“A few years ago President Nelson Mandela visited the White House for [a state dinner]. The preparation for that state dinner took two months. Once the guest list was drawn up, three in-house calligraphers meticulously engraved the invitations and place cards, using a big magnifying glass to ensure quality right down to the dots over the “i’s.” The White House florist began planning the elaborate centerpieces, each of which consisted of dozens of pink Candia and Osiana roses in full bloom. Each six-piece place setting had to be just so, with the official White House vermeil flatware and fine bone china laid out in a stunning array which included crystal finger bowls with floating scented-geranium leaves.
“Meanwhile, Chef Walter Scheib created a menu which included a timbale of late-summer vegetables in a lemongrass and red curry sauce, sesame-crusted halibut in a carrot juice broth, and a dessert of white chocolate and raspberries with spun-sugar roses and also a chocolate box containing an assortment of South African cookies and bourbon truffles.
“Compared to that kind of event Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem looks a little sad. He’s riding on a donkey, not a white stallion, with people’s coats paving the way, not some red carpet. There is no formal greeting by any dignitaries. Instead Jesus hobbles in on this little colt, takes a look around , and then wordlessly leaves the city to go back to his hotel.”1
You would think kings would be treated better. This is the Feast of Christ the King, one of our annual reminders of just who it is we are dealing with when we are dealing with Jesus. And yet, the Gospels don’t manage to give us much kingly stuff to revel in. About as good as it gets in the Gospel according to Mark is Jesus riding into Jerusalem, an act we celebrate each year on Palm Sunday, a ride which started off pretty good, what with all the waving palms and the shouting and the Hosannas, but ends with Jesus looking at His watch and yawning about coming back in the morning. When Jesus does finally spend some real time in Jerusalem, He curses a fig tree that then withers and dies, overturns the tables of the money-changers in the Temple, and then refuses to tell the priests and scribes by what authority He does these things.
None of this feels kingly to us, but again, here we are. We are here celebrating this feast in part because “All four gospels in various forms proclaim the royal dignity of Jesus. One form used by all four gospel authors is the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Matthew especially, and Luke not quite so boldly, proclaim him king through their genealogies of Jesus. Luke does so also through the annunciation to Mary, and Matthew through the annunciation to Joseph. The title, “Son of David,” used in Mark, Matthew, and Luke, is another form of proclaiming Jesus as king. The royal theme is present in all four Passion Narratives. The climactic proclamation of Jesus as king in the Passion Narratives is the inscription posted by order of the Roman Prefect at the top of Jesus’ cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Theologically the inscription explicitly recognizes that Jesus came to his own people as their king. More important theologically is the implicit recognition of his universal kingship by the languages of the inscription, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.”2
But we also celebrate this feast because we know, despite the humility with which Christ walked while here on Earth, that He through whom all things were made is King, and can be nothing else. We also celebrate Jesus’ Kingship because He has shown us that being a king has nothing to do state dinners that take two months to set up, but rather rests in the willingness to make sacrifice for your people, even if that sacrifice is your very self.
Christ the King Sunday is always the last Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent. And so today we celebrate the Kingship of Christ even as we begin preparing for that Christmas morn when we will greet once again our newborn King, who sacrificed His glory in Heaven to be born in the darkest corner of the world, so that no one might be deprived of His life and light, so that seated on a donkey or a throne, no one may be deprived of calling Him King.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week
2Focusing on the Feast of Christ the King, Father Donald Dilger, The Message Online, November 23, 2012