Preaching "Reign of Christ" Sunday as a Progressive Christian

“Reign of Christ” Sunday (also known as “Christ the King”) is the final week in the Christian liturgical calendar. The cycle of lectionary readings begins again the next week with the first Sunday of Advent, which is “New Year’s Day” according to Christian sacred time. For anyone interested in becoming more attuned to the rhythms of the Christian liturgical seasons, I recommend the increasingly-popular Christian Seasons Calendar produced as an annual project of a church in Canada.

When I reflect on the themes of Reign of Christ Sunday, the image that always comes to mind is the classic Eastern Orthodox icon of Christ the Pantocrator. I first saw this 7th-century icon at Mt. Saint Catherine’s Monastery as an undergraduate on a travel study to the Middle East, and I was immediately struck by the haunting left eye of the image. The word “Pantocrator” is often translated as “All-powerful,” and prayerfully meditating on this icon could prompt a powerful Reign of Christ sermon. If you are unfamiliar with the practice of praying through visual art, Tim Mooney has written an excellent article on “Praying with Art – Visio Divina.” Essentially, the process is a visual equivalent to the text-based process of lectio divina.

From an interfaith angle, Progressive Christian congregations who have relationships with local Jewish congregations could learn how to celebrate a more joyful and embodied Reign of Christ Sunday by attending a Simchat Torah service. Simchat Torah literally means “Rejoicing with the Torah” and includes joyous dancing and singing to celebrate the completion of the annual cycle of Torah reading.

Finally, as a progressive Christian reflecting on the themes of the “Reign of Christ” and the upcoming themes of Christ’s (first and second) coming during Advent, I will conclude with a quote adapted from John Dominic Crossan’s book God and Empire:

The Second Coming of Christ is not an event that we should expect to happen soon, violently, or literally. The Second Coming of Christ is what will happen when we Christians finally accept that the First Coming was the Only Coming and start to cooperate with its divine presence.

In other words, on Reign of Christ Sunday, we are invited to remember that the “Kingdom of God” or “Reign of God” — to which Jesus constantly pointed — is as fully available now and always as it was 2,000 years ago. The question that remains each Reign of Christ Sunday is whether we will choose to live as if the one who reigns is not Caesar, but God.

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About Carl Gregg
  • revhipchick

    “The question that remains each Reign of Christ Sunday is whether we will choose to live as if the one who reigns is not Caesar, but God.”


  • Justin

    Thanks Carl, that final question is going to be the cornerstone for my liturgy this Sunday.

  • Binka

    Crossan strikes me as someone who would have been much happier if he had had the courage to renounce the Christian faith. Like the Biblical literalists he claims to renounce, he has chosen to fashion a modern Christianity that is built on “facts”: “facts”, of course, that are more to his liking (e.g. “facts” about what Jesus did and did not say). Now, because the only way one can interpret the second coming is literally, he wants to be the Grinch who stole the second coming! Using modernity’s favorite Aristotelian informal fallacy — the argument from ignorance — Crossan joins a the chorus of modern intellectuals who declare, “If I don’t know what it means, it doesn’t exist.” So, goodbye, second coming! P.S. to Mr. Gregg: The idea of progress is hopelessly modern. Representing yourself as a “progressive” in a postmodern world says that you are out of touch just as much as quoting Crossan does!

  • ezra

    It makes sense to have relations with the Jews on this Sunday. Without Jesus as King, we might as well be withouth the Messiah. Interesting to note that as the last part of the Torah is read, the next verse is Genesis 1:1.
    Here’s the dilemma: What do we do with the statement, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth!” God has it in for us progressives!

  • Diego

    Thank you for this post. I am preaching on the Reign of Christ this Sunday in Oxford.
    I must admit I find the quotation from God and Empire very appealing, tantalizingly so. However, I feel I have to hold fast to the Church’s creed about the Second Coming. The kingdom is already here and salvation is open to anyone; but we also expect Jesus to come back with power and great glory… perhaps at the end of all things.
    The last quotation it’s great! thanks!

  • Grant Bakewell, Jr.

    Thanks Carl. In light of the Reign of God, both as envisioned and embodied in Jesus himself, and in the first 3 centuries of Christian faith and witness, I feel it is very important to include two other “P”s in your byline, “Pluralism, Progressivism, Pragmatism”. The first is “Presence”, meaning the presence of the Risen Lord, as best (and perhaps as diversely) as we may discern Christ’s presence in our lives, and “Pacifism”, as in Jesus’s own teaching and practice with respect to the nonviolent Cross. The first “P” can sometimes get lost in an overly-intellectual or doctrinal/credal faith, as well as in some of our “postmodern” approaches to pluralism and interfaith dialogue. The second seems to have been sacrificed to the historical “pragmatism” of the just war tradition, and now to the many unjust wars of our “modern” era. To recover the true nonviolence of Jesus, in light of his own crucifixion and resurrection, and eternal presence to us, however, is to bring back a powerful light and truth to live by that many people (of many faiths) might find hopeful, if not “salvific” for our times. Peace+

  • Beornmod

    Please take this post as questioning and not trolling. I’ve been asking various progressive Christian theology people on the internet a variation of this post, and no one has answered. I think perhaps I’m approaching it too simplistically or coming off trollish, but I am sincere and if I’m troll, I’m a naive troll eager to listen.

    The biggest problem I have with Christianity and other bookish religions is that they depend on authority, and I’m a liberal American and I don’t like authority. I prefer reasoned argument and intellectual integrity. What puzzles me about mainline theology is that in many cases it claims authority – that is, theologically revelation is still an important category – but relies on neither tradition nor the explicit teaching of Scripture.

    Progressive Christians still claim authority for God in special revelation, but are far more discreet about what parts of the sloppy Canon they endorse. But if one wishes to claim authority for the general story of Jesus, even if not exactly its historical veracity, how can one ignore the good misogynistic Apostle Paul on the issue of women? How can Scripture be authority if one looks down the well and sees a progressive Christian?

    Authority is also quite clear in your progressive sermon above – when you say “God reigns,” you’re making a claim to know something true about God’s authority. If God appeared to you and commenced a second Akedah, would you lift the knife?

    I want to find a home in the progressive movement, a home that allows me to disagree with the Apostle Paul about lots of things while agreeing with him about his testimony of Jesus. But I’m not really interested in humanism with Jesus paint. Jesus never laughed a single time in the Gospels. If I’m going to paint my humanism with something, I want it to laugh.