This Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King, and the Gospel reading is John 18.33-37
The month of November has had a particular focus on the Kingdom of God. On All Saints’ Sunday and Remembrance Sunday, we have been reminded that the earthly, visible church is part of a far greater Body: that we are united not only with Christians across the earth, but across all ages, in one fellowship with Jesus Christ as our Head and King. Last Sunday, the Gospel reading spoke of the turmoil of earthly empires and kingdoms, and reminded us that our security is found in God’s rule, not in human authorities.
The very first line of each Gospel marks out the tension between Christ’s kingship and earthly empires. The Greek word for ‘Gospel’ (evangelion) meant the proclamation of good news concerning the Emperor. An evangelion would be issued to his subjects know that an Emperor had come to power, had a son, or occupied new territory. In calling their works ‘Gospels’, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are each making an extraordinary claim: that true sovereignty lies in the hands, not of Casear, but of one born in a manger and crucified by the religious and imperial powers of his age as a common criminal.
Jesus’ Kingdom is not ‘of this world,’ not one among many political forces jostling for power. But it has implications for this world, and for the way it is to be ordered. The truth proclaimed by Christ the King challenges this world’s idolatries – the things we place our trust in, and build our lives around.
As Jesus himself tells us (Luke 4.18-19), this means “Good news for the poor” release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for those who are oppressed and ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’ (that is, a year of Jubilee). In the Magnificat (Luke 1.46-55), the song used by many Christians in their evening prayers, we are told more about the new Kingdom dawning in Christ, the Son of Mary:
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
The Feast of Christ the King is an opportunity for both rejoicing and challenge. Rejoicing, because if Christ is the King of the Universe, the task of transformation does not fall on our shoulders alone. Christian ministry is a participation in God’s work of transformation, and the final triumph of Christ’s Kingdom is secure.
For all that, this feast should challenge us – and shake us out of complacency or purely other-worldly piety. There are dramatic implications for our lives and our society if the one who was born of Mary and crucified under Pilate is not simply a remarkable human being but (to use the full title of this Feast) ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe’.
Almighty, ever-living God, it is your will to unite the entire universe
under your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the King of heaven and earth.
Grant freedom to the whole of creation,
and let it praise and serve your majesty for ever,
through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen.
(Prayer for the Feast of Christ the King, Roman Catholic Daily Office)
Pray for the Joint Ventures which the Church Urban Fund is setting up with Dioceses across England – and the very practical work they will generate to enable some of the country’s poorest neighbourhoods to experience something of the generosity and justice of God’s Kingdom.
Pray too for the work the Contextual Theology Centre is doing to help Christians make a deeper connection between prayer and social action – so that our lives are neither other-worldly, nor simply full of human activism. Pray especially for the Quiet Afternoon next Sunday (2nd December) on Mary: Prayer and Action – and for the team of speakers (from Pentecostal, Anglican and Roman Catholic partner churches).