December 5, 2020

Christ the King Sunday

Christ Enthroned, Lenz

By Chaplain Mike

Today is “The Feast of Christ the King” the final Sunday in the church year.

This feast of worship is not some relic from medieval times, when kings ruled the earth. No, “Christ the King” Sunday is one of most recent additions to the church calendar. It was introduced in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in the encyclical Quas Primas as an antidote to the rising secularism that he saw in the world. Europe was reeling from World War I, facing economic uncertainty, and witnessing the rise of dictators who were promising to make everything right. The Pope saw people of faith being taken in by the earthly philosophies and false promises of such leaders. Respect for Jesus as Lord and ruler of life was waning, and so Pope Pius instituted this feast with three hopes:

  1. That nations would see that the church is ruled by Christ, and thus has freedom and is immune from the state;
  2. That leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ;
  3. That the faithful would gain strength and courage as we allow Christ to reign fully in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies.

Jonathan Bennett wrote:

…a search of the New Testament for the word “king” yields some interesting results. The vast majority of the references to Jesus as king occur during the Passion narratives in the Gospels. Jesus’ kingship is proclaimed multiple times while he is on the cross. Although vindicated through his resurrection, the cross is still a primary defining point of Christ’s Kingship. The Son of God became human and died a horrible death on the cross to release his subjects from captivity. The King of the World, the Lord of Glory made this ultimate sacrifice out of his love for the world, a world constantly in rebellion against him. Christ’s kingship is not like a king with a jewel-encrusted crown in purple finery on a gold throne wielding an oppressive rod of iron. Rather, he is the crucified God with a crown of thorns hanging half naked on a cross of shame to set us free from our bondage.

Today’s Gospel
Sunday’s lectionary passage from the Gospel of Luke highlights this portrait of Jesus, the Crucified King.

When they came to the place called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there, and the two criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing.” They divided his clothes among themselves by throwing dice. The people stood there watching while the Jewish leaders made fun of him: “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah whom God has chosen!”

The soldiers also made fun of him: they came up to him and offered him cheap wine, and said, “Save yourself if you are the king of the Jews!” Above him were written these words: “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals hanging there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The other one, however, rebuked him, saying, “Don’t you fear God? You received the same sentence he did. Ours, however, is only right, because we are getting what we deserve for what we did; but he has done no wrong.” And he said to Jesus, “Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King!” Jesus said to him, “I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me.” (Luke 23:33-43, GNT)

Here we see Jesus the misunderstood King, the rejected and mocked Messiah. He came to the Jewish people as their promised Ruler, the Son of David and Son of God (Psalm 2). Though he came to his own, his own did not receive him.

We also see Jesus rejected by the wider world. The Gentiles, who paid homage to Caesar, despised Jesus as a pitiful pretender, a low-level troublemaker in an obscure corner of the Empire that they could simply laugh off and exterminate.

Finally, we see the reaction to Christ boiled down to its most basic essence, as two individuals (one crucified on either side of Jesus) are confronted with how they will respond to him. One bitterly insults him. The other appeals to his Kingly mercy. One spouts cynical contempt toward Jesus, the other recognizes his royal character. One receives a verdict of silence from the bloody throne, the other a promise of Paradise.

David Thiede summarizes today’s message: “‘Christ the King’ Sunday concludes the year of Luke with a final luminous testimony to how Jesus is God’s way of ruling in this world and in the world to come.”

Jesus, God’s way of ruling the world—I like that. Jesus the King reigns from a Cross. He gives life by dying. He provides the Peaceable Kingdom by submitting to a encircling pack of snarling wolves. Strange throne. Strange King. Strange way to life. Yet this is God’s way of ruling the world—Christ the Crucified King.

Collect for the Day (Book of Common Prayer)

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


  1. A poem, written by George Herbert (1593-1633), a Welsh poet, orator and Anglican priest. For your prayers and meditation on this day of Christ the King.


    King of glory, King of peace,
    I will love thee;
    and that love may never cease,
    I will move thee.
    Thou hast granted my request,
    thou hast heard me;
    thou didst note my working breast,
    thou hast spared me.

