“Are you a princess?” I said. And she said, “I’m much more than a princess, but you don’t have a name for it yet here on earth.”
painting by Brian Andreas
Thanks to my friend and colleague, Rev. Sue Schneider, for calling this piece of art to mind at our weekly pastors’ bible study earlier this week. I have another piece by Brian Andreas, a sculpture, sitting in the window of my office that was given to me as a gift. I admire his mix of whimsy and profundity, and today I’m grateful for the perfect, tidy encapsulization he provides for the quandry of this coming Sunday’s name: Christ the King.
Pope Pius XI instituted the observance of the last Sunday of the liturgical year as “Christ the King” Sunday in 1925, and at that time it was a direct refutation of the kind of political might being exercised by Mussolini. As is often the case though, over time we lose our memories of the origins of things and get caught up in the observance of traditions without connection to their deeper meaning.
There’s not a name for the kind of power and authority God uses in the realm of creation. We describe it as loving, non-coercive, justice-seeking, redemptive, co-creative, mutual, and so forth… but there’s no name for a sovereign who operates in that way. We’ve never had a chieftan, monarch, president or prime minister who embodied that kind of power in the world. That’s why some people now refer to Christ the King by its emerging alternative, “Reign of God.” The only word we have for power like that is “God,” and even that word seems too bound by our ideas about God to be useful.
I think that’s fine. We can keep stumbling with our language, looking for the right words to use. In the meantime, “God” comes looking for us with a living Word, which is Christ Jesus, the one we observe when we want to know what God’s power and God’s mercy and God’s justice look like in this world we inhabit.