HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING, YEAR C (NOV. 20)
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
Given the name of the feast today and all the readings, we obviously need to talk a little about kingship. The early Jews did not have Kings. In fact, they rejected to whole idea of a political kingship and monarchy because they felt that God alone was their King. When things started to fall apart due to the lack of political leadership, they asked God through the Prophets to provide them with a political King – a kind of subordinate to God type of King. But this Kingship was high in political power both in foreign and domestic affairs as well as being the judge in the law, in charge of the economy, leader of the army, and especially in his relationship with God which allowed him to be a religious leader as well. Pretty heavy duty stuff for one person.
Before their first King, the Israelites were almost the only nation that did not have a human person as King, and as the Hebrews saw some of the benefits of all being under one King for political unity, they demanded one of God.
In our readings today we see how Kings came to have all that power. The first few Kings were appointed by God directly through a prophet. And they were not always the kind of person that one thought could be a King. But, of course, God saw qualities that the people did not see. Young David, for example, was a simple shepherd yet became the greatest King of Israel. But it was precisely because he had been a shepherd that he was chosen. We hear in the second book of Samuel today that God said to David: “It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” God’s idea of a King was different than the political Kings of this period – he wanted a shepherd for his people, just as God himself was seen in Psalms as a shepherd. It was only later than political ambition and greed caused the downfall of the Kings. They had forgotten how to be shepherds.
That the Kings originally were seen to be moral religious leaders we can see from the Psalm today. When we sing about going to the house of the Lord, rejoicing, we are rejoicing because the thrones of judgment were set up there. Judgment here is seen as the idea of social justice, a bit different than we think of judges meeting out sentences today. Israelites could come and get justice for injustices done to them. We know from stories in the Bible that King Solomon was expert in issuing judgments and making sure that right prevailed.
So in the first two readings we learn that in the Old Testament, kingship was devised as shepherding and carrying out justice for all the people through wisdom.
The readings today from the New Testament both talk about the kingdom that God has created with Christ as the Head. St. Paul says: “The Father has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.” But he doesn’t stop there. He, too, explains what Christ’s kingship is all about: with Christ as King “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Paul goes on to say that Christ is the head of the body, the Church” and that he is to “have first place in everything.” One of the unfortunate byproducts of church history is that people forget, just as the Jews did, who is really the Head of the Church, and we place that headship into a person, forgetting that no person can take the place of Jesus. He is the center of our religion and our worship.
It is with much irony then that the Gospel reading today which ends our church year is not an image of the glorified King of the universe, but the image of the king on the cross, the climactic moment of his time on earth where he changes everything by his suffering and death. The sarcastically-meant comment on the sign above the cross, “This is the King of the Jews” turns into a the most truthful banner after all. And after that death, the doors of heaven are opened, making it possible for us to be saved and redeemed just as the criminal was saved simply by believing in the reality of Christ as King. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Is it hard for Americans to relate to kingships, we who are so politically oriented to a Republic and democracy? I think it can be a challenge for us. But perhaps the answer for us is to look at the first two images of a King that dominate the concept of kingship in the Old Testament – shepherding and justice. If we see Christ as the shepherd who takes care of us, and guides us, and protects us, and feeds us, and corrals us in, and finds us when we are lost, and if we see Christ as justice incarnate, a person who wants to help us see that we need to be his hands in taking care of the poor, the oppressed, those set apart, those sad and lonely, we shall see a King that we want to follow and emulate. That is the kind of King we celebrate today, and we look forward to that kingdom coming when we shall have all those things all the time, not just little bits and pieces of them, the glimmers we see today.
So let us end our church year which is the completion of a three year cycle of readings with great joy in Christ’s kingship and echo the words of the pilgrims going up to the God’s house in Jerusalem: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” so that everyday our lives can be filled with the Good News of a God who loves us, forgives us, saves us and helps us. God bless.