It has been only 89 years since Pope Pious XI instituted the festival day of Christ the King, or more accurately, the day of “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” This Sunday festival is a dramatic, theological exclamation point, which brings to a close the liturgical year. Inherent in this quite lofty title is Matthew’s apocalyptic vision of Jesus coming into his glory as he prepares for the last judgment, dispensing punishment on his left and reward to those on his right.
It is interesting to note that we now understand that Pope Pious XI’s underlying reason for reminding the faithful of Jesus’ kingly role was not necessarily a liturgical announcement of the imminent season of Advent. It was more of a preemptive strike against an alarming increase in secularity and the very real threat posed by the then, fledgling Italian kingdom which was threatening to usurp the Vatican’s sovereignty and land mass. It was in part a political encyclical saying, “careful you earthy evildoers, you too will be judged by the real King.”
This notwithstanding, Christ the King Sunday is now generally observed by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and other major mainline denominations on the last Sunday of our liturgical year. A quick perusal of our Episcopal liturgical calendar in the Book of Common Prayer, however, uncovers the fact that our liturgical calendar does not even mention this festival by name, but is parenthetically embedded under the title of “Last Sunday after Pentecost.”
So what can we make of this major “non-event” that seems to be a liturgical calendar after-thought, but which merits serious deliberation? I would say that this festival day allows preachers of all persuasions to ponder the “End-Times” prophecies, or to preach Jesus as the “Lord Christ” who shunned the earthly titles of power. It permits us to contrast the titles we give to Jesus with what Jesus said about himself. This day allows us to concentrate on Matthew’s measure on what really earns us eternal life: Love, charity and service to others. I personally preach Jesus as the very human rabbi, the Wisdom-invoking teacher, the healing “curandero,” the radical itinerant who equates practicing social justice with being squarely on God’s side.
“Fine,” you say, “but can you not subscribe to the flat-out declaration that Jesus as King will finally come on clouds of glory, in full array of power and dispensing judgment?” ¡Aye, Dios mio! I don’t have an adequate answer to this very complex, End Times, theological assertion. My trust is in God whom I believe will sort all things out. I also prefer to connect people with the spiritual, Lordship qualities of Jesus, God’s anointed, who is the loving embodiment of the Living God.
“Why do you call me good, only God is good,” Jesus said. Perhaps he is also saying, “why do you call me king? There is only one Ruler in the universe, and that is the One who made it.”
The Rev. Al Rodriguez, a graduate of the Seminary of the Southwest, was ordained in June 1996, serving in various parishes, including St. John’s Episcopal Church in Austin where he ministered as Rector for 15 years. He currently serves as Assisting Priest at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Austin and is an Adjunct Faculty instructor at Southwest teaching in the Hispanic Church Studies Concentration, where he focuses on cultural and linguistic nuances of ministering to the multi-generational, U.S. born Latinos who are bilingual or English dominant.