Christ the King
Then on the third at break of dawn
The Son of heaven rose again
O trampled death where is your sting?
The angels roar for Christ the King!
O Praise The Name, Hillsong Worship
I am new to the Anglican tradition. Growing up in a small Baptist church, my interactions with the Christian calendar were limited. Our church celebrated Christmas and Easter. We gathered around an Advent wreath, but we didn’t connect Christ’s incarnation to his present redemptive work. I am drawn to Anglicanism because it is grounded in the wisdom, teaching, and worship patterns of the historic Church.
My inexperience leads to unexpected discoveries. Innately assuming that every holy day has a long and storied past, I was surprised to learn the Feast of Christ the King was first celebrated in 1925. Pope Pius XI instituted the feast—officially entitled the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe—to honor Jesus as Lord over all creation. It is a magnification of the Feast of the Ascension (celebrated 40 days after Easter), recognizing the present rule of our risen Lord. This naturally leads to a question: Why did Pope Pius XI institute a feast that essentially already existed?
Historical context illuminates the purpose of Pius XI’s actions. In the prior decade, secular nationalist revolutions in Mexico and Russia weakened the Church’s influence in those nations. During the same year as the feast’s institution, the Scopes Monkey Trial captured American interest as the role of Christianity in public education was debated. The impact of the Great War still weighed heavily on humanity. The world’s social topography was changing, and Christians were looking for solid answers.
At the beginning of his papacy, Pius XI chose a motto: “The Peace of Christ in the Realm of Christ.” His choice illustrates the twin fears of Christians from that era: peace was elusive, and the church’s influence on society was shrinking. Nearly a century later, these fears remain. Our present reality is marred by sin and death. War, injustice, poverty, extremism, hatred—the effects of a fallen world cannot be overstated, nor can they be fully understood. It feels like the world is falling apart because it is falling apart. This is not the way life should be. There’s this deep desire inside each of us that the world can be better. That desire should prompt us to start asking questions: Why are we here? What’s my purpose? Why is there so much fear, hatred, and pain? Can we do anything about that?
Every person is searching for answers to these questions. As Christians, we believe that the answer to these questions is found in the person of Jesus Christ. He is our living hope. This hope is our inheritance through Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Death’s present reign is a mirage. Pius XI wanted to remind us that Christ has already won. He presently reigns as King of the Universe. The power of sin and death was broken upon the cross, and the eternal victory of Christ was secured in His resurrection. As Paul writes to Timothy, “but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 2. 10).
Recognizing Christ as King is liberating and empowering. Yet it is vitally important we do not abuse the liberty and empowerment of the gospel. The gospel is not a free ticket to heaven; it’s an invitation to partner with God in his redemptive work. When we recognize our identity as co-heirs with Christ, we also assume the responsibility of redeeming His creation. The gospel frees us for the mission, not from the mission.
The gospel empowers us to further His Kingdom. Yet we often attempt to craft this Kingdom in our own image rather than Christ’s. The peace and realm of Christ were established not through violent means but through the greatest example of sacrificial love. Philippians 2 reminds us that God highly exalted Christ as Lord because He humbled Himself to the point of death. The path of life is found not through government legislation or any earthly means but through the cross.
Christ the King Sunday is simultaneously a lament and a reminder. We lament a fallen world that is not yet fully redeemed. Yet we are called to remember the hope of the gospel’s restorative work. We are called to remember that Christ reigns as Lord and King of the Universe. And finally, we are called to join in the mission of God, restoring His good creation by spreading the hope and peace of the gospel: Christ is King!