The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King (Proper 29), Year C.
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers– all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.Colossians 1:11-20
“may you be prepared to endure everything with patience…” These words from Colossians could not come at a more appropriate time, as we are about to enter into a difficult political season. Now, I know that you’re thinking, “what’s he talking about? The elections are over! General Convention is over, Diocesan Convention is over! Even the endless campaign cycle for 2024 hasn’t properly started up yet! This is the first time in months that we’ve had a break from debates, donation requests, and attack ads! Can’t we for once, for like five minutes, take a break from politics?”
If only we could.
Sure, the signs on the side of the road are coming down, the ballots have been tallied, and even the online debates have cooled off, but as a nation we are about face our greatest political turmoil yet: Thanksgiving dinner with the family.
“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from [God’s] glorious power”, because in a few days you’re going to be gathered together with friends and family, just trying to have a nice time, until someone says something political. Then someone’s going to have to respond. Then someone else will try to change the subject just to move on but they will be ignored because another counterpoint has been raised. Things will either continue to spiral until someone is genuinely offended, or everyone will just stop talking because it’s just not worth the trouble. The pumpkin pie will be eaten in awkward silence, and everyone will quietly wish that for just once, we could have a break from politics.
With that immanent political turmoil to look forward to, what better time to get all political in church by celebrating Christ the King Sunday!
On this final Sunday of the church year, we are called to reflect on our politics, and be reminded that for all the ideologies, parties, and campaigning, there is only one true King.
Christ the King Sunday is a bit odd as far as church calendar goes, existing somewhere between a lesser holiday, a non-holiday, and a major celebration. Strictly speaking, it’s not officially on the church calendar as a feast day, but because it is so beloved, because church politics got involved, a compromise was struck, so this Sunday has been given a name that only a committee could love: “The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King”.
Christ the King Sunday is actually one of the newest popular holidays in the Church, it’s not even 100 years old. In 1925 Pope Pious XI declared that the last Sunday of the church year would be dedicated to honoring Christ’s Kingship. Why would he declare such a holiday? Politics of course! Pious XI was deeply concerned about the increasing political division and ultra-nationalism in the world, and it’s easy to see why he was so concerned. At that time, the world was still reeling from the first world war. Centuries-old Empires were falling left and right; the Ottoman empire had collapsed as did the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Russian empire had fallen and had just completed a horrific civil war. Ultra-nationalism and fascism were beginning to gain a foothold in Italy and Germany. And of course, there was another political reason that Pious XI would want to remind the world of Christ’s kingship, as the Pope had been fighting with the King of Italy over huge swaths of land owned by the church, known as the Papal States, since the 1870s! This smoldering political fight, often called “the Roman question”, would not be resolved until Pious XI and the King of Italy signed a treaty in 1929, where the Pope finally gave up the land, but was given Vatican City as an independent nation. Establishing Christ the King Sunday in 1925 for all its spiritual nature, was at the same time a small jab and point of leverage by the Vatican against a very real earthly king.
Hearing the political origins of the celebration can lead one to wonder why on earth Christ the King Sunday would be such a popular holiday, especially among us Protestants. It can feel like it is just another example of how politics worms its corrupting ways into everything, and the overwhelming frustration that of all places, with all our sordid history and current divisions, why would the Church to dedicate a Sunday to celebrating politics?
We celebrate politics in the Church for the same reason we celebrate anything else in church, the Good News that in Christ, we have been redeemed: even our politics. For as much as we lament that politics seems to make its way into everything these days, the truth is that it’s always been this way. Because no matter how much we want to believe otherwise, politics isn’t pundits on tv or newspapers, it isn’t party affiliation, fiscal policy, or philosophy of government. Politics has always been and always will be people. People with values, fears, needs, and dreams, all living together in God’s glorious creation.
As Aristotle famously put it, man is “a political animal”, and that to a degree, our very humanity comes from our politics. Our language, our morals, our politics, all coming from negotiating how to live together. In Christian terms, when two or three are gathered, there will be politics. And at the same time, as Jesus tells us, “when two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” [Matthew 18:20]. For as much as we are frustrated by politics, like so many things, politics are not the problem. The problem is when we remember the politics but forget the people.
When we forget the people that make up the politics, when we exalt false kings and ideologies over our love for our neighbor, that is when we give ourselves over to sin. There is only one King who rules righteously over the earth, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ. For as much as we love our parties and ideologies, we are only obligated to our King and our fellow citizens: in other words, our undying loyalty is given to loving God and our neighbors. That is what we celebrate on Christ the King Sunday; that in Christ’s Kingdom of love, we who are divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under His most gracious rule.
How then can you be prepared to endure everything with patience at your next family dinner? Don’t be afraid to get political. Smile, shake hands, negotiate, make deals, stand up for what you think is right, and find a way to live together and be together fully, that’s what politics is, that’s what it means to be human. But in all these things never forget the people in the politics, because you never change someone’s perspective by stunning political philosophy or clever comebacks, but by listening to what they need, working with them, most importantly, no matter how frustrating their beliefs, loving them as God does.
Years ago, I served in a parish that was full of diverse, active, and passionate political opinions. I remember one day a member came to me deeply upset and troubled by something that had come up on the news. Truth be told, I don’t remember exactly what it was that troubled her, I think it had something to do with “political correctness”. But I do remember her being exhausted and lamenting to me, “Why do they have to be so angry all the time?” I thought about what she said for a moment, and suddenly it dawned on me. I said to her, “You know, if I felt that my voice had been silenced for a thousand years, and this was the first time I could honestly speak and be heard, I would be angry too.” I watched the frustration leave her, and somewhat surprised she said to me, “I never thought of it like that”. There was no guilt, no judgement, no grand philosophy, no clever argument. Just two people remembering that we are all citizens of Christ’s Kingdom. Amen.
 Aristotle. Politics. Book I, Section 1253a