This week in the calendar of the three-year lectionary we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. Even though this is what we mark and celebrate this week, I find, and I would think some of you also are left with a question about what it means. Back around the time when the Reformation was taking place, it wasn’t uncommon to hear clergy say, even lament, that confirmation was a sacrament needing a theology. In many parts of the Christian faith our understanding of baptism has changed, and with it, the understanding of confirmation.
With baptism leading to full inclusion in the church and welcome admission to communion, the rite of confirmation is no longer the rite of passage that people have to undergo in order to be considered full members of the church and to receive the body and blood of Christ – The Communion, the Eucharist. Confirmation used to be the necessary “ticket,” but with the change in theological understanding of baptism, confirmation is of more questionable need.
In similar fashion, the Feast of Christ the King is a celebration in need of a reason. In many parts of the Church we mark it on our calendars and in our liturgical celebrations every year on the last Sunday of the season of Pentecost. Some people celebrate it as a sort of “New Year’s Eve,” marking the last Sunday of the church year before we roll over into Advent and the beginning of a new liturgical year. For some, it is observed in a fashion similar to the Feast of Pentecost, when people sing “Happy Birthday” to the church, marking the beginning of the church, when the disciples were visited for the first time by the Holy Spirit.
So, what is this feast many will mark this week, especially on Sunday? What can we say about the Feast of Christ the King? Not much, even if we look to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. So, really what does it mean for us today when we hear the word “king”? George, son of Duchess Catherine and William of Wales, newest prince of the realm, has been recently hailed as third in line for the English throne. King! It’s fine for the British to hail George as their future king, but here in Australia I wonder sometimes what our experience of kings leads us to think, especially if the person is a king of the political sort.
“The King.” Say that to Americans, and they think of Elvis, the King of Rock ’n’ Roll? Or for some who are somewhat younger,kl what about Michael Jackson, crowned the King of Pop? Some might say, the Americans have a king in the Whitehouse in Donald Trump, who certainly acts as if he thinks he is a king, there are teams named the Kings in in all sorts of sports, king snakes, kingfishers, king crab, chicken a la king, king of the mountain, the Rev. Martin Luther King. Is it starting to become clear? The Kings of Leon for rock and roll fans, and B.B. King for fans of blues, Stephen King, and Burger King (known to Australians as Hungry Jacks). Carole King, king salmon, the Lion King, Steve Martin singing “King Tut” and the King James Bible.
But, has the notion of “king” taken on a different meaning for us? It seems that “king” is no longer the most effective, most evocative, of titles. As Christians we could say, instead, “Christ the Messiah,” but isn’t that redundant? And lately “messiah” has become weakened, perhaps even trivialised, by its popularity as a name. I even hear that Messiah is becoming a popular name for children. Prince and Princess are both becoming popular names as well, but the popularity of King as a baby name has risen faster than all other “royal” names.
Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychologist and author of a book called, “Narcissism Epidemic,” told “Good Morning America” that the rising popularity of the royal-sounding baby names “mirrors a current preoccupation with money, power and fame.” That’s today. And remember: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Back in the 1920’s, to counter a sense of growing secularism, Pope Pius XI declared that there should be a celebration of the reign of Christ marked by a special occasion set aside proclaiming Christ as King. Other churches have done similar things in marking and keeping this observance.
So, what does all this tell us about ourselves, or about the Christ we celebrate as King on this day? Once upon a time, Christ might have been hailed as king in the midst of a people who understood kingship, and particularly Christ’s kingship over them. But we no longer understand kings, as evidenced by the naming of our children with this title. We need a corrective to our consumer culture that puts us at the centre of the universe, whatever our name. Maybe, the point of the Feast of Christ the King in this time is to remind us that we are not the centre of the universe; Christ is.
Maybe it is to challenge us to gird ourselves (now there’s an old-fashioned word) for whatever will come, whether the Day of Doom or Christ’s return in glory. To give praise and thanks and glory to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We talk a lot about kings, name many things with this title, but in the end, there is for Christians only one King who matters for our life together in this world and the next: Christ the King. And that Christ the King is the pattern for our living and loving in this world.