Why Do We Celebrate Christ the King Sunday?

By Lesli White

Christ the King Sunday, officially called "the Feast of Christ the King" and also referred to as "the Reign of Christ," is a feast day that celebrates the full authority of Christ as King and Lord of the universe.

Image by AJ jaanko 

The feast was initially celebrated on the final day of October, the day before All Saints' Day. Pope Paul VI moved the feast to the last Sunday before Advent in 1969 to highlight the day's importance. This would fall in November. Churches that use the Revised Common Lectionary honor 'Christ the King Sunday' as the final Sunday of the liturgical year. This includes most major mainline Protestant groups.

The first Feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and was to be celebrated throughout the universal church. This feast day responded to the increasing denial of Christ as King and the rise of secularism throughout Europe. Many Christians, including Catholics, doubted Christ's authority and existence during this period. They were also denying the Church's power to continue Christ's authority. This was also a time when dangerous dictatorships emerged in Europe and beyond. As Pope Pius and other faithful Christians began to see the respect and reverence for Christ's authority diminishing, this feast was put in place to reaffirm and refocus faith and respect in the kingship of Jesus.

One of the reasons this date is so fitting is because the liturgical year begins with Advent, which is the season of awaiting the coming of Christ. Observing Christ the King Sunday at the end of the liturgical year celebrates and emphasizes the Kingship of Christ.

Many Christians don't know the history of the title "Christ the King." The feast is a relatively new addition to the liturgical calendar. However, referring to Christ as "King" is not new.

There are countless passages throughout the New Testament where Jesus is called "King." Some include Matthew 27:11, which says, "Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said, 'You have said so.'" Another passage is First Timothy 1:17 which says, "To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen." Revelation 19:6 also says, "On his robe and his thigh he has a name inscribed King of kings and Lord of lords." From these passages, we see that "King" was one of the earliest titles given to Jesus Christ.

This title is not that of an earthly king, which so many Jews were expecting because they were awaiting someone to overthrow the Roman rule and be the earthly King of Israel. This was the title of a spiritual king. Christ's kingdom is in heaven. His title as King does not bind Him to earth alone. Ultimately, on this day, we recognize the higher authority of Christ.

Image by Henryk Niestrój

Some of the significant roles of a king are to protect people experiencing poverty and protect the kingdom. Christ did this and more. Jesus focused on the poor and marginalized during His earthly ministry. While King, Jesus embraced the lowly and called the disciples to do the same. There are countless examples in the Bible of His commitment to helping those in need and His desire for us to model the same love in our lives. Jesus warns us about ignoring those in need. John 3:17 tells us, "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?". We have a calling to help those who need help most.

God's love is shown through Jesus Christ, and love was exemplified in all of Jesus' decisions and acts, including his death on a cross. John 3:16 tells us, "For God so loved the world, that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." Romans 5:8 reminds us, "God shows His love for us in that while we are still sinners, Christ died for us." No love is greater than this and is open to all who believe.

Jesus performed many miracles during His earthly ministry, and these acts illuminated His power as King and His love. He performed so many miracles that He was recognized as a miracle worker, and few, including His challengers, doubted His ability to perform miracles. He is still performing miracles in our lives each day. We must remember this.

We know from Scripture that Jesus is the way, and as a spiritual King, He provides direction to His Kingdom on earth and in heaven. John 14:16 says, "Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me." We must recognize His authority to determine our spiritual direction. We know that when we make Jesus the focus of our lives, we have direction. He navigates our life. We have yet to determine where we're going when we are spiritually lost. Remember, Jesus is not "a way" but "the way." Jesus is not just "a king" but "the King." Our call as Christians is to follow and honor His rule.

As Christians, we are called to recognize Jesus Christ as the King of Kings, the Messiah, Emmanuel, Lord and Savior, and the Bread of Life, among other names. John 8:12 tells us that Jesus is the light of the world. Whoever follows Him will not walk in darkness but have the light of life. While we celebrate Jesus and the ways He has been a light in our lives, on this day, we should also recognize that many people are lost in a world of darkness.  

Lesli White is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and a concentration in print and online journalism. In college, she took several religious studies courses and harnessed her talent for storytelling. Her father, a Lutheran pastor and life coach, was a significant influence in her faith life, helping her to see the value of sharing the message of Christ with others. She has served in the church from an early age. These roles include assisting ministry, mutual ministry, worship and music ministry, and church council.


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The Cross of St. Peter is "a cross with the crossbeam placed near the foot, that is associated with Saint Peter because of the tradition that he was crucified head down."

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