Christ the King
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 20, 2022
It’s a joy to celebrate this great feast of Christ the King with all of you, a feast which, unlike many of the things we do here at St. Mary’s, is a relatively modern development in the life of the church created by Piux XI, Bishop of Rome, in 1925. From the 8th century until the year 1870, the bishops of Rome not only had a leadership role in the Church with respect to other bishops, they held temporal power over territories of land of various sizes throughout the centuries. In other words, they were both bishops and kings. In 1870, after decades of increasing nationalism, King Victor Emmanuel of Italy annexed the last vestiges of the Papal States, and just like that, the Bishop of Rome lost his earthly kingdom. The Italian king quickly took up residence in Quirinal Palace, the papal residence where Pius IX had been elected in conclave and which many Roman citizens viewed as the ultimate sign of authority in the city. When asked for the keys to Quirinal Palace, the old pope reportedly asked, "Whom do these thieves think they are kidding asking for the keys to open the door? Let them knock it down if they, like Bonaparte's soldiers, when they wanted to seize Pius VI, came through the window, but even they did not have the effrontery to ask for the keys." Ultimately, a locksmith had to be hired. This bitter sting and horror at losing his earthly, temporal power certainly contributed to the proclamation of papal infallibility later in 1870, as well as his successor’s proclamation of this feast, “The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe” a few decades later in 1925.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus at least appears to be more self-aware than the pope was – he acknowledges that his kingship is “not of this world.” He said, “’For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.” Jesu] is, as he says here, from another world. The church calls this the incarnation: the descent of God from the eternal realm of uncreated light into the violence, darkness, sickness, and death of this world.”
Jesus is indeed King of the Universe, but he’s a king unlike any earthly king. He rules over a kingdom where the King came not to be served, but to serve. In God’s kingdom, those who are first are last of all and servant of all. This kingdom has an entirely different value system than this world does. The kingdom of God is the reality of existence brought about by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in which the poor have been chosen to be rich in faith – in which the last shall be first and the first shall be last. The most important in the kingdom of heaven are the worthless rags of earth. In God’s kingdom, the rich are sent away empty and the hungry are fed, the mighty are cast down from their thrones, and the lowly are lifted up.
You and I were made citizens of God’s kingdom not by swearing an oath to a Republic or earthly king, but rather in the waters of baptism. After making promises, or having promises made on our behalf at baptism, we are made citizens of God’s kingdom and adopt the value system of this kingdom that is in utter and complete opposition to the values of this world. It is through baptism that we submit ourselves, as sons and daughters, to a father who loves us without condition. It is in our baptism that we first bend the knee to a king who has no temporal power, but reigns in the hearts of the men and women who trust not in their own righteousness, but in the King’s manifold and great mercies. Our civic duty in God’s kingdom is to deny ourselves daily and take up our cross and follow Him. To put others before ourselves and put God’s ways before the ways of the world. Peace reigns over war; unity conquers division; love overcomes evil and hate.
We experience this kingdom partially now, but, and I state the obvious here, the powers of this world are not yet vanquished. War and racism and poverty and division abound. When will we get to realize the kingdom in its entirety? When will we realize the fulfillment of God’s promises to us to create a new heaven and a new earth where there is no more pain nor death, neither sorrow nor crying, but the fulness of joy? When will we get to live as our true selves, without the awful effects of sin, the way God intended things to be?
I’m not going to try to attempt to answer this question today as the Church has set aside an entire season of the church year to contemplate the Last Things – the season of Advent which begins next Sunday. In the meantime, we live in this world which is God’s creation given to us for our joy and benefit. We are given this time – our earthly lives – to do our part to reconstruct and redeem the unjust power structures of this world so that they may begin to reflect the Creator’s original intent. By the power of the Holy Spirit, through the grace God continually pours upon us through the Sacraments of the Church, we are empowered to live out our baptismal promises to “seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbor as ourselves; to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”
As we begin this journey of Advent next week and live into the waiting and the wondering for Christ’s first coming in the manager, and his third coming at the Last Day, thanks be to God, we don’t have to wait for his second coming in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we can approach this altar at which we are transported to the altar in heaven before God’s throne to receive a foretaste of the great banquet of heaven – a banquet so fulfilling, so filled with rich conversation and joyful delight – that even a foretaste of it is powerful enough to bring about God’s restoration and wholeness and topple unjust power structures in our world today. On this great feast, the Church invites us to renew our allegiance to the King of King and the Lord of Lords not by offering our sword or by paying our taxes, but by receiving God’s manifold and great mercies at this altar, giving him the proverbial keys to our hearts to reign in us and through us.
 Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 228-229 .
 James 2:5
 BCP 305.
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