Tag Archives: Christ the King Sunday

Christ the King Sunday (November 24, 2019) in Year C

It is the cosmic vulnerability that we have to honor if we want to worship the true king, the Cosmic Christ. – Leah Schade reflects on the readings for Christ the King Sunday.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary

Readings for Christ the King Sunday (Last Sunday after Pentecost), Year C (2013, 2016, 2019, 2022)

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

Christ the King Sunday has always been a difficult holy day for me to appreciate. I have never been comfortable with the kind of language we use on this day. There is something about using words like “throne,” “scepter,” “footstool,” and “exalted” that strike me as being very patristic and hierarchical. I have learned that I am not the only one who struggles with this kind of imagery. One of my Confirmation students once asked a question in her sermon outline: “If God is our King and reigns over us, could he ever take over or become a dictator? Does God control us?”

What a big question from a 7th grader! Even our children are sensitive to the patriarchal baggage in our liturgical language. Just consider this word “Lord” we use. It comes from the English feudal system, “lording over” someone—it’s a loaded word that carries with it a lot of negative baggage. But the Greek word for “lord” is kyrios, and refers to something much bigger than an earthly kingdom. The passage from Colossians is a statement of faith that God is the lord over the entire universe.

The Cosmic Christ archetype in all its fullness and diversity is about the mystery of life, death and resurrection in the universe. And Christians are not the only ones who have this motif. The wisdom traditions of other faiths have similar archetypes: the Buddha nature, the Jewish Messiah, the Tao, the Dance of Shiva. Not that there aren’t distinctions between these concepts, nor should we collapse them into one Christianized conglomerate of mystery.

Rather, as the mystic Meister Eckhardt said, God is a great underground river of flowing, rushing, living water of wisdom that no one can stop and no one can dam up. There are wells going down to that river. There is a Buddhist well, a Native American well, a Wiccan well, a Muslim well, a Christian well. We have to be willing to go down into that well, make the journey, descend into the depths, and use the mystic tradition within our context to get us to that River of Wisdom common to all traditions. As Thomas Aquinas says, “All truth, whoever utters it, comes from the Holy Spirit.”

And this is all fine and good, but it still does not address the young student’s original question—what is to keep this Divine Power from becoming abusive, dominating, all-consuming. This is where the Cosmic Christ archetype becomes so important—because the Cosmic Christ is not just about Divine Glory. It is about suffering as well. Jesus says that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit those who are sick and in prison, we are doing this to him! He is directly identifying with the brokenness and vulnerability of this world, of our human society. So the Cosmic Christ is not just about the light in all things, it is about the wounds in all things, says Matthew Fox.

It is important to help people understand that coming to church and being a Christian is not just about being comforted and pious. It is about encountering the Cosmic Christ in those places where injustice is happening, in those places where domination and death are happening. When the soldiers mock Jesus, demanding, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” they are alluding to the question that all the powers and principalities are asking. It’s the question we’re all asking. We want to know—who is lord of the universe? Is it the land developers and the corporate executives? They are certainly acting like they are. Is it the military machine or the heads of Wall Street? We certainly act like they are.

But what Jeremiah is saying is that, no—the Shepherd is the one who looks out for and protects those most vulnerable. Sheep are some of the most vulnerable animals, which is why they are so often used as a symbol for the nation of Israel. And it is always the vulnerable sheep who are slain by imperialism, by war, by domestic abuse, by any form of arrogance and domination. It is always the lambs, those most vulnerable, who suffer when some other entity or person take it upon themselves to say that they are the ruler of the universe. It is the sheep we have to guard and protect in ourselves—it is the cosmic vulnerability that we have to honor if we want to worship the true king, the Cosmic Christ.

That’s why we cannot sing about the “feast of victory for our God,” without also remembering that at Good Friday, we sing about the “sacred head now wounded.” The crucifixion story is about how Christ became yet another victim of state-sanctioned murder, and the sun became dark and the whole earth shook. It is a cosmic experience! The temple curtain is rent in two. It is an ancient Jewish teaching that when a just person is killed unjustly, the whole earth trembles. Expanding the concept of “person” to our Earth-kin, when another species becomes extinct, the whole universe is rent in two. When a woman is raped in a refugee camp, the whole universe shudders. When a child is shot on the streets of Philadelphia, the entire cosmos shakes. God suffers and dies every time another crucifixion happens in our world.

But after the dust settles and the gravestone is in place, and the only sound is the weeping in the garden we recall the words of Psalm 46:10—“Be still and know that I am God.” In the midst of suffering, that is when the Risen Christ appears. Notice that after the resurrection, no one says, “we have seen Jesus.” They say, “We have seen the Lord.” The Lord has risen. The Cosmic Christ is very much alive and gathers in all those who have suffered and died as well, including the woman in the refugee camp, the child in Philadelphia, and the last bird of the species.

Christ the King Sunday is truly Cosmic Christ Sunday. The birth of the Earth; the suffering of Earth; the renewal and resurrection of Earth all happen within and through the Cosmic Christ—this radiant, vulnerable, suffering, resurrected one. The Cosmic Christ is who we trust, the One who we worship.

