The Solemnity of Christ the King
Ezek 34:11-12, 15-17
Ps 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6
1 Cor 15:20-26,28
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King—the final solemnity of the liturgical year. Next Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, we begin a new year and start the liturgical cycle again. As the Church’s feasts go this is a very new one. Pius XI promulgated The Solemnity of Christ the King in 1925. Originally set on the last Sunday of October it was moved to the 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the last Sunday of the year, in 1969.
What kind of king do we celebrate today? A king who was described as shepherd in the first reading and the psalm? A king who, according to the second reading, is prepared to hand over his kingdom? A king who will judge those who failed to recognize him in others? Who is this king?
Christ the King.
The King we are called to follow.
THE King we are called to follow; if we choose to do so.
The choice to follow Jesus the Eternal King is a conscious and deliberate one which each of us must make. We either choose to follow Jesus or not. There is no alternative.
Twice in his life in the Society of Jesus a Jesuit makes the full Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The first time is during first year novitiate. The second is many years later as a tertian. During tertianship in Australia the twelve of us from all over the world made the long retreat for most of Lent, ending the Friday before Palm Sunday. The Exercises include two day-long meditations on Jesus as King. Both occur early in the retreat. Both are instructive for this feast.
The first meditation compares the earthly with the heavenly king. The retreatant begins by considering the characteristics of a good earthly king. There have been plenty of bad ones throughout history and there will be more to come. But what makes a good earthly king? The earthly king Ignatius asks one to consider isn’t a king who is sitting up on his throne surrounded by a court and hangers-on; something like a rock star’s posse. This good king is one who is down in the mud and grit with the rest of the people, the rest of the soldiers, and with the citizens in their struggles. This is a king who is eating the same food as the commoners. A king who is dressing the same way and living in the same kind of accommodations as everyone else. The good earthly king is the type of king who, after a flood, would be in filthy sneakers and a sweaty t-shirt shoveling mud and tossing soggy furniture on a pile with everyone else. He would NOT be the politician helicoptering in for a visit and some photo ops wearing a pressed suit, crisp white shirt and clean hard-hat while campaigning for his reelection.
After this first part of the exercise one is asked to contemplate Jesus the Eternal King. The King who took human form. The King who walked in the dust and the mud, in the rain and the wind. The King who sweated and shivered. A King who was loved by many and reviled and hated by others. A King who lived just as we do. Today. And a King who died. Just as we will.
This King is Jesus who tells each one of us, “Whoever wishes to join me must be willing to labor with me.” At times that labor is neither pleasant nor easy. We hear that “His yoke is easy and His burden is light.” But sometimes it doesn’t seem that way at all.
A few days later Ignatius instructs the individual to meditate on the choice that confronts all who call themselves followers of Christ. It is called the Meditation of the Two Standards. Under which of two standards, banners or flags is one going to choose to live and die? That of Jesus, the Good King, or that of Satan, the evil spirit?
Just as we live under the flag of the United States—and just as many brave men and women choose to fight and sometimes die for that flag—we are given a choice to live and die under the flag of one King or the other. The standard of Satan or that of Christ, the bad king vs. the good and Eternal King.
The choice is stark. It is black and white. No one can have one foot in each camp. One’s loyalties cannot be split between the two. It is not a matter of following Jesus when it is convenient, or safe, or acceptable to one’s friends, and following Satan when it is more expedient, for business reasons, or to get ahead, or because it is cool. The choice is one or the other.
St. Ignatius did not create anything original with these two meditations in The Exercises. Throughout the coming Church year, as we hear the Gospel of Mark proclaimed, Jesus will give us that same choice many times in different ways. Do we follow Him, the Eternal King, or do we not?
We make resolutions and plans for our lives on New Year’s Eve. Today, on the Feast of Christ the King, the end of the church year, we have the opportunity to resolve whether or not to live and die under the banner of Christ the King. The King who is, who was, and always will be. The King whose death freed us from death.