Reflection on the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Here we are, on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, celebrating Christ as king. For some of us, “king” may carry negative connotations — kings and their subjects, power and prestige, wealth and castles. For others, “king” may bring memories of kings and rulers in the past who were kind, considerate, gracious and helpful to those in their kingdoms.
Today we heard John’s account of Jesus before Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews. Jesus does not claim the title.
I find the history of this feast of Christ the King enlightening. After World War I, especially in Europe, the authorities in the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps in other Christian churches, too, were concerned that society could no longer be called “Christendom.” Society had escaped from the grasp of the Church’s authority. There was more of what we in the United States take for granted — a separation of church and state. Such had not been the way in Europe. Therefore, in December 1925 Pius XI wrote an encyclical and also established the feast of Christ the King. The encyclical emerged, according to the Dominican theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, from a reactionary Roman Catholic Church movement, which sought to re-establish the Church’s age-old position of power in society.
The feast as it was established, however, did not carry forward this movement to return to a past where the Church had more temporal authority. The kingship of Jesus put forth in this feast has nothing to do with power over others. Schillebeeckx sees the feast as a “criticism of any ideology of power, whether in the world or in the church.”( God Among Us, p.118.) Further, he notes, “a sure instinct of faith put the feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday of the Church’s year, just before the new beginning with … Advent.” Further, the readings do not present Jesus as ruling over anyone.
The feast of Christ the King is a feast of change and of renewal in the world and in the Church. Schillebeeckx suggests that, in a non-monarchial society like ours, Christ the King becomes a symbol of unrest in an established order, the symbol of justice and peace for those who experience injustice and have no peace.
As we continue on, we each try to do our part to bring change and renewal to our world and to our Church. It is small things we do, mostly — kindness to someone, a letter to Congress, having a spirit of hope when we don’t feel like it. We gather now in Eucharist, in thanksgiving to God for Jesus as king, a symbol of unrest, a symbol of peace, a symbol of justice.