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The Reign of Christ

By Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD

Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14               Psalm 93 Revelation 1.4b – 8           John 18.33-37

The liturgical year is a curious thing. We progress predictably from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter to Pentecost to what we now call “Ordinary Time.” And today is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time.

But before we called it Ordinary Time we called it the Trinity Season, and we numbered the Sundays after Trinity – as in the traditional versions of the Book of Common Prayer. After the liturgical renewal of the 60s and 70s we started calling this season – which is now ending – the Pentecost season and we numbered the Sundays after Pentecost. And then Ordinary Time got layered on top of that so now we don’t usually refer to Sundays after Pentecost so much as to “the Sunday of Proper whatever.” In fact it’s confusing to say, for instance, the tenth Sunday after Pentecost because that no longer has any relationship to the readings or the theme of the Sunday. And then on top of all that we have three iterations of this liturgical cycle, so it’s a bit different every three years.

I liked it when it was simpler, and when we numbered Sundays after Trinity, recognizing that the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost completed the Trinity of Creator, Saviour, and Spirit. The readings in this season are all about Jesus earthly ministry, so it was also good when we changed to numbering the Sundays after Pentecost because  it reminded us that Jesus’ ministry was directed by the Holy Spirit. But calling the season Ordinary Time seems to relegate it to a back seat in the church.

It might be better to go back to calling it just “the Green Season,” which is the nickname it had for centuries. But even that has been complicated by the fact that a Season of Creation has now been inserted into the Green Season – I guess you could call that the Really Green season or the Bright Green season.

One final comment – this feast which used to be called Christ the King is now more commonly called the Reign of Christ. I used to assume that was because we wanted to call it something gender neutral. But if it were only for that reason, we could call it Christ the Ruler, or Christ our Sovereign, as awkward as that sounds.

No, I think that the name change was a desire to give the feast a different focus. Christ the King or Christ the Ruler has to do with who Jesus is, as Saviour, as the Word made flesh, as the Sovereign ruler of the universe and also as friend and lover of humankind. It’s about who Jesus is for us, and by “us” I mean “all the people of the world” as that wonderful Holy Cross prayer from the Korean sisters says it. Christ the Ruler is the one to whom we owe our very being, and to whom we owe our love, obedience, and allegiance.

“The Reign of Christ” has a different connotation – less about a relationship and more about a way of living out the values of the gospel, about making a difference in the world, about being part of a force for good in the midst of much evil.

Both of these understandings are important, of course, and one implies the other. If we acknowledge Jesus as our Sovereign as well as our Saviour, then we are compelled to be involved in a concrete way in helping to build a better world here in this life and in this place. It also has Implications for the spiritual understanding of the Reign of God (“the kingdom of God is within you,” Jesus said). It means that the way we live, and the way we try to help others live, is critical, and grows out of that inner Kingdom of God or Reign of Christ.

In spite of the rather grand visions in today’s readings from Daniel and Revelation, the gospel today comes closer to what Jesus means by the kingship. Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answers Pilate:

“My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over the authorities. But as it is, my kingdom Is not from here. You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

So what, in concrete terms, does this feast mean for us, at this time of history, in November of 2021, at the end of Ordinary Time,  and on the Eve of Advent? What does it mean to celebrate Christ as Sovereign, here and now? I can only answer that question for myself, but maybe a few of these thoughts will resonate for you:

First, it means for me that that I am governed by a divine and loving ruler to whom I owe my very life but also with whom I am invited to be in relationship. This sovereign ruler does not live in a castle on the hill or in some mansion in the sky. This ruler reigns both in my heart, and in the midst of the community I belong to.

Second, it means for me that I consciously nurture that relationship through prayer.

Third, it means that the loving relationship I have with Christ my Sovereign must reach out to others, to share the love which shapes and gives meaning to my life, both in community and beyond.

Fourth, it means that I am a creature and need to recognize in humility my partnership with all of creation and the responsibility I have to nurture the life of the earth.

Finally, for me, it means that I need to take seriously and be faithful to my vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in the context of this community which orders my life – just as all people need to do in the context of whatever vows they make – baptism first, then marriage, or ordination, or other solemn promises.

In the end, what captures both the relationship with Christ the Sovereign and the vision of the Reign of God are these words we just sang from George Herbert:

Let all the world in every corner sing: my God and King!
The heavens are not too high, his praise may thither fly;
the earth is not too low, his praises there may grow.

Let all the world in every corner sing: my God and King!
Let all the world in every corner sing: my God and King!
The church with psalms must shout, no door can keep them out;
but above all, the heart must bear the longest part.
Let all the world in every corner sing: my God and King!