kingdom come

The Christian Year is a living tradition. Changes to the calendar occur as the church discovers new ways to express the gospel through the narrative told in annual festivals and seasons. Some innovations become widespread and long-lasting. Others flower for a brief period and then fade. The current experiment with a Season of Creation is a case in point. On first glance this seems a worthy effort reflecting the church’s concern to proclaim the gospel in the face of global warming and the widespread extinction of species. Yet there are problems when the church begins to shape the year in response to particular crises, no matter how urgent. Soon special Sundays and months named for - and devoted to - particular injustices and issues threaten to take over the calendar. Preachers feel compelled to speak the Word in response to an issue rather than to host the Word and then to testify freely to its news, unconfined by a pre-determined agenda. The Word, which is not so much an answer to our pre-determined questions as it is a new set of questions that confront our common sense assumptions, can be inadvertently silenced as a result.

The most recent innovation in the Christian Year to have gained widespread acceptance is Reign of Christ Sunday. Emergent nationalism and secularism in the early Twentieth Century led Pope Pius XI to institute the Feast of Christ the King in 1925. In this annual affirmation of Jesus as the Servant-King in the heavenly kingdom come we see one strategy through which the church seeks to say “no” to dangerously idolatrous temptations. The affirmative tone of this feast is similar to that struck by the Confessing Church in Germany. That courageous church issued its daring “no” to fascism via the Barmen Declaration’s resounding “yes” to the Lordship of Jesus in every arena of life – personal and political. This is the genius of the celebration of Reign of Christ Sunday. It keeps the focus of the church on life lived as a resounding “yes” to Jesus Christ in every arena of life.

On Reign of Christ Sunday at University Hill Congregation we enter into the great heavenly celebration of a universe in which God’s kingdom has come and where God’s will is done. We make a special effort on this final Sunday of the Christian Year to sing a wide variety of Christian hymns and praise songs from every time and place (in 2011 it falls on November 20). Some years have seen us move from the table in worship to a great global pot-luck lunch at which we enjoy foods from all over the world. The meal is a reminder that at the banquet table in the kingdom of heaven we will not be identified as Canadians or as belonging to the United Church of Canada but will be called children of God and known as disciples of Jesus Christ.

We notice that, in renaming this day the “Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe”, Pope Paul VI reminded the church that Jesus is Lord not only of the nations but also of all creation.[1] Though originally instituted in response to nationalism and secularism, Reign of Christ Sunday now also proclaims the gospel in the face of the looming spectre of environmental catastrophe. Imagine inviting members of the church to mark the final November Sundays of the Christian Year by sharing testimony of the ways in which saying a daring “yes” to the servant-king Jesus has required learning to say a difficult “no” to old, familiar ways of life that harm neighbour and hurt creation.

Imagine re-imagining the entire Christian Year as the great story of God’s new creation. Then the season of Creation begins on the first Sunday in Advent with longing cries for global and personal healing and renewal. Then the story of God’s new creation does not conclude until the final Sunday of the Christian Year with the celebration of the promised day when all creation will be revealed as God’s kingdom come.

                                                                  (from "Telling Time" by Edwin Searcy)

[1] Pope Paul VI is also responsible for locating Reign of Christ Sunday at the end of the Christian Year, in recognition of the eschatological, future-oriented nature of the gospel.

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