Background to The Christ the King Sunday Reflection

You can read the entire Christ the King Sunday Reflection printed in the 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook here.

A year and a half ago when I responded to an email from a seminary friend who had gone off to work at the then mysterious Presbyterian Mission Agency about writing a piece for the Presbyterian Mission Yearbook, I had one thing in my mind: not Christ the King Sunday. Not Christ the King Sunday. Not Christ the King Sunday.

Then the email came back… Your day will be Reign of Christ/Christ the King Sunday.

Of course. Because this is how life, ministry, and writing go: sometimes you are confronted with the very thing you wanted to avoid.

My desire to avoid Christ the King Sunday was not trying to avoid talking about the sovereignty of God or the truly God-ness of Christ or any of the traditional topics preached on during that day. My desire to avoid Christ the King Sunday was liturgical.

The title of King can set God high above us and make us think that God doesn’t care or isn’t present. The title King can distance the incarnated Christ from us. To go from Christ the King Sunday where Christ is so often viewed as distant to the first Sunday in Advent the next week where we prepare for the incarnation of Christ was jarring for me for several years especially after my summer working as a hospital chaplain.

During that summer people all around me were in spiritual crisis. Many felt God was so far away that there was no way God could care about their suffering or the suffering of their loved one. I understood the role of chaplain as a Christian was to be the presence of Christ to those in crisis, to sit with the ones who dwell in darkness.

My understanding of Christ the King changed during that summer. You could say that my summer started at Palm Sunday with the vision of Christ as a triumphant king, but most of the summer was spent on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Christ the King was not a triumphant earthly king but instead was the suffering servant who lived, bled, and died with us.

My heart still breaks for the family I wrote about in the Mission Yearbook reflection. I know God’s heart still breaks as they continue to learn what it means to live without their loved one

That night I sat vigil at the ER nurses’ station for several hours. I spent my time wondering how Jesus felt when Joseph died and listening to the overworked and underpaid nurses. When the family finally left I stood up from where I had been sitting. Not to do anything but to acknowledge their presence. The teenage son who I had spoken with saw me and nodded at me, acknowledging my presence. I then took a deep breath and acknowledged God’s presence with the family as they walked out of the ER. Then a nurse kindly told me to go sleep in the on-call chaplain room.

Now there is no doubt in my mind why Christ the King Sunday is followed by the first Sunday in Advent. It is not that they liturgically balance each other out so that we focus on that God out there on Christ the King Sunday and the God who became incarnate in Advent. No, they both show the topsy-turviness of the Gospel. They both show the present of the Gospel and the not yet of the Gospel. They both show the Christ who is truly God and truly human.

The truth of the Gospel is that God sits with us and mourns with us. The scandal of the Gospel is that God dies with us. The power of the Gospel is that death does not define God. The hope of the Gospel is that death does not define us.

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