And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:23
It is difficult for us, as Americans, to understand what it means to live in a monarchy. We live in a democratic republic, where we elect representatives to make laws for us. If we are unhappy with the job they are doing, we can vote them out and replace them with new representatives. Even our principal interaction with a monarchy is a constitutional monarchy, where Queen Elizabeth is merely a symbol of national power, with the actual governance left up to a democratically elected parliament, with its prime minister and cabinet. Her role as queen is largely reduced to waving to crowds and cutting ribbons and being saddened by the scandals of her offspring.
It’s interesting that, although the concept of Christ’s kingship is a biblical one, the feast itself was only instituted in 1925 by Pius XI to be observed on the last Sunday of October, as a way of trying to reassert the Roman denomination’s secular political power against a rising tide of secularism and nationalism. Given the atrocities that have been committed in the name of Christ by those denominations which have been established as “state churches”, I find myself rooting for the secularists this feast was instituted to oppose. The political power amassed by the churches is in stark contrast to the life of Jesus, born in a stable, who ate and drank with outcasts, and who was executed as a common criminal.
Nonetheless, as the church, we must acknowledge Jesus Christ as our King. And he is not a constitutional monarch who is content to cut ribbons and wave to crowds (although he undoubtedly shakes his head over the actions of many Christians as Queen Elizabeth does over the actions of her children and grandchildren). He is an absolute monarch whose authority over the church is so complete that the church is described as his “body”. We, as the church, are to carry out his commands as seamlessly as our hands do what our brains tell it to.
But what does that actually mean in practice?
Jesus Christ, in everything he did while on earth, acted in full union with God’s purposes on earth. God created the universe, and us, as an expression of God’s love. We sinned, and fell short of that expression. God acted in revelation to the people of Israel, giving the Torah at Sinai and speaking through the prophets. We, as Christians, believe that the fullness of revelation occurred in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, revealing to us God’s love. God acted to redeem us. God redeemed the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and as Christians, we believe that Christ’s death and resurrection redeems all of humanity from the slavery of sin. Forty days after his resurrection, Christ ascended into heaven, leaving us to carry out his mission on earth. On the day of Pentecost, the church was born, being given the gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s presence on earth, to empower us to carry out that mission.
And the mission is the same – to honor God’s creation, to act in such a way that our lives also serve as revelation of God – that God becomes known through us, and that we bring others to the redeeming love and power found in Christ, reconciling them with God, humanity, and all of creation. Anything we do that participates in this mission is in accordance with the Kingship of Christ. Anything that does not carry out that mission is extraneous and is an act of rebellion against the Kingship of Christ.
St. Augustine wrote, in his Rule, that “pride lurks even in good works in order to destroy them”. The regular activities of the church – that which we are called to do – can be carried out in such a way as to glorify Christ and further his kingdom on earth, or they can be distorted and come to harm the cause of Christ.
We gather for worship to offer our prayers, to hear the Word of God in scripture, and to share in the Body and Blood of Christ. Both the Word and the Sacrament are meant to transform us so that we are empowered to do Christ’s work in the world. But if we come to worship, not looking for transformation, but merely for comfort and to feel good about ourselves, we risk turning worship into idolatry, with ourselves as the object of worship rather than God.
We are also called to be a community – but, again, the purpose of community is transformation and service. If we engage with our church community merely to meet our social needs and not to be transformed into citizens of the kingdom of heaven, then we become a social club rather than the body of Christ.
As this church year draws to a close, and we prepare to begin a new year next Sunday on the First Sunday of Advent, let us take time to reflect on our lives, as Christians and as the church, and offer ourselves anew to Christ our King. We give thanks for those ways we have been faithful, and we ask for grace to repent of the areas in which we have fallen short.
Lord God, deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in Christ’s name. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our great High Priest. Amen. (Adapted from Eucharistic Prayer C, Holy Eucharist Rite II, 1979 Book of Common Prayer)