    Wherefore with my utmost art
    I will sing thee,
    and the cream of all my heart
    I will bring thee.
    Though my sins against me cried,
    thou didst clear me;
    and alone, when they replied,
    thou didst hear me.

    Seven whole days, not one in seven,
    I will praise thee;
    in my heart, though not in heaven,
    I can raise thee.
    Small it is, in this poor sort
    to enroll thee:
    e’en eternity’s too short
    to extol thee.

    Words: George Herbert, 1633
    General Seminary, by David Charles Walker (b. 1938) in The Hymnal 1982 (Episcopal)
    Meter: 74 74 D


    About George Herbert (1593-1633), a Welsh poet, orator and Anglican priest:

  2. All honor and glory to Jesus, the Christ, our King.

  3. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    Our parish, Christ our King Anglican Church, usually has our church picnic on Christ the King Sunday. We definitely consider it one of our favorite feast days 🙂

  4. Just been to the anglican parish in my home town (I am very fortunate to have one since I live in the Netherlands).

    The curate, a deacon who works with Shell in The Hague did the service of evening prayer and had a very touching sermon on today’s gospel reading.

    The gist of which was: now we can only see that Christ is King with the eyes of faith just like the good criminal next to Jesus on Golgotha.
    At his Second Coming ALL will see Christ as King…
    What a strange Kingdom is his where God made man rules from a cross! Impossible to get used to isn’t it.

  5. So, I kinda feel stupid asking this, but what kind of resources are available to people who don’t go to churches that use a liturgical calendar? I’m a non-denominational evangelical/Baptist type but I was really impressed by iMonk’s ancient-future series as well as this one on the liturgical calendar. I want to see what it’s all about but I don’t know where to go to get the actual material.

  6. Via The Anchoress, this quote from Pope Benedict XVI on this feast:

    “Jesus of Nazareth… is so intrinsically king that the title “King” has actually become his name. By calling ourselves Christians, we label ourselves as followers of the king… God did not intend Israel to have a kingdom. The kingdom was a result of Israel’s rebellion against God… The law was to be Israel’s king, and, through the law, God himself… God yielded to Israel’s obstinacy and so devised a new kind of kingship for them. The King is Jesus; in him God entered humanity and espoused it to himself. This is the usual form of the divine activity in relation to mankind. God does not have a fixed plan that he must carry out; on the contrary, he has many different ways of finding man and even of turning his wrong ways into right ways… The feast of Christ the King is therefore not a feast of those who are subjugated, but a feast of those who know that they are in the hands of the one who writes straight on crooked lines.”

  7. I have learned so much from these posts. Also am reading a book, Christianity, the first 3000 yrs. by D, MacCulloch, an Anglican professor. He ties in the millineum before Christ as well. I grew up in a church that believed that pre Luther and pre the 1800s enlightenment nothing good existed. What a narrow view! The Christian church has been full of sinners from the appostle’s time and penticost to the present, so mistakes were made, but Jesus’s message has endured. I am not a Catholic, but all protestants owe the Catholic church a huge debt for keeping the faith alive.

  8. A good read, in relation to Quas Primas and Christ the King Sunday, might be the book Lord of the World (by Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson – the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, an Anglican priest himself…and eventually a Catholic Monsignor). It’s an apocalyptic novel, written around 1910, that takes up as it’s major themes the same concerns Pius XI had. And…it’s just a really good read. 🙂

  9. I wonder how Pope Pius XI would react to our world in 2010?

    Not being Catholic, I think he would be as shocked as many of my Catholic friends are regarding the continued increase of secularism in America and around the world.

    In many ways, we are like the post WWI world, particularly in the area of spiritual darkness and economic uncertainty.

    How many are being taken in by “earthly philosophies?” Respect for Jesus as Lord and ruler of life waning just as it was then.

    I am a Protestant for a reason, but I think the three points that the Pope was making then are SO valid now.

    All praise be to Christ our King!