of Christos Pantocrator from the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The church is built over what is believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. With the Christos Pantocrator on the ceiling of this church, we see a colossal, regal Jesus set against a gold background and surrounded by a celestial court of angels and saints. Jesus is the enthroned king of heaven and earth, looking down on the faithful.
For some of us today, we may not be entirely comfortable with calling Jesus king. It certainly doesn’t figure as prominently in Protestant theology as it does in Roman Catholic or Orthodox. There are plenty of Roman churches named Christ the King, including the one here in Kansas City on 85th and Wornall Road. But how many Protestant churches do you know that are named Christ the King? I don’t think there are many Episcopal Churches with that name either, Anglo-Catholic or otherwise.
Another reason why Christ the King may not sit too well with us is because the title of “king” may go against our modern, democratic sensibilities. “King” can be seen as an anachronism, outdated and irrelevant, belonging to less enlightened periods of absolute rule and authoritarianism. Our nation, after all, was born in rebellion against the tyranny of King George III.
But, on the other hand, there may be others who don’t mind the royal language at all – and even like it. The Episcopal Church, with her origins in England, is full of Anglophiles, including those who love the British monarchy, especially good Queen Elizabeth II. I won’t mention names, but I think there may even be clergy at St. Mary’s who fall in this category – and who this past week celebrated the seventy-third wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. But even apart from the Anglophiles in our midst, judging by the popularity of British royal gossip in the American press, we haven’t entirely severed our emotional ties to the monarchy in the old country. We love the pageantry, the glamor, and the rich traditions.
Whatever our attitudes toward the term “king” may be, the message about Jesus in Scripture and in today’s feast day is clear. There is no power or authority in all the world greater than Jesus. He is all-mighty, all-powerful, sovereign over heaven and earth. He is God Incarnate. And Christ’s kingdom is eternal. His reign will have no end.
If we might extend the royal metaphor a bit, if Jesus is king, then what does that make us, his followers? At the most basic level, we are subjects of his kingdom, enjoying the benefits and privileges of Christ’s reign. But Scripture tells us that we are more than mere subjects. Christ calls us as his disciples to a more active and significant role. He calls us to proclaim and to help build his kingdom on earth.
Just as a traditional king would have officials, called ministers, to help him rule, Jesus calls us to be his ministers in the kingdom. Interestingly, the term “minister” has both this secular and religious meaning. So just as there are different ministries in a royal government, such as ministry of state, ministry of the treasury, and so on, we, too, have various ministries in the Church. In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he speaks of the many different types of ministry and service in the Church – apostles, prophets, teachers, and healers (I Corinthians 12:28). Some are called to preach. Some are called to be prophetic voices, working for peace and justice in the world. Some are called to teach. Some are called to heal the broken in body, mind, or spirit. Some are called to be ordained, as our own Deacon Lynda Hurt and Deacon Isaac Petty were this past Monday. Some are called to leadership and service as lay people.
We have a variety of callings defined by our God-given gifts, talents, and passions. But we also share a common calling. In today’s Gospel, Christ calls all of us to care for those who are hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison (Matthew 25: 35-45). When we serve the most vulnerable among us, we are serving Christ in them. And it is for these acts of love and compassion for which we will ultimately be judged.
Dear friends, on this Feast of Christ the King, we are reminded that Jesus is Lord of our lives and Lord of all Creation. And as Christ’s followers, we are his ministers, representatives of his Kingdom in the world. We have been called to be his apostles, prophets, teachers, and healers. And we have gathered this morning to renew our vows to the Lord and to be refreshed, nourished, and empowered in Word and Sacrament. And at the conclusion of our service today, as we head back to our daily lives, we will be reminded by our newly ordained deacon what is our sacred task this week as Christ’s ministers: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
 The exception seems to be Lutheran churches, quite a number of which have the name Christ the King.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!