Christ the King

A happy and blessed Christ the King Sunday, everybody. The Feast of Christ the King is our Feast of Title, despite our church being older than the feast itself. Ritual Notes, the ultimate guide to all things liturgical, tells us that churches named Christ Church should have August 6, the feast of the Transfiguration as their feast of title, but I don’t know any Christ Churches who use it. We will celebrate this afternoon with our usual Solemn Evensong and Benediction, followed by an actual feast.

The Feast of Christ the King is also interesting in that “Jesus does not claim this title of king for himself. He sets out to gather up disciples. Andrew. Simon Peter. Philip. Then he encounters Nathanael, who exclaims, “You are the King of Israel!” As he will later do with Pilate, Jesus neither accepts nor denies the title. Rather he points to the future, when “you will see greater things than these.”

“The title King of the Jews comes most definitively from what might be an unexpected source: the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea and no friend of the Jews. “Are you king of the Jews?” he asks Jesus. Not getting a satisfactory answer, Pilate uses his own, earthly authority to declare Jesus’ kingship. He presents Jesus to the angry crowd: “Behold your king!”
“Here is one commentator’s provocative, haunting perspective on the scene: “With his ‘Ecce Homo,’ [Pilate presents] a mocked king, crowned with thorns, covered with welts and spittle, to a crowd clamoring for his crucifixion. ‘Behold the human condition,’ says Pilate, ‘this is what fallen man is—a pitiful caricature of the divine image.’ This is the king of the Jews.”

“Covering all the bases, Pilate has an inscription written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek and put on the cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” When the chief priests object, he shuts them down. “What I have written I have written.” Pilate uses his authority not to rescue Jesus from certain death, but – perhaps unwittingly — to declare his kingship in words that have lasted millennia.

“It may be for this reason that Pilate was venerated in some early Christian traditions. The Ethiopian Church venerates Pilate and his wife on June 19. In our tradition, Pilate is the only human other than Mary, the mother of God, named in the Nicene creed. The classic depiction of Christ on the cross, whether suffering and broken or clothed in splendid apparel as Christus Rex, typically includes Pilate’s inscription.

“King of the Jews is not a title Jesus claimed for himself. He does not preach himself as king; rather he preaches the kingdom of God. He says again and again “the kingdom of God is like…” using parables and images to convey what we must imagine and pray for. Thy kingdom come.”1

It is this humble and self-sacrificial king who left eternity and entered history, who speaks His commands gently, who favors the little guy, to whom we pay our homage today and every day. We do that by very simply doing what He told us to do today: feeding the hungry, satisfying the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and the prisoner.

How are we doing with that? Well, we need help visiting the prisoner; turns out it’s actually quite hard to visit prisoners. But the sick, the shut in, we do okay at that. We gave 325 people complete Thanksgiving meals this past Thanksgiving, and who knows how many of our neighbors will benefit from the Truck event the Thursday before, and our parish is one of the larger contributors to the St. Mary’s Food Pantry. The Bordentown Laundry Project helps keep clean clothes on bodies old and young in our city. And we welcome the stranger every day into this building, our sanctuary.

It may at times seem unfair that we serve a King who we don’t see in the flesh, at least not like Pilate or the Apostles or so many did 2000 years ago. Our consolation today is two-fold: one, we will one day see our King face to face, He promised us that; two, Jesus tells us today, we can see Him everywhere we look and in everyone we serve, for “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

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