For additional care for creation reflections on the overall themes of the lectionary lessons for the month by Trisha K Tull, Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and columnist for The Working Preacher, visit: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?author_id=288

Christ the King Sunday, Year B (Ormseth)

The priesthood of all believers means that we are “priests” of all creation.

By Dennis Ormseth

Reading for Series B: 2011-2012

Christ the King Sunday in Year B

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

Psalm 93

Revelation 1:4b-8

John 18:33-37

The long awaited king comes “with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail” (Revelation 1:7). With the texts for the Festival Sunday of Christ the King, the church hears a summation of the gospel of the lectionary narrative of Year B, and a matching mandate for its life under his kingship. Summation and mandate together bring our reflections on care of creation in Year B to an appropriate conclusion with reflections on the nature of Christ’s dominion and the human vocation.

The texts celebrate the “kingship” of Christ as “not from this world” (John 18:36). His kingship is instead a gift from “the Ancient One” (Daniel 7:13-14), the “Alpha and the Omega,” “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:4, 8), source and goal of all that is. But if Christ’s kingdom is not “from this world,” we nonetheless celebrate his kingship as belonging within the world: all the nations of the earth do wail on his account; while “coming with the clouds of heaven,” we read that he is “like a human being,” and he is given “dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (Daniel 7:14); and even the non-human creation, represented here by the seas that symbolize the subdued powers of chaos, join in the praise of the Lord who “has established the world; it shall never be moved” (Psalm 93:1-4). If his kingship is celebrated as eternal—worthy of “glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 1:6), it is also universal, that is to say, inclusive of all things in creation, with respect to both time and space (cf. Colossians 1:19).

Key here for our consideration of care of creation, of course, is the characterization of the nature of this “dominion.” That this concept, much discussed in the context of the environmental crisis, does not legitimize “domination” by those who belong to the kingdom over either the human community or the environment, is an assertion we have had repeated occasion to argue in the course of this series of comments in both year A and year B (See especially the comment on the texts for Name of Jesus Sunday). Christ’s is not a kingship which like those “from this world” can be gained or retained by violence; if it were, Jesus says, “my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews” (John 18:36). If this “one like a human being” (Daniel 7:13) is “the ruler of the kings of the earth,” as the author of the Revelation to John reminds us, he is also “faithful witness” and “the first born of the dead,” three phrases that with remarkable economy, as Frank Senn notes, “extoll and proclaim . . . his earthly mission and heavenly minisry” (i.e. his “death, resurrection, and ascension”) (Frank C. Senn, “Christ the King,” New Proclamation Year B, 2000. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000, p. 259). Moreover, his work of love, the text from Revelation reminds us, is to free us “from our sins by his blood,” a clear reference to his death on the cross that recalls the sacrificial image with which we have been constantly engaged in the texts of the lectionary here at the end of the year. Jesus has dominion as king, readers of this series of comments will acknowledge, precisely because he is also the high priest who gave his own blood in the sanctuary of the cosmos, in order to open up the way for us through his body into the very presence of God.

This is of decisive import with respect to God’s love of creation and our care of it: as we concluded in our comment on the readings for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, in the words of Norman Wirzba, “On the cross Jesus encountered the alienating and violent death of this world and transformed it into the self-offering death that leads to resurrection life . . . . In light of his death and resurrection, creation can be seen as an immense altar upon which the incomprehensible, self-offering love of God is daily made manifest” (see our comment on the readings for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost; the quotation is from Wirzba, Food and Faith, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011, p. 125). Futhermore, it is of utmost interest with respect to our role in the care of creation that the author of the Revelation chooses to describe the benefit of Christ’s work for us in terms of priesthood: he has “made us to be a kingdom,” we read, “priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 1:6). Our role in the kingdom—our membership in it—is in the first instance to be understood as one of exercizing priesthood, which leads us into a discussion of the second grand theme concerning care of creation, namely, definition of the role of the human in creation. (Again we can refer our reader to earlier comments, most recently the one for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost).

In our comments on the lectionary for Year A, we showed that an understanding of Jesus as servant of creation correlates with an understanding of the role of humans as servants of creation. We, like he, serve God by serving God’s beloved Earth. Similarly here in Year B, as we have followed to its conclusion the narrative of Jesus’ displacement of the Jerusalem temple as locus where God is present in the world, we have seen the great importance of interpreting his work in terms of the role of high priest; it seems entirely appropriate, accordingly, that in the last set of texts for Year B the image of the priest should also capture the implications of Jesus’ role for our role in relationship to creation. What does it mean, precisely, to consider the human being as priest of creation? And how might that understanding benefit the creation?

