First up, have we talked about how there’s a podcast now? Because there is.
If you go to my delightful parish’s delightful webpage, we now have a podcast feed, where we record and publish the sermons each week. So if you want my voice talking to you in your ears, as well as in your eyes, that is a thing that can be arranged.
However, podcasts aren’t for everyone, and so I will still keep up the blog. (May not be on time, but then again, it was ever thus. 🙂 )
We’re getting into the fun bit of the church year. Advent! Eschaton! Empires falling and the meek being exalted and whatnot! Every year, as Advent approaches, I think “One year, this won’t feel so immediate and relevant,” and so far, that year has not come.
Here’s what I said for Christ the King.
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
November 24, 2019
Christ the King, Year C
The feast we celebrate today is Christ the King Sunday. If you don’t know what I’m talking about—don’t feel bad! This is the newest feast on the liturgical calendar—it only became a thing in 1925, which, in church years, is about 6 months.
The pope, at the time, was frustrated that the Vatican, following WWI, no longer had an allied empire, and thus didn’t command the respect it had for lo these two thousand years. He didn’t have an army to sic on anyone. Nationalism was rising, secularism was rising, democracy also—at the time was seen as a big threat. So the pope declared that at the end of fall, everyone should celebrate Christ the King Sunday, and remember who was REALLY IN CHARGE. Definitely the Church! So….you know. Be nice and listen to us and stuff.
This political strategy didn’t work so well for the Vatican, so they had to come up with other ideas. But meanwhile, other denominations got on board, and so Christ the King was added to the Lutheran calendar, the Orthodox calendar, and the Anglican calendar as well. Both so we could stay on the same page as the Roman Catholics, and because after all, we like the idea of the kingship of Christ. Even if we were kinda agnostic on whether or not the pope should have his own army.
Of course, nowadays, kings are not thick on the ground. Not a lot of kings hereabouts. So when we declare Jesus king of kings, it sounds nice, and proper, and appropriate, but it can be hard to hear the emphasis in it because there’s not a lot to compare him too. How many of us encounter a lot of kings in our lifetime? Are we saying Jesus is like Henry VIII? A distant, historical figure who did a lot, but now has been compressed by history? Or like Queen Elizabeth II? Who seems fine, but is mostly someone to decorate a country’s government and make speeches on Christmas and fail to smile? Aside from indicating that we feel Jesus is Very Important, and Special, what does that title mean?
Our liturgy has a lot of kingship language in it—in mostly non-explicit ways. Our opening acclamation, when I say Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, unless it is a Sunday, we follow up with either Lord have mercy, or the Kyrie, or the Trisaigon (Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One). Either one sounds to us now like we’re asking God for forgiveness, generally. HOWEVER—in the Roman Empire, before Caesar—whose official Roman title was Son of God— entered a town, runner would be sent ahead of him, announcing his coming, yelling Blessed be Caesar, and the people standing by the road, awaiting the royal parade, would reply—Kyrie eleison. Because that was how you properly greeted the semi-divine emperor if you were a good Roman.
So when the Christians repurposed this formula for their own liturgy, it was a BIG DEAL. It was a stark way of saying “Caesar is not in charge of me—only God is. And I am loyal to his Son, who is Jesus.”
It was nothing less than treason. Christians weren’t martyred by Rome because they were too nice and made everyone else feel bad; they were martyred because their loyalties were suspect. They pledged loyalty every time they gathered to Jesus, and not Caesar. And it’s hard to overstate just how subversive that is.
Because, if God is in charge of me, then Caesar isn’t. If God holds ultimate power, than Caesar doesn’t. If I recognize only God’s right to command me, then I don’t recognize Caesar’s, or anyone else’s, unless it accords with what I feel Christ is calling me to do. And empires do not like that.
And while we may not have many earthly kings around anymore, we certainly do have empires hereabouts. We have empires that tell us that truth only matters when it’s convenient. Empires that insist that following orders is more virtuous than rocking the boat. Empires that insist that those who have historically have been silenced and marginalized just count less. And over and over, empires that insist that the way things are is the way things are meant to be, and that asking for more is wrong.
But our loyalty is not to empires of any kind. Our loyalty is to God’s kingdom alone, with Christ as our King. We follow not the powers of this earth, who rise and fall as they will, even with the best of intentions—we follow Christ, who was murdered as an outcast by the empires of this world. Who compels us to both engage with and challenge the empires of our time in order to bring Christ’s light to earth.
The kingship of Christ unsettles the powers of this world because it places power permanently out of their reach. It locates power not in coercion, not in might, not in suppression, and not in bending reality. Christ’s reign locates power in solidarity with human suffering. In truth. In humility. In love. The purest moment of Christ’s reign is as he is hung on a cross—a moment meant by Rome to be the most shaming, and yet is the clearest example we have of Jesus’ love for us, and willingness to suffer with and for his creation.
Love like that, a king like that—that calls forth our deepest loyalty. The empires of the world are but idols—they promise but they cannot deliver. Only Jesus, in his paradoxical, subversive kingship, can bring us to the world we were created for by God. And so we will continue to follow him alone, no matter what empires may arise.