The Feast of Christ the King
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
26 November 2023
Today, we commemorate the Feast of Christ the King. This is a relatively new feast on the Church Calendar, instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. The historical context in which the pope introduced the feast was the militant nationalism that had been infecting Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and had been one of the major causes of World War I. Pius XI wanted to remind the faithful that as Christians, our highest allegiance – above any nation or government or leader – is to our Lord Jesus Christ, the King above all kings and the King of all Creation. The feast has spread from the Roman Catholic Church to other denominations, including the Anglican Communion.
The Feast of Christ the King falls on the last Sunday of the Church Year. This serves to remind us that at the end of time, Christ will come in all his glory and power. As we prayed in the Collect, he will establish his rule as “King of kings and Lord of lords.” We have many examples of the kingship of Christ depicted in Christian art. The iconography usually has Jesus enthroned in glorious majesty and splendor and surrounded by a host of angels and saints. Sometimes, he wears a crown and carries a scepter as symbols of his royal authority.
But there is another depiction of Christ the King, one that is ironic but, in fact, more familiar to us than the regal depictions. It is the image of Jesus hanging on the cross. Above his head is the inscription, INRI, the initials representing the Latin words, Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum, “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.” It is the title that the Romans conferred on Jesus in mockery and contempt as they tortured and nailed him to the cross (John 19:19).
But, for us, his disciples, this title is an expression of our faith, for Jesus is indeed our King. And whether it is the crucifix that hangs above us during our worship or the crucifix on the rosary in our private devotions, it is this image of Jesus the King that we behold in our daily lives. It is the image of a king who has emptied himself of all his power and glory and given up his very life for the sake of the world. It is the image of the Almighty God who has become one of us, a vulnerable human being, to suffer and die. It is the image of our faith and salvation.
And this king who hangs on the cross, this king who has emptied himself of power and glory, calls on us to follow his example. We, too, are called to empty ourselves of power and glory. Last week, I was at an annual academic conference for religious studies. It is always a great pleasure to learn about what other scholars are working on as well as catch up with old colleagues and friends. The part of academic life, however, that I do not care for is the game of status. Scholars don’t make a lot of money, but – perhaps because of that – the competition for status can get pretty fierce. We judge ourselves based on the schools we attended, the number of publications and grants, and so on. I often wonder why we can’t just focus on our love of learning and teaching? Why do we become so full of ourselves? I’m sure this kind of game of status is nothing new to you. Whatever our professions, most of us have to deal with the competition for money, power, and status. It’s the reality of our society.
And yet our Christian faith calls us to a different perspective and standard. Christ, through word and example, calls us to empty ourselves of all self-centeredness, to turn our attention away from our desire for money, power, and status, and to focus on others in self-denying love and service. The Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed while he was on earth was based not on power and glory but mercy and compassion. In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Christ calls on the faithful to love and care for those who are the most vulnerable –the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner (Matthew 25:35-45). He tells us that “just as you did to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). When we serve those in need among us, we are serving Christ in them.
In the history of our faith, we have many examples of the saints who have heeded Christ’s call to humble themselves and serve others in sacrificial love. Last Sunday, we commemorated the Feast of Saint Margaret of Scotland, one of our patron saints. We have a chapel in the basement dedicated to her. Some of you may noticed that we recently brought up her portrait that used to hang there to Saint George Chapel. In the painting, she is holding a spoon, feeding a small child. The image is based on Margaret’s daily routine of feeding orphans and the poor before she herself ate. And she also washed the feet of the poor, following the example of Jesus. She may have been Queen of Scotland, born to extraordinary wealth, power, and privilege, but in her daily life she was first and foremost a humble disciple of Jesus.
None of us here are royalty, though some of you may have royal blood. I know we have a parishioner here who counts Saint Margaret among her ancestors. There may be others of you who’ve done genealogical work and come across some royalty in your family tree. But whether we’re descended from royalty or peasants, whether we’re from privileged or underprivileged backgrounds, whatever the circumstances into which we were born, we share one thing in common. As disciples of Jesus, we are all called to follow his example of self-emptying humility and sacrificial love. We are called to live not for ourselves but for God and for others.
So, on this Feast of Christ the King, we proclaim Jesus the Lord of Creation and Lord of our lives. We offer our bodies and souls to his service. May Christ the King reign in our hearts this and every day that we may carry on his work of love in the world.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!
To the Glory of God and in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary
St. Mary's is a parish of the Diocese of West Missouri, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion.