Sunday, Nov. 20, is the Solemnity of Christ the King. Nov. 24 is Thanksgiving Day.
Thanksgiving has arrived! Here is a quick look at the symbolism of the major staples of the Thanksgiving meal.
Turkey, an American original, reminds us that God provides now just as he did in the days when his chosen people wandered in the desert. As Psalm 105 puts it: “They asked for meat, and he sent them quail.” The pilgrims could say the same thing. God provided them a bigger (and better tasting) bird in the turkey — and turkeys are still found wild in America today.
Mashed potatoes remind us of the goodness of the earth God has given us. As Pslam 104 puts it: “He makes plants for people to cultivate — bringing forth food from the earth.” That applies even more to potatoes: a food that is pulled out of the earth itself. They were unknown in Europe until the discovery of America.
Cranberry sauce, another American original, is a little too tangy, a little too bitter for many people. Like the bitter herbs at the Seder, the sour cranberry can remind us of the religious persecution the pilgrims were escaping when they came here. Isaiah speaks of the Kingdom to come: “In those days they shall no longer say, ‘The parents ate unripe grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge’!”
Pumpkin pie’s signature flavor comes from nutmeg, a highly valued spice that crossed Christian and Muslim cultures in the Middle Ages, and pumpkins are found on all the continents of the world except for Antarctica. Think of pumpkin pie as the Old World’s contribution to the Thanksgiving table. And Christ added the old to the new when he praised “the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalm 23:1-3, 5, 6; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46
At each stage, Christ has transformed our idea of what Divine power means in the world. On the feast of Christ the King, it should be no surprise that he transforms our idea of what the earthly power of kingship means.
What is Divine power in Christ? He is the God who comes as an infant. He is the great sinless Judge who refused to see the sinful woman stoned to death. He is the Almighty who chooses to come to us in the Eucharist, looking like a piece of bread. He is the universal Victor who appears on the cross, looking defeated.
So, we know to be on guard when Paul describes a time to come, “when [God] has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power.” If we were to think of any other king “destroying every kingship,” we would probably think of him fighting the world’s battles on the world’s terms, outmanning the enemy and taking over the highest throne.
But that isn’t Christ’s way. He does the very opposite. He describes it in the first reading from Ezekiel. “I myself will pasture my sheep,” says the Lord. “The lost I will seek out; the strayed I will bring back; the injured I will bind up; the sick I will heal.”
This is a new kind of king: Not one who rules, but one who serves. He doesn’t gravitate toward the weak because they are easy to lead. He gravitates to the weak because they are so much like him.
Evoking Ezekiel, the Gospel shows how Christ the King will judge us. Earthly kings judge us by what we accomplish: The great deeds we do for them; the new lands we help them conquer; the extent to which we have extended their kingdom.
Christ the King doesn’t judge that way. He judges us by the depth of our service, not its material accomplishments. He separates the sheep and goats according to how well they have lived like him: Did they feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and give water to the thirsty?
And Christ the King doesn’t identify himself as the master organizer of a vast network of do-gooders — he identifies himself with the ones being served or neglected by us. This shows just how total his Kingdom is: He sees all things as properly his, and, therefore, the way we treat every person is the way we treat him.
So Christ is no ordinary king. But we already knew that. After all, he hid from the crowds who wanted to exalt him and refused every crown except the one he wore to his death: the crown of thorns.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.