When the angel visited Mary, she heard that the Lord would give her son “the throne of his father David” and that “he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” She was to be the mother of a king.
When Jesus stood on trial before Pontius Pilate, he was asked, ‘Are you a king?’ and he replied that he was – with a difference.
When Christ was raised from the dead, he was “given all authority in heaven and on earth”. He was seated at the right hand of his Father, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph 2:21). He was given “the name above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”(Phil 2:9-11).
It is this kingship of Jesus that our liturgy is acclaiming today. It is the kingship of a son of man who is the Son of God. It’s a kingship of someone who laid down his life to redeem us: kingship from the Cross. It’s the kingship of Christ, raised and glorified, the One who will come again in glory.
Here’s a question for a Catholic quiz: whose was the first photographed martyrdom? Bl. Miguel Pro. What were his final words? Viva Cristo Rey! When? 23 November 1927. And when was this feast of Christ the King established? 1925. There’s a connection.
Pius XI was a far-seeing man. He established this feast just seven years after World War I had ended, at a time when dictatorships were being born: new kinds of “kings” coming to power who claimed absolute control over every aspect of life. We know the names: Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin. And we know what happened: 20 million died in World War I, 55 million in World War II. Nor has it stopped there: Stalin, who lived into the 1950s, was responsible for more deaths than Hitler. Chairman Mao, who lived into the 1970s, was responsible for more deaths than Stalin. These and others, and others today, are the anti-kings, the anti-Christs, who lead their people to death. This is a topical feast. Who do I want as king?
In another way, it’s a very ancient feast. It takes us back to the first Christians. Christians were called Christians after Christ. What does Christ mean? Anointed One, i.e. the Messiah. And who is the Messiah? The expected King of Israel. So to be Christian is to acknowledge Jesus as my King. Again, in the early Church, the simple profession of faith at baptism, was ‘Jesus is Lord.’ That meant too – in the context of the time – that Christ was the one really in charge, and not the Lord Caesar, not the Roman Emperor or Empire, not the State.
And these professions of faith meant freedom. For the early Christians, it meant entering into a new and better ‘space’. That Christ was the king, the real authority, the real power, was good news. Here was a king who didn’t conscript people into wars of conquest, but accepted death on their behalf. A king who makes his subjects kings. A king who is gentle and humble in heart. A king who washes our feet, forgives our sins, feeds us with his Body and Blood. A shepherd king, a servant king, bringing “a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and truth”. A king whose only weapon is the truth, and that truth is that we are greater than we think. We’re not just the random products of a blind evolutionary process. We are willed and wanted by God, created in his image and likeness, called to be the sons and daughters of the heavenly Father. We’re beings with immortal souls, promised resurrection from the dead and life everlasting. We’re not just citizens of a state or Scottish or Nigerian or taxpayers or on benefits or workers or students or diagnosed with cancer or divorced or miserable or happy or old or young. We may be those things: some of them fine, some not. But most of all we’re children of God. We’re “a line of kings, priests to serve [our] God and Father”. We belong to a kingdom that will have no end.
“Viva Cristo Rey!”
I was walking back to Old Aberdeen one evening just when the football had ended and the crowds were streaming down King Street, sporting the red and white scarf: happy after a victory. Well, we support Team Christ. When we’re baptised, we buy the t-shirt. We learn the songs. In many ways, that’s what the early Christians meant by “faith”: allegiance to Christ, loyalty. Faith is like putting all your money on one horse. But a horse who has already won. Or it’s enrolling in an army whose General has already defeated the ultimate enemies: sin and death, and is now sharing out the spoils, the loot with us – the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist. There are all sorts of powers, good and evil, legitimate and illegitimate, wise and stupid; they shape our lives. But, sooner or later, willingly or unwillingly, they all have to bend the knee to the God-man on the Cross.
Brothers and sisters, deep down we all know the real rival kingdom. It’s the kingdom of “me”. The kingdom of my own self-will, of my needs and my wants. It’s a kingdom supported by a culture that privileges autonomy, that promotes my choice, my body, my end of life, my truth – half-truths that have gone wild. Brothers and sisters, there is someone who knows who I really am far better than I do, who cares for me far more than I do, who knows what my well-being really consists in. Let’s choose him as king. “Viva Cristo Rey!”
St Peter’s, Castlegate, November 2018