This week marks the final Sunday of the liturgical calendar. It is the end of the year – before we begin again with Advent. It is sometimes referred to as the Reign of Christ Sunday, or the Feast of Christ the King. It is a day when the anticipated kingship of Christ over all is fulfilled; when this reign is celebrated. Well, I suppose this leaves me feeling a little unsettled. I will admit to being uncomfortable with the language of class utilized in this celebration and in the associated hymns. I’m not entirely convinced that concepts of superiority are ideal when speaking of the Divine. I’m not convinced that Kings and Lords are our best metaphors for God. And I often wonder if imposing one faith practice on the world is more about the imposer’s reign than anything divinely inspired.
In looking at the hymns usually attached to this Sunday, many are full of this language – of the King, the Lord, crowns, sovereignty and a few hails. Not surprising. We live, and perhaps always have lived, in a society dominated by hierarchy. Those at the top are considered most valuable – and we seem to look to them as such. So it makes sense that we perceive the ultimate goal as achieving a reign over all. Our words of faith reflect that. Being uncomfortable with this language led me to this old hymn written in 1742, translated into English by Esther Bergen in 1959. What really struck me, however, was the tune. This tune was part of the oral tradition of Russian Mennonites and it is quite gentle and doesn’t really have that character of pomp usually associated with regal proclamations.
I will admit that hearing this in German did wonders to settle me, as I don’t understand it well enough to get bent out of shape! But since part of this project is to find meaning in places of discomfort, I did turn to the translation.
The Lord is king, O praise his name,
O’er all the earth his grace proclaim!
From age to age, from day to day,
His wonders grow more gloriously.
Oh, see the mighty hand of God,
His love and mercy changeth not!
His blood and righteousness avail,
His grace and pardon never fail!
This shall the song forever be
Of saints before the crystal sea:
O Christ, that on the cross hath bled,
Hath safely through life’s valley led.
O Star that lights the pilgrim’s way!
Our Lord of lords, our hope and stay!
The head to whom we homage bring,
The rock to which our faith may cling!
As I read through these words, I find an exclamation of personal faith. A celebration of that which has carried someone throughout their life. Acknowledgment of glorious wonders, safe leading, love and mercy. Praising the solidity of the rock clung to and the hope received. Yes, there is the language of kings here, but I like the way that it is a king’s grace, not power, that is being proclaimed. It is this that I find most comforting in my unsettled state.
Grace. The bestowing of love and mercy whether deserved or not. Such a challenge. But maybe this is what the end of the year and the beginning of the next is really all about. Looking back and seeing all the times we were able to give this gift, all the times we received it. All the times we missed its presence, by choice or accident, stubbornness or preoccupation. Considering how we may move forward into the realm of grace in the new year – choosing this beautiful act over our desire to reign supreme. Looking for the times others gift us in this way, and responding with gratitude and joy.
Understanding the concept of grace seems so critical to our ability to impact our world. So critical to defining the very best possibilities of who we can be. Perhaps it is this aspect of the sovereign that we should look to for guidance. Not power, ability to rule and maintain a position, acquisition of followers or dominance over all others. But rather, the ability to be gracious. The language of this Sunday implies superiority. The meaning of true grace implies something very different. It is not bothered by rank or power. It is concerned with generosity, kindness and love. May this be a year filled with grace, given and received. A sky full of stars lighting the way.