The feast of Christ the Eternal King was introduced through the encyclical Quas Primas – (“In the first”) of Pope Pius XI on December 11, 1925. One main purpose of the encyclical was to communicate hope to a world which seemed to be giving into despair. Another purpose was to give the world a whole new idea of kingship, dominion and authority. There could be no better model of kingship which the Church could put before the world than Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the servant king.
This feast is celebrated every year on the last Sunday in Ordinary time. It brings to a close the Ordinary time of the liturgical year and it begins the preparation for Advent and the coming of the redeemer child at Christmas.
The readings for today all speak of Kingship. The first reading tells of the kingship of David who had been anointed king over
The kingdom that God established in David promised newness. The shape of power in this kingdom will be governed by shepherding and covenant making.
The Gospel text of today brings out this truth powerfully. Through the irony of the taunts of the leaders and soldiers, Luke highlights both Jesus’ real identity and the true meaning of his death. The leaders and soldiers think that they are ridiculing Jesus. They think that they are making fun of him. However, even as they do this, they are unaware that this is exactly the kind of king that he has come to be. Just as Jesus had taught that those who lose their lives for his sake would save them, so now he is willing to lose his life so that all might be saved. Jesus’ death did not contradict the Christological claims; it confirmed them. For him to have saved himself would have been a denial of his salvific role in the purposes of God. Both what is said and what is done at the cross, therefore, confirm the truth about the one who is crucified: He is the Christ, the King of the Jews, the Saviour of the World.
This salvation that Jesus effected on the Cross is made even more visible and more tangible in the response of Jesus to those crucified with him. Though rebuked by one of the thieves, Jesus does not react negatively. He is willing to accept even this taunt. The pronouncement that Jesus makes to the thief who asks for remembrance is solemn. It is the last of the six “Amen” sayings in Luke and the only one addressed to a person. It is also the last of the “Today” pronouncements. That “Amen” and “Today” have been used together is an indication that the pronouncement is emphatic and that there is to be no delay. What Jesus promises will happen now.
The salvation pronounced to one of the thieves on the Cross is also the salvation being pronounced to each of us who are willing to receive it. This is because, through his passion and death, Jesus has rescued us, as the letter to the Colossians points out. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and sin. He has transferred us into the kingdom of light and all that is good. It is therefore, in the visible image of Jesus Christ that we can comprehend who God is and what God wants to do for each of us. God wants the whole of creation to be reconciled in Jesus. God wants all of creation to be saved in the shepherd and self-sacrificing king.
As we come to the close of another liturgical year, and as we prepare to welcome Christ our eternal king, we need to realize that our king can come only if we are willing to open our hearts and minds wide to receive him. We can do this by removing from our minds and hearts anything that will prevent us from receiving and accepting him. We can do this by removing selfishness and self-centeredness that makes us seek only our own good rather than the good of others. We can do this by reaching out in love and forgiveness as he did, even when on the Cross. Will we ready our minds and hearts to receive our King?