This upcoming Sunday marks the Feast of Christ the King.  Here’s a little reflection on that notion.

Many years ago now, I heard NDP MP and Christian Minister Bill Blakie speaking at a conference on ‘Christ and Empire’.  There, Bill posited that Christians need to hold up Jesus as eternal sovereign against empire – to proclaim Jesus as the “King of kings” (over all other kings).  Though I can’t remember his exact words, he proclaimed that reclaiming this “King of kings” notion might be the only way that Christianity might actually be able to re-establish some of its ancient prophetic voice – a voice which in ancient times challenged and shook empire down to its very roots.  After the talk – I approached Bill and asked him to expand on this. In the conversation Bill admitted to me that without a  high view of Christ (or a high Christology, as the theologians like to say) – without the ability to see Christ as King – we Christians really have few resources to challenge the notion of earthly ’empires’ of oppression, violence and injustice.

Next Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King, (also known as Reign of Christ) – and it is a bit of a strange feast.  Notably, it’s the last Sunday in the Christian Calendar (Advent marks the new year of the Church – and Christ the King is the last Sunday before Advent). Christ the King is kind of a final triumphal hurrah before we get to the vulnerable baby Jesus in a barn who quickly becomes a refugee from the empire.  Unlike many of the more ancient liturgical feasts, this one has its roots in the 20th century and was more precisely established in 1925 amidst a backdrop of rising fascism, secularism and nationalism – and was a direct response to those impulses and to that troubled context.  With flapping flags, dictators and hollow individualist philosophies on the rise – with the notions of human reason or (alternately) the state becoming the ultimate authority, Pope Pius XI declared a Church holiday to re-affirm the metaphorical title of “King” to Jesus Christ; (as part of the Trinity) the Creator of all that is.

Across the ocean, sometime between 1939 and 1967 the great US folksinger Woody Guthrie penned a tune called “Christ for President” (the song wasn’t recorded until 1998 by Billy Bragg and Wilco).  In it, he states:

Let’s have Christ our President – Let us have him for our king
Cast your vote for the Carpenter that they call the Nazarene
The only way we could ever beat these crooked politician men
Is to cast the moneychangers out of the temple
And put the Carpenter in!

Oh it’s Jesus Christ our President – God above our king!
With a job and pension for young and old
we will make hallelujah ring!
Every year we waste enough to feed the ones who starve
We build our civilization up and we shoot it down with wars…
(Woody Guthrie – from Mermaid Avenue)

Of course, this Jesus – this King – was no ordinary King.  Where kings often use(d) slavery, violence, armies and power-over other to cling to their crowns, Jesus presented a different kind of Kingship.  Some of His followers longed for a political revolution to take down the Romans and corrupt religious leaders of His time  “by any means necessary”. Yet Jesus’ revolution – his Kingdom – was of another kind than even that. It was, to quote another folksinger a ‘socialism of the heart’. In that revoloution, Jesus wore a crown – but it was of thorns not gold. When He spoke of being lifted up high for all to see – indeed He was – lifted up bleeding and dying on a cross – the most brutal instrument of torture and death the empire could give.

So “Christ the King” is a paradox – an almost ironic one at that. Yes, it’s about affirming the “Lord of all Creation” as sovereign above any human power.  Under true Divine Authority, Jesus keeps all oppressors in their place!(someone shout ‘Hallelujah!’)  At the same time it’s about another very different model of Kingship.  A King who washes feet.  A King who calls his ‘subjects’ friends. A King who says ‘put away your sword’.  A King who says ‘when you do to the least of my sisters and brothers…” (ie when you feed, house, visit, clothe, etc. them) ‘you are doing that to Me’.

In this age, some of us get nervous about applying the title of “King” to Jesus.  Sure, the metaphor may have lost some of its meaning as monarchies themselves have lost much of their power – and like any metaphor, this one also has its limitations and baggage.   However, I believe that the deeply countercultural notion of the “King of kings” who puts all emperors and oppressors in their place, who ensures that all tyrants tremble and who has authority in our collective and personal lives is one that we dearly need to hold onto.

But lets take that even deeper.  What are the tyrannies of our age?

What are things which enslave us?  What philosophies, empires, movements and ideologies deprive us of our made-in-the-image-of-God identity?  I think of consumerism, debt, addictions, ego, war and nationalism as some of these.  There are certainly many more.

How might we re-affirm Jesus to be the humble King of kings over these, even as we seek to ‘crown Him Lord of all’?

Help us Lord Jesus. God knows that we need a King. Be for us the Prince of Peace.