Next Sunday's liturgical title is: "The Last Sunday after Pentecost." It has a rather jarring quality to it. The Last Sunday. It makes one think of finality and culmination.
Due to the collect for this Sunday and the imagery often used in both the scriptures appointed and hymns chosen, it is frequently called "Christ-the-King," though the BCP nowhere actually names it thus.
The "Feast of Christ-the-King" was instituted by the Roman Catholic Church in the 1920s in response to growing secularization, the effects of nationalism, and (to be honest) the decline in monarchies in favor of democracies, communism, or dictatorships. Originally appointed in that Church for the Sunday before All Saints' Day, it emphasized Christ's sovereignty above other loyalties and ideologies--something very much worth consideration now, as well.
Many Episcopalians now prefer "The Reign of Christ" to "Christ-the-King" for this day, largely for its avoidance of patriarchal / hierarchichal / masculine imagery for Christ. Yet, the debate over this Sunday's "nickname" tends to obscure its actual message.
What this Sunday celebrates is not substituting one form of earthly power (monarchy for democracy) for another, but the coming victory of God's reign on earth--something we pray for each time we say the Lord's Prayer and the Creeds. Simply put, this Sunday celebrates a world we pray for but often seem at odds with.
Such a world is not based on death, fear, or shame. It is lived in light, love, and joy. It bridges divides we think impossible; it raises up the lowly, and brings down the haughty. It reveals the truth about God, humans, and the creation. God's restored world is utterly unexpected by and completely at odds with "the way things are." Through the gift of the Holy Spirit it is available to us in holy creation, in liturgy, in prayer, and in Christian service with others made in God's sacred image.
Whenever we meet with it--even for a moment--we will find Christ's reign strange and challenging to the exact degree we are wedded to death. It is for this reason that this Sunday's Gospel reading highlights the dialogue between Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ: a conversation between death and Life itself.
This Sunday is a frank admission that placing our loyalty in "the way things are" or in our own "devices and desires" is in direct opposition to Christ's reign, his will as made known in the gospel. It points to the conflict at the heart of being a Christian.
It has been observed that, for one to catch the feeling of authentic Christianity, one must understand every day to be our last. Only then will the preciousness and sacredness of each day be revealed. "The Last Sunday after Pentecost" catches that very well. True Christianity means we have already died and risen with Jesus and are thus citizens of God's dominion, God's sacred community. Our loyalties, priorities, and desires must and will be tested again and again, until we gladly surrender to this.
As we come to this Sunday, I pray we will each experience it truly as "The Last Sunday": consciously standing on eternity's edge and preparing to fall lovingly into Christ's arms of love and truth.
For, in truth, that is what this Sunday (and every day) should be--the eternally glorious moment of surrender to the Love which alone makes right, and which alone overcomes death, fear, and loss.