Christ the King

On Sunday, we celebrate the end of the liturgical year. Since the early 20th century, many churches have observed this as the feast of Christ the King, anticipating the consummation of God’s kingdom when, at last, the petition from the Lord’s Prayer “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” will be fully answered.

We find ourselves living between the Ascension of Christ into heaven, at which time he was seated at the right hand of God and enthroned as the rightful king of the cosmos, and that final day, described by John in Revelation 21:2-5a:

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

Jesus is, in fact, right now, the ruler of the cosmos, to whom “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given (Matthew 28:18). NT Wright, in his book Surprised by Hope, suggests that any celebration of Christ the King must emphasize “that Jesus is already Lord of the world and that at his final appearing every knee will eventually bow to him” (305, n.9). However, we continue to experience the realities of sin, evil, and death—both in our own lives and in the world around us—while we wait for that final day.

As we live under the authority of Jesus in a world gone awry, we can have a deep confidence, which the bible calls hope, that what God did to the crucified body of Jesus He will likewise do to us, and, indeed, to all of creation. However, we ought not be surprised when sin, evil, and death seem to have their way here on earth. The great missionary, theologian, and bishop Lesslie Newbigin captures this sentiment well when he says, “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.”

We find ourselves, then, living in the present with the assurance that, even when the power of evil seems to have a free hand in the world, and even in the church, the resurrection of Jesus nearly 2000 years ago set in motion what the philosopher Teilhard de Chardin calls the “slow work of God,” which will one day result in all of God’s good creation restored and renewed. While we live in the present, then, we can trust that the resurrection power and life of Jesus can, through the Holy Spirit, be known in and through his people, who are called to live in such a way as, in our words and actions, to anticipate the future day we glimpse in Revelation 21 by seeking to restore relationships to God, to one another, and to all of creation.

As we end this liturgical year and prepare for yet another, I find myself drawn to a prayer we often say at the end of Evening Prayer, which, I believe, sums this up well.

O God, you manifest in your servants the signs of your presence: Send forth upon us the spirit of love, that in companionship with one another your abounding grace may increase among us;  through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

May we see this prayer answered, now and in the year to come.