Translating the role of the priest in ancient Israel into Christian idiom, Norman Wirzba describes the role of the priest in terms of the “lifting up” of the gifts of bread and wine to God in the Christian Eucharist. As Wirzba writes, following the thought of Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas, the priestly role is . . .

to ‘lift our hearts’ to the place of heaven so that heavenly life can transform life on earth here and now. Heaven is not a far-away place but rather the transformation of every place so that the glory and grace of God are fully evident. When in priestly motion we lift our hearts to God, what we are really doing is giving ourselves and the whole world to the new creation, the ‘new heaven and earth’ (Rev. 21:1), so that our interdependent need can be appreciated as a blessing. As priests we begin to see creation as an altar of God’s offering. The altar becomes the inspiration for our offering of the world and ourselves (Wirzba, p. 206).

Moreover, in exercizing this priestly role, the faithful human being extends the reconciling work of Christ in relationship to all creation. “From the beginning, but also to its end,” in this view, “all creation is the expression of a divine intent that all creatures be whole and at peace, enjoying the Sabbath delight that marks God’s attachment to the world.” This intent is frustrated by humankind’s propensity for “making itself rather than God the center of desire and action. People have used their freedom to manipulate the world to serve their own ends rather than glorify God.” Wirzba sums up the consequences for creation this way: “We prefer to take the world, possess it, and consume it. What we do not realize is that this hoarding gesture, a gesture often founded upon a deep insecurity and anxiety within us, compromises and degrades the giving of God that is the life of the world” (Wirzba, p. 209).

Zizioulas further illumines the understanding of the human being as priest by contrasting it to the more common understanding of the human vocation as stewards of creation. The concept of the steward, he insists, is “managerial,” or “economic”— ‘the idea of arranging things according to and for the sake of expediency.” In the concept of the priest, on the other hand, the human being is related to nature not functionally, as the idea of stewardship would suggest, but ontologically: by being the steward of creation the human being relates to nature by what he [sic] does, whereas by being the priest of creation he relates to nature by what he [sic] is. The implications of this distinction are very signficant. In the case of stewardship our attitude to nature is determined by ethics and morality: if we destroy nature we disobey and transgress a certain law, we become immoral and unethical. In the case of priesthood, in destroying nature we simply cease to be, the consequences of ecological sin are not moral but existential. Ecology is in this way a matter of our esse, not of our bene esse. Our ecological concern becomes in this way far more powerful and efficient than in employing the model of stewardship (John D. Zizioulas, The Eucharistic Communion and the World, ed. by Luke Ben Tallon. London: T & T Clark, 2011, p. 139).

This is highly significant, Zizioulas insists, because the ecological crisis is . . .

due not so much to a wrong ethic as to a bad ethos; it is a cultural problem. In our Western culture we did everything to de-sacralise life, to fill our societies with legislators, moralist and thinkers, and undermined the fact that the human being is also, or rather primarily, a liturgical being, faced from the moment of birth with a world that he or she must treat either as a sacred gift or as raw material for exploitation and use.

An entire reorientation of culture to creation accompanies the commitment to priestly action: “As priests rather than stewards we embrace nature instead of managing it, and although this may sound romantic and sentimental, its deeper meaning is . . . ontological, since this ‘embracing’ of nature amounts to our very being, to our existence” (Zizioulas, p. 140).

Finally, from this perspective, an understanding of the role of the human being as priest of creation supports the careful development of creation beyond what it is naturally. Protection of nature, in Zizioulas view, should not be to be contrary to the development of nature, as it often is in much conservationist understanding. As priest of creation, the human being transforms the material world he takes in his hand . . .

into something better than what it is naturally. Nature must be improved through human intervention; it is not to be preserved as it is. In the Eucharist we do not offer to God simply grain or wheat and grapes, but bread and wine, that is, natural elements developed and transformed through the human labour, in our hands. Ecology is not preservation but development (Zizioulas, p. 140).

How does this differ from the human transformation of nature characteristic of the domination of creation by its human “proprietors”? In a priestly approach to nature, the purpose served by development is not primarily or exclusively the satisfaction of human needs, but rather because nature itself stands in need of development through us in order to fulfil its own being and acquire a meaning which it would not otherwise have. In other words, there is a development of nature which treats it as raw material for production and distribution, and there is a development which treats nature as an entity that must be developed for its own sake. In the latter case, although the human being is not passive, simply preserving or sustaining nature, he is developing nature with respect for its, and not his, interests, taking care of its fragility and its “groaning in travail,” to remember Saint Paul’s moving expression in Roman 8 (Zizioulas, p. 140).

In the Lutheran tradition, the priesthood of all believers has come to mean the inclusion and democratization of all members of Christ’s church in proclamation of the gospel, over against the elevation of the professional clergy. The Reformation protest against the Roman practice of sacrifice in the mass, on the other hand, has precluded fuller appreciation of this role for the Christian believer. With the revisioning of the meaning of sacrifice we have developed in this series of comments, it should be possible to enlist the concept not only for the restoration of creation, but also for the fulfillment of creation.

For care for creation reflections on the overall themes of the lectionary lessons for the month by Trisha K Tull, Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and columnist for The Working Preacher, visit: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?author_id=288