Posted by: smstrouse | November 19, 2010

Christ the King: An Obsolete Metaphor?

We obsess about language a lot at First United.  But it’s because we care enough about language to know that it’s important. Words convey meanings about all kinds of things, not the least of which is what we believe about God and about ourselves. So it’s not just the simple matter of cleaning up exclusive langauge pertaining to humanity (although there are far too many who still won’t bother to change ‘mankind’ to ‘humankind’.  It’s also about evaluating our language about God.  And to complicate matters, this involves two areas. There’s the issue of  exclusively male language for God. And there is the problem of imagery that is not only patriarchal, but also hierarchical and triumphalistic.

The Sunday traditionally known as ‘Christ the King’ is a perfect storm of these concerns. So some churches have chosen to do away with the title altogether; it’s simply the last Sunday of the church year. Others have adopted ‘Reign of Christ’ as a way around the masculine ‘king’ imagery, but that still leaves the impression of a monarchy. Still others have tried to wrestle with the issue and come up with new titles.

A few years ago, we celebrated the ‘Culmination of All Things in Christ.”  Someone thought it made Christ sound like the Terminator (imagine ‘Christ the Culminator’ with an Arnold Schwarzenegger accent ), so that was the end of that. Then we tried the ‘Cosmic Christ,’ and finally we seem to have settled on ‘Christ the Anointed’.

I’m not big on throwing out words, metaphors, and images just because they’re not working well for us anymore – at least not throwing them out without an attempt at transforming them. That’s why our worship planning team has struggled so hard with this. I appreciated the resource from the UCC called ‘The Big Wrap-Up (I think that’s a great name for the day!), which asks us “How can we revision this Sunday? How can we bring both vibrancy and integrity to its observance? How might we honor a sensitivity to language, respecting the dignity and freedom of every person, and acknowledging the hard-earned lessons from our past?”.  Great questions!

I’m not sure what I’ll preach on yet this Sunday. But I have this image in my mind of ‘The Big Wrap-Up” as a divine quilt or comforter or shawl (a cosmic snuggie?) that enfolds us in the wonder and mystery of the Christ, in whom “all things hold together.”
A little silly, perhaps. But I think I like it better than Christ the King.

Addendum:  I just read that the new edition of the New International Version (NIV) has dropped their gender-neutral language. Apparently the 2005 gender-inclusive edition was condemned for being too liberal. So ‘human beings’ and ‘people’ will revert to ‘mankind’ and ‘man’.

Sheesh! Well then, call me liberal.  When I look out at my congregation, and especially when I see the girls and young women sitting there – I know why we do this and why we will keep on wrestling with this issue.  It  is that important.


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