Father Nicholas Lang
Christ the King - The Last Sunday after Pentecost
Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King also called “The Reign of Christ.” It is the end of the church’s liturgical year. Next Sunday we begin a new church year and a new season, that of Advent. I think we don’t need to focus a lot today on the concept of “kingship” but rather to ask this important question: what kind of kingdom we are invited into as the people of God?
We find four key characteristics of that kingdom in the ministry of Jesus: Radical welcome, reconciliation, healing, and forgiveness. The Gospel today presents us with images of a dying Jesus, hanging on a cross, in pain and humiliation, yet welcoming a convicted felon into Paradise.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov once told this story: “There was once a prince who took ill and decided he was a turkey. Stripping off his clothes, he crouched naked under the royal table, refusing to eat anything but crumbs that had fallen to the ground. Many doctors were called to examine him, but none could help.
One day a wise man came to the king and said, “Let me live in your home that I might befriend your son. Be patient and I will make him well again.” Immediately, the wise man approached the royal table, stripped off his clothes, and sat down next to the prince. “Who are you?” demanded the king’s son. “I am your friend, a turkey like yourself,” the man replied. “I thought you might be lonely and decided to come and live with you for a while.”
As the weeks passed the “turkeys” grew accustomed to each other and soon became good friends. They ate crumbs, drank from tin plates, and discussed the advantages of being domesticated birds rather than humans.
One night, when the royal family was having dinner, the wise man signaled to the king, whose servants brought two silk robes and cautiously placed them under the table. The sage quickly donned one of the robes, and before the prince could utter a word, announced, “There are some dumb turkeys who are so insecure that they believe putting on a silk robe might endanger their identity.” The prince thought for a moment, nodded his head, and began to clothe himself.
A few days later, the wise man again signaled the king. Broiled beef, potatoes, and fresh green vegetables were placed on the floor near the sage. Looking quite pleased about the display, the wise man began to eat the food and exclaimed, “Absolutely delicious! It’s good to be a turkey sophisticated enough to enjoy the food of humans.” The prince readily agreed and hungrily shared the meal.
Eventually, the wise man called for some silverware and asked to be served from the palace’s best china. “After all,” he explained to the prince, “why shouldn’t intelligent turkeys want the best for themselves?”
Finally, after many months, the sage came and sat at the table. While eating and drinking with the royal family, he called down to the prince and said, “Come, join me. The food is the same, but the chairs make an appreciable difference. Besides, we turkeys have a lot to offer. Why should we restrict ourselves by remaining aloof? Certainly, our ideas can benefit the minds of men.” The king’s son came up and sat at the table. It was only a matter of time until he was cured.
On this Christ the King Sunday, the Jesus we find on the cross is not the deluded prince who was brought back to a life of normalcy, nor the king who helped facilitate the process, but the wise man who humbled himself and, in sharing another’s condition and plight, became the bridge to healing and wholeness—to redemption.
This is the kind of “king” we honor today, and this is the life and ethos of his kingdom—a place where we share one another’s struggle and condition and, by our willingness to welcome, stay in conversation, come to God’s table together with all our likenesses and our differences, become the instruments of each other’s healing and life transformation.
Writing in The Christian Century, Lutheran Pastor Mary W. Anderson, offers this reflection on the feast we celebrate today: “We are Christ’s people—we share the same Eucharistic foods, we share the same story of faith, we stake our lives on the same hopes.
Here at the end of the church year, after living through another cycle of hearing the story of Jesus’ life, of being taught by him in miracle and parable, we come to the coda of this hymn of praise.
After another year of living our lives, burying our dead, baptizing our babies, marrying and divorcing, struggling and thriving, we bring all of the year’s experiences to the climax of this day. We lay it all back at the feet of the one enthroned on the cross, giving thanks. It’s great to be a people ruled in love and mercy.”