This Sunday marks the end of our Christian Year, but we don’t have parties as we do on New Year’s Eve, in fact it goes past hardly noticed. After all its not like Christmas or Easter that has been so embraced by the wider society for centuries, and not always for the right reasons. Maybe part of this is due to the fact that this festival we call ‘Christ the King’, or the ‘Reign of Christ’ (note reign not rain) – is only a fairly recent development in the history of the Church. It was started by Pope Pius IX in 1925 in response to growing secularism and rampant nationalism.
It helps to think ourselves back to what was happening at that time, with the rise of Mussolini in Italy, and Hitler in Germany. Mussolini was given authority in 1922 as Prime Minister to restore order and by 1925 he had made himself dictator taking the title ‘Il Duce” (The Leader). Hitler’s rise to power began in Germany in 1919 when he joined the German Workers’ Party that rapidly became the Nazi Party.
Like many within the church at the time, the Pope was deeply troubled by the way leaders such as these abused their power and violated the rights of anyone who dared to challenge their authority. I can imagine him reading the prophet Jeremiah who rails against the corrupt and ineffectual leaders of his day who seemed more devoted to amassing their own wealth at the expense of their people, and engaging in risky foreign policies that eventually led to exile in Babylon, with God’s people scattered, abused and dispirited.
Jeremiah raises the question of what constitutes legitimate social power, and he boldly claims that it is power to execute policies that deliver justice and equity to all, and ensure that the weak and needy are
Prophets like Jeremiah show us how in every age it is vital that there are voices willing to challenge those in power and keep them accountable to the people they govern. They provide necessary checks and balances exposing injustice as well as providing encouragement and wise counsel to leaders where it is needed.
Some of my best friends are those who are willing to tell me to my face when they disagree with me, and while I find that a bit confronting at times, I value their willingness to speak to me face to face. Friends like that are people you can trust because you know exactly where they stand and know that they would never gossip or stab you in the back.
All our readings this Sunday speak about God’s leadership. On the cross we see Jesus hanging in agony, humiliated and close to death. But its hardly a picture of failure, for instead of giving in to curses and blame, Jesus’ word to those who have abused him and their own authority, are words of mercy, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!’
These are powerful words, full of dignity, words that offer a new beginning, and suggest a very different way of exercising power.