Reign of Christ

And so here we are. It is Reign of Christ Sunday. For those of us who follow the lectionary around the year, it is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Next Sunday we start a whole new year with Advent. As I grow older each year seems to go a little bit faster. We’ve run through the anticipation and the birth, followed quickly by a quick trip trough Jesus baptism and the visit of the Magi. We’ve re-read the stories of the Gospel of Mark and followed Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem where we faced the awe-full events of Holy Week and the devastation of crucifixion before the triumph and joy of Easter. We’ve followed the readings of Pentecost, the longest season of the church year and come full circle for the final festival of the liturgical year.

Reign of Christ, also known as Christ the King, is not one of the ancient festivals of the church. Although there were scattered observances going back a very long time, the feast day was declared official in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. It was slowly embraced by the liturgical parts of Protestantism over the next couple of decades.

As strange as it may seem, however, the roots of this modern celebration go back a long ways, long before the birth of Jesus, back to the very origins of the Judeo-Christian story. Among the oldest stories of our scripture are the stories of Abram and Sarai, who left the land of their mothers and fathers and ventured out into the world to follow God’s call. This story comes in part out of what must have been long and intense conversations with others about the nature of God and the nature of religion. The concept of monotheism was rare in the ancient near east and the claim that the God who called the pair forth from their homes was the same God who spoke to them throughout their lives no matter where they went was a novel concept. Locals in the places they visited would have talked about the gods of their region and the gods of their weather. To assert that there is only one God and that God is the God of every place was a radical idea. It took many generations for the concept to fully develop. Our Bible contains stories about people who believed that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob actively competed with the gods of Baal. That isn’t the same thing as asserting that there are no other gods at all. Such a belief developed, but it took many generations to grow.

All along the way, the notions of the emerging religion faced governments and temporal rulers who asserted that they were gods. The Egyptian Pharaohs were hailed as gods. This was true of certain Greek and Roman rulers as well. The Assyrians and Babylonians had notions about governmental leaders being divine.

The assertion that there is only one God is an assertion that there is an absolute truth. Truth is not relative, but rather there is a single and absolute truth. Because people experience events from all different perspectives and because things seem different depending on how you look at them, it is easy to assert that there are many different and competing truths. Police investigators become aware of this. Eye witness stories do not always agree. But they also know that even through one witness swears that the light was green and another swears that it was red the light in reality was only one of those colors. The different perspectives and different perceptions don’t change reality.

It is not an accident that the church began to observe Christ the King as a holiday at the same time as authoritarian rulers began to rise in governments in Europe. People needed to be reminded that there is an authority that is greater than the temporal powers of earthly readers. Just because Hitler declares that Jews are evil and should be eliminated does not make it so. There is an authority that is higher than Hitler. It is an assertion that beyond all of the temporal truths that may appear to humans, there is an ultimate Truth. Beyond the corrupted attempts at justice offered by humans there is the Justice of God.

The Gospel reading for this Sunday reports a conversation between Jesus and Pilate on the occasion of the trial of Jesus that covers this very topic. Jesus states to Pilate: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” The reading of the lectionary end with these words, but in the very next verse, Pilate asks, “What is truth.”

Both Roman and Greek intellectuals had among their number those who asserted that there was no such thing as an absolute truth. Truth was, for them, relative. Pilate, who was educated and aware of these teachings, uses their perspective in his exchange with Jesus, asking if Jesus can assert anything as truth if there is no absolute truth. When one wields the power of the Roman government to execute, it seems to many that the truth is whatever he says it is. Jesus clearly understand that even if he dies, there is a reality that a is beyond the way things appear. If all truth is relative, Jesus’ version of the truth would die with him. This is not the case.

It is no small thing to observe Reign of Christ as a holiday. It is a bold assertion that there is authority beyond the authorities of society. Authoritarian leaders will often assert that they have the power to create truth. A phrase that is often attributed to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels states, “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” It is possible that Goebbels never said this. It may be a reference to the paragraph about the propaganda technique know as “the big lie,” in Adolf Hitler’s memoir Mein Kampf. At any rate, it doesn’t matter which leader makes such a statement. There is truth beyond their assertions. Even if you convince many people to believe that something is true, it does not make that thing true.

Time and history have a way of bringing the truth to the surface. Sometimes we simply have to wait for the truth to be revealed.

So today, we celebrate the Reign of Christ and reassert our belief in truth and power that lie beyond the rhetoric and manipulations of politics.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!