My feelings about the feast of Christ the King are somewhat ambivalent. It is a relatively recent feast day on the church’s calendar. It is more properly oriented toward the European branches of the church, a people who are used to the idea of kings and queens and who at least as a romantic tradition, still cling to the idea as a remnant of their political inheritance. As Americans we are more accustomed to the idea of kingship as reported in the tabloids. For us, kings and queens are the subject of financial extravagance, highly publicized divorces and irresponsible social extravagances.
What then can we say about the feast of Christ the King. It should be remarked that when we celebrate such a feast day it is not for the sake of Christ. He knows, as he acknowledged to Pontius Pilate, that he is a king. In the biblical metaphor, he is seated at the right hand of the father, he is the judge of nations, he is the fulfillment of all creation. All things are under his feet and the heavens and the earth are filled with his glory. He does not need a feast day so that we can tell him these things. Why then do we celebrate the feast of Christ the King? The answer to that can be found only in ourselves. In some way or other by our acknowledgment of Christ the King we are confessing to our own place in his kingdom. European royalty often refer to one another as cousins. This is because there is such frequent intermarriage that often they are all blood cousins of one another. Our relationship with Christ is stronger and more intimate than that of cousin. It is one of identity.
If I may digress for a moment, I would like to share with you several experiences that I have had in relation to royal kingship. Many years ago I was traveling on a 30 day Eurail pass. I had been on the train for almost 2 days going from Austria to Denmark. I was tired, and poorly dressed. The train stopped at Copenhagen just a block or two away from the hotel where I had made reservations. It was 7 o’clock in the evening and, not wishing to waste an entire evening in Copenhagen, I hurried over to the concierge and asked him if there was anything worthwhile going on. He told me that just one block away in the Royal Opera House a new ballet was to be performed. It would start at 7:30. It was all sold out but very often there were last-minute cancellations when a ticket could be obtained at a significant discount. Without even going up to my room, I left my luggage with the concierge and hastened right over to the Royal Opera House. I was dressed in torn jeans and a dirty sweatshirt but the concierge had assured me that this would be acceptable. So I ran to the box office and found, sure enough, there was a last-minute cancellation and it was one of the best seats in the house on a balcony overlooking the stage. I purchased my ticket and was led by an usher up an elaborate red carpeted staircase to a large velvet curtain which he drew aside for me and invited me into what he told me where the best seats in the house. I walked down the five or six stairs passed three rows of empty seats to take my seat in the front row. Before sitting down I walked to the highly polished railing and looked down into the theater of some 5000 people. The minute I got there the entire audience stood up turned to face me and bowed. I thought this was quite an honor but received it as a gracious greeting and bowed back. It was only after the intermission that I found out that my seat was separated from the kings box seat only by a large velvet curtain and he had entered as the same time as I did. Such was my brief encounter as King of Denmark.
I had another experience a few years later when I returned to the Abbey. I was appointed by the abbot, Father Thomas Keating, as the master of the junior professed. This meant that I was in charge of some 10 or 12 young monks who were not yet in final vows. I was in the abbot’s office with three or four of these simply professed monks, when the abbot said that it was not in accordance with the American cultural mindset to be known as the master of the junior professed. So he asked me what I would like to be called. I replied, “I always wanted to be called King.”
So from that day to this, more than 40 years later whenever I meet one of my loyal subjects who are now grown old in grace and favor before God and man, they give me a bow and say, “live forever, O king.”
What does this have to do with all of us? When we celebrate the feast of Christ the King we are not doing this for the sake of Christ. He knows that he is King and does not need our acknowledgment. In point of fact we celebrate this as we celebrate all Christian feast days for our own sakes, for what it means to us, as an acknowledgment of God’s gracious gift of himself to us. So when we celebrate Christ the King we are celebrating ourselves as crowned members of his royal kingdom. We are celebrating the fact that we have been made little less than the angels, crowned with glory and honor and that he has placed all things under our feet. As he is King so are we, closer to him than cousins made into a royal people and the priestly nation.
Christians should never have a low self-esteem. We are given a union, a communion, and an identity with the King of the universe. What an honor is ours. Strangely enough the entrance into this kingship comes from the virtue of humility. Humility does not mean that we are less than we think we are. It is not some form of self denigration. Humility is an acknowledgment of the truth about ourselves. The simple truth is that we are kings and queens and that we shall live forever. A priestly nation of Royal people.
In a sermon given to the community many decades ago, Father Thomas Keating said that our kingship should be constantly acknowledged and that even as we pass one another in the cloister we should bow in homage. With Christians there is no place for a low self-esteem. We are the heirs of the kingdom and this should fill our minds and hearts with joy and thanksgiving. Live forever! Oh Kings and Queens.
May you be happy,
May you be free,
May you be loving,
May you be loved.
Father William Meninger