Are We Really Expecting Christ the King?

Cambridge, MA. I was in Chicago November 15-20, for the convention of the American Academy of Religion, which meets annually with the Society of Biblical Literature. (Read about the related controversies here.) Some 12,000 professors gathered not for one large plenary, but for a vast and wide-reaching program of panels and lectures and other events, this time in the cavernous McCormick Place Convention Center on the lakefront. The space made O’Hare Airport look small and, time for getting lost aside, one had to allow 15-20 minutes to get from one side of the Center to the other. I was very busy, as usual, with sessions to preside at, respond to, and present at; I am at the point in life where I am all over the academic map, with things to say and observe inside and outside my areas of expertise. By the end, survival was the main goal.

But I will not entertain you with the travails of the academic life. Rather, I wish to call your attention to a session that bore the forbidding title, “Comparative Messianism: Extroversions and Introversions of Eschatological Figuration.” Expertly presided over by Kimberley Patton (Harvard University), the panel brought together scholars who spoke about the phenomenon and meaning of awaiting the Messiah in Judaism (Elliot Wolfson, NYU), Kurt Richardson (McMaster University), Cyrus Zargar (Augustana College), Cyrus Zargar (Augustana College), and Catherine Keller (Drew University). Wolfson spoke about modern Jewish expectations of the Messiah, with special reference to the Rebbe Menahem Mendel Schneerson, of the Habad-Lubavitch – in Brooklyn; Richardson reviewed in a masterful way and with special attention to Karl Barth, the Christian expectation of the Messiah; Zargar led us through the complicated history of the expectation of the 12th Imam in Shia Islam, both the political drama surrounding the last Imams, and the poignant longing even of Shiites today for the 12th, hidden Imam, to come to this community which loves him beyond all measure. Keller, building on themes mentioned in the other papers, meditated on both the act of waiting for the messiah who is to come, and how that waiting both supports and undercuts the stark fact that we never know the God we seek, and in fact experience mainly the breakdown of our language about God: the one who is hidden until the time he comes, revealed, unto his people - our religious life is hidden, our words obscure, the only way to be a Christian is to be a mystic. All four speakers addressed the fact of the expectation of a Person to come (back), and yet too to the way in which a very serious expectation of the end time affects how we think of now: the future matters more than the present; we live only in the present, where the future opens up a certain freedom in the present moment, where what we hope for never quite happens right now.


In responding to the panel — I will spare you the totality of what I had to say - I had occasion to refer to this Sunday’s Feast of Christ the King, but more immediately to recollect the Gospel for last Sunday, the 33rd Sunday of the year, Mark 13.24 ff: “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” (NRSV) I wanted to remind the audience, after all, that meditations on the Messiah are not just a matter of recollecting ancient history or digging up the remnants of a myth, or reflecting on the emptiness of a present moment that is always indebted to a future moment. Rather, waiting for the Messiah is right now a powerful dimension of our religious consciousness: we live differently now, because we expect the Messiah later.

Or so we say. We Christians say that we expect Christ to come back; he is not yet done with us, the world is not merely winding down, with a fairly sensible and mature attitude of dashed expectations about a better world that never quite comes. (We have been waiting since St. Paul in I Thessalonians promises that any day now, the second coming would take place.) The present is not ok, it is not enough, and yet we do not settle for less, an imperfect world imperfectly lived. Rather, we are waiting for God to come again, Christ in charge, fully manifest, beyond doubt. And we are waiting along with the followers of the Rebbe Schneerson, Shia Muslims longing for that hidden, hiding Imam, and Christians across the spectrum, more or less literally expecting Christ’s return. We are also waiting with Sikhs expectiing the tenth guru, some Buddhists looking to the Maitreyi Buddha, and (as discussed elsewhere at the convention) Hindus awaiting either the end of the world – as the Kali Yuga winds down and (possibly) the divine avatara Kalki arrives – or more simply for the beloved Krsna who cannot be found and cannot be forgotten.

Or do we? Rather than getting bogged down in worrying about whether this time of waiting – the end of the Church year, the feast of Christ the King, the coming of Advent longing — is uniquely Christian or not, we need honestly to ask ourselves: are we really waiting for something more? Do we have enough of God and Christ already, and would we be happy — or inconvenienced — should Christ suddenly reappear in a spectacular fashion?

