Mass readings for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe:
2 Samuel 5.1-3 Ps. 122.1-5 Colossians 1.12-20 Luke 23.35-43
Every year at this celebration that marks the end of the Church Year we confess Christ as our king. In looking at my past homilies, the question I always return to is, “what does it mean to say Christ is our king?” And I also observe that kings today aren’t what they used to be and so, their authority, legal and moral, is not what it was in the past, and that makes it hard to understand what our tradition means when it speaks of kings. Yet we know that in the days of the prophets, in the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry and in medieval Christendom (and we think of that society as being completely Christian) there were bad kings, mediocre kings, good kings; and excellent kings.
It’s especially important this year to answer that question because at the masses this weekend we will have young people of the parish pledging themselves to be confirmed in the spring. They will be essentially saying that Christ is their king. To whom, to what are they pledging themselves?
And at our 11 a.m. mass, a parish family will be bringing forward their first born for baptism, confessing Christ to be their king, and promising to raise their daughter such that she will make that commitment to love and serve Jesus Christ as her king. Who is this that these parents are dedicating their child to? What is the substance of his kingship?
In the name of Christ our King the newly baptized this weekend, the newly confirmed in May, will be given certificates. These will have the pertinent names and dates typed in by our parish secretary, and it will have a brief message of welcoming into or affirming of a faith in God through Jesus Christ. These will be put in places of safekeeping; some will put them in “memory boxes” as a memento of childhood; and some will put them on file – you need these for Catholic schools; for parishes in the event of marriage. Some may even frame them to hang in the nursery, or to grace the wall of their child’s bedroom. Treasuring the document will see some of these treasures, as treasures are wont to do, become buried and lost amidst all those things that we accumulate. I tell parents at baptisms, “if you ever lose the certificate, call and we can replace it!”
So, however we may treat these documents, we all recognize them as bearing some important meaning; that it has something to do with who we are; who we are in relation to something greater than ourselves — so, we hang onto them.
There is in my parents’ home a similar sort of document that hangs in a prominent place. It’s a framed letter given to my grandfather from King George VI on Buckingham Palace stationary. That may seem impressive, but I must say a little more about it.
My grandfather was in the first contingent of Canadian soldiers to arrive in Britain during the Second World War. Dated December 17, 1939, it is a brief message of welcome from His Majesty bearing the signature “George R.I.” (Rex Imperator) and at the bottom of the page are my grandfather’s name, his rank and regiment.
As a document, as an artefact of the war, it is somewhat impressive. However, I’ve come to understand that it was essentially a form letter, printed off in the thousands. The signature was not from the king’s hand, but made by a machine. The information about my grandfather was added by one of many secretary typists employed by the palace.
It was a gesture from the king, and I don’t think we should dismiss that – His Majesty thought to offer his thanks to men who had come to serve, and many to die, in defense of Britain, Canada, and the Empire.
But really, it was something that was disposable, handed to my grandfather, and to thousands of others debarking from ships in Scotland, in the midst of a global conflagration – the world was catching fire and he was being given a piece of paper.
Yet my grandfather hung onto it through almost six years of war; through fire-fighting during the bombings of London, through vicious combat in Europe, through his convalescence after being badly wounded, through the journey home, he kept this scrap of paper. It meant something to him even as he knew it was not a personal handwritten note. I believe he kept it because it was from His Majesty, the King who had ordered this be given; and the King to him was more than a famous personality, a celebrity.
The King represented for him all that was best about the society and civilization my grandfather was a part of; we speak of King & Country – indeed, we have this recently recovered and restored memorial to those of this parish who served King & Country – and these are inseparable concepts. The King personifies the nation, gives to the idea of who we are as a people, a country, flesh and bones. He is to incarnate, in a sense, all that is best, noble, honourable of who we are collectively. Now, I realize that many who wear the crown, sit upon the throne, in their personal lives fall well short of being an example of the virtue and dignity that is the best of all of us, but we get the idea that the role is symbolic and hope the person who has that role strives to come close to truly personifying what is symbolized.
So, my grandfather, as with those on our restored memorial, understood themselves to be serving their communities, defending their country, by making a promise to a person, pledging themselves to their king. From a Catholic perspective, this is a profoundly sacramental act, even if my grandfather was a Baptist!
The difference in the pledge we make to Christ, in giving our loyalty, our obedience to Jesus as the ruler of our lives is that we don’t give it to someone who is a symbol that stands in the place of something bigger.
Jesus Christ, we confess, is the son of God. He is God. In his person are all the things of God, and when he was made man, he gave flesh and bones to all that is of God.
But unlike a mere human king who represents what we might call the virtues of his nation, its history, its noble traditions, what Jesus both represents and actually is, are Justice, Truth and Love.
And so, in pledging ourselves to Jesus Christ as King, we pledge ourselves to defend and to live lives that exemplify Justice, Truth and Love.
And these things are not matters of personal opinion; and we aren’t to believe someone who claims to be compassionate, caring, working for justice and the well-being of all just because they say so – look to their deeds, examine the logical consequences of their ideas, listen, think, and reflect upon the teachings of Christ: too many self-righteous people speak of justice and are cruel judges of others; and they are really about revenge rather than righteousness. There are those who mistake their biases and prejudices for being grounded in the truth – they lack the humility to recognize that no human being is fully possessed of the whole truth of things. And rather than live their lives out of the self-sacrificing love of Christ that seeks above all good for others, many pursue power over others, their neighbours, and yes, even their children in the name of love even as they bend them to their will to satisfy their own selfish wants and desires.
The promise and pledge we make is to remain in the ranks of Christ’s army of faithful disciples. And like that letter handed to my grandfather as he stepped ashore in the United Kingdom to serve, the certificates of baptism and confirmation that we have received or will receive, are reminders of what we have enlisted ourselves in; that we have debarked to serve the king, and to defend the Kingdom of God. And this requires discipline and training. We don’t do close-ordered drill here Sunday mornings, we don’t go on maneuvers during Holy Week, but we do learn in mind and heart, by Word and Sacrament, what we need to do to be faithful subjects of Christ our King, and defenders of what he represents.
In speaking with the grade sevens of our two schools I said it was very necessary for them to know what they were promising in their confirmation vows; they ought to know what, know who it is that they will pledge themselves to; that there was nothing more diminishing of the human person than to make an empty promise nor more tragic to fail in this because one didn’t understand what was being asked. Rather, we are to know, and if we know Christ, at least for me, I don’t know how anyone could possibly do anything other than pledge one’s life to him, to his kingdom, and to being with him in paradise forever.