"His eyes are like blazing fire, and on His head are many crowns...He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is the Word of God" ~ Revelation 19:12-13
This week is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar. The ELCA church in which I was raised paid little heed to this particular celebration, and I wonder how common its celebration is among Lutheran churches. After all, the festival was instituted by Pope Piux XI in 1925 as a reminder of Christ's dominion. However, his encyclical wasn't focused on the earthly or even heavenly reign of a monarch. Instead, his encyclical referred to Christ's reign over our wills, our hearts, and our bodies.
Despite adopting the holiday, we might have forgotten to adopt that broader message. The hymns we'll sing this week are suffused with language about earthly rule, about kings and thrones and power. In particular, we'll sing "Crown Him With Many Crowns," which has its own conflicted history. Six verses of text were written by Matthew Bridges, of the Catholic faith, and six verses were later written by Godfrey Thring, an Anglican who wanted the text to align more properly with Protestant theology. Don't worry, we won't be singing 12 verses this week, though interestingly, the ELW retains four verses from Bridges but only one from Thring.
I read the text of the hymn in vain for any depiction of Christ's influence on our own daily lives and actions. It's purely a hymn of praise and bombast. Then I searched through the other hymns for the week and found exactly the same. It seems we will gather for a true festival of praise this week, leaving contemplation and application for our prayers. We might do well to recall in those prayers the intent of Pope Pius to instruct us on Christ's reign over our lives, rather than over our country, world, or heaven. That might better transition us toward giving thanks for our blessings, preparing for the pentitential season of Advent, and beginning a new church year.