SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 25: Clergy don white and gold and congregations rejoice for today’s Feast of Christ the King. Though not a major holiday for the majority of American Christians, the Feast of Christ the King embodies a unique and ancient religious message: The title reminds Christians that, above all, Christ is the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” This is the last Sunday before the Western Christian calendar starts all over again with Advent, the season that prepares more than a billion Christians around the world for Christmas. (The world’s half-a-billion Eastern Christians began their annual Fast of the Nativity in perparation for Christmas on November 15.)
The official Feast of Christ the King is less than a century old in the Roman Catholic Church (Wikipedia has more about the history). But, make no mistake—the tradition touches on an ancient and crucial element in the rise of Christianity as a worldwide religion. The triumphant Jesus is described with titles including the word “king” in Matthew, Mark, John, 1 Timothy and Revelation.
Bible scholar John Dominic Crossan says that was no coincidence. Early Christians were lifting up their faith in Jesus as a contrast to the violent oppression of the Roman Empire. “What Jesus and his early followers were doing was a direct challenge to Roman theology,” Crossan said in a 2011 interview with ReadTheSpirit. “Caesar, the divine conqueror, was saying that peace only comes through victory, through war. Jesus was saying that peace comes through a much different process.”
This complex history—Christ triumphant, ancient memories of Christ in opposition to empire, 20th-Century Catholic associations with rejecting secularization in Europe—continues to fuel world-class Christ the King projects to this day.
BUILDING THE WORLD’S BIGGEST
CHRIST THE KING IN POLAND
The small town of Świebodzin in western Poland decided to express the town’s Catholic heritage—and made a bid to become a major pilgrimage site—by constructing what is believed to be the world’s largest statue of Christ the King. Wikipedia has more about the town of Świebodzin—as well as more about the construction of the statue. But the project echoes historic efforts dating all the way back to the Middle Ages to revitalize trade routes and market towns by welcoming Christian pilgrims.