My guess — or fear — is that we are in a situation not all that different from that evoked by Dostoyevsky in the famous “Grand Inquisitor”  chapter of his Brothers Karamazov, where Ivan tries to explain his vision of the world to his (then) monkish brother Alyosha. As Ivan explains it, the Inquisitor, annoyed by the return of Jesus in 16th century Spain — this can only upset the smooth running of the Church — says to Jesus: “‘Is it Thou? Thou?’ But receiving no answer, he adds at once. ‘Don’t answer, be silent. What canst Thou say, indeed? I know too well what Thou wouldst say. And Thou hast no right to add anything to what Thou hadst said of old. Why, then, art Thou come to hinder us? For Thou hast come to hinder us, and Thou knowest that.” To protect the Church, the Cardinal promises to burn this unwelcome guest at the stake the next day. (from “The Grand Inquisitor” in Fydor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Constance Garnett translation.) 

At this feast of Christ the King, and during this Advent, let us stop and ask ourselves: What would we do, were the Messiah actually to come? Suppose Christ came not to console us, but to confound and overturn the conservative control of the Church? Or to dethrone the Pope? Or to kick out the liberals? Or to point out that the Lutherans were right all along, or that we should have been visiting the Rebbe in Brooklyn? When Christ comes again, not only the professors will be upset.


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Amy Ho-Ohn
5 years 8 months ago
"Suppose Christ came not to console us, but to confound and overturn the conservative control of the Church? Or to dethrone the Pope? Or to kick out the liberals?"

This kind of reminds me of the scene in Star Trek V, the movie, when they take the Enterprise to the center of the galaxy and find a miracle-working thing calling itself God. And after he's done some characteristically Biblical wonders, God announces that he wants a starship. So everybody nods and bows and genuflects and is delighted to be able to offer God a starship, except Kirk, who asks him, "What does God need with a starship?" This kind of ticks God off and he smites Kirk into the rocks.

If Christ comes back and announces he's here to participate in these ridiculously petty, twenty-first century ecclesiastical quarrels and oneupmanship games, it would be hard to believe he's really Christ and not just an ambitious prelate with a good special effects team.
David Smith
5 years 8 months ago
We've become so confused by what we think we ought to know to know and so afraid of getting it wrong and being shown up as stupid dupes that we've clothed ourselves in a protective cloak of cynicism, which we mistake for intelligence. Our model is the cynical Kirk, not the gullible believers.
5 years 8 months ago
“Are We Really Expecting Christ The King,?” a very interesting synopsis of a  gathering of ecclesial scholars, if that’s what they were,  addressing the complexities of end time theologies, or whatever the more exact definition of the  discipline  would be, far too erudite for me to fully grasp except peripherally, on  which however, I dare to offer comment, exactly that way – peripherally! But hopefully of some value.

Something will happen consequentially when the “King” does come, fulfilling the expectations of the ages and for me the “King” will be the Christ who for me, is the   configuration and consolidation of all  expectations. Embodied in the Christ is the  “rightness” of all who hope, accepted and understood by all when it happens, as  in fact, ”the long awaited one.”

“Signs” will accompany the “King” preliminary to his arrival, just   as shoots on a the branches of the fig tree herald the coming of summer. But in the King’s time. Celestial and tidal disturbance will also signal his arrival, quite environmentally accurate with “stars” ( what  does that mean? Perhaps showering debris from multiple space crafts?)  “shaken” loose from the heavens as the  sun is “darkened,”  however that happens, and  the moon dependent on the sun for light cannot as a result  “shine.” And also as if in signature when  luna  geology is askewed, great tidal irregularities must happen, since luna instability must of necessity cause tidal instability, causing a “roaring sea”  and men fainting from fear as to what is happening.

Yes, Christ the King, for whom “one day is as a thousand years  and a thousand years  is as one day,” is coming and “when he comes will he find Faith on the earth?” The New Testament documents another “sign” I think the most important  one and the most imminent, answers the “Faith question.” We read, as the end times approach, “love will grow cold.” Cold love has always happened, but the big difference even now developing is, that, cold love will be institutionalized, declared legal wherein  for example with more to come, motherhood/love aborts its reason for being, family life slowly disintegrates and the institution of marriage as a loving  union between one man and one women is destroyed. And much more! Can Faith flourish in such a climate? Simplistic? I guess to some.

Fortunately Christ the King is coming to straighten out in his own way and in his own time, Eden’s mess and for sure not peripherally, but lovingly. So, although Faith may whither, and love grow cold, HOPE endures. Well, certainlyfor me, at least, Jesuit priest Francis X. Clooney's participation and insightful contributions at the convention of the American Academy of Religion, gives me Hope.
Vincent Gaitley
5 years 8 months ago
We're all waiting for Godot, after all.  He said he'd be here.  Anyway, your remarks Fr. Clooney only indicate that we have no idea about who the Messiah really is, or the nature of God.  Except this:  God made us in His own image, but we insist on re-making Him in ours, and that is the problem.
5 years 8 months ago
Post #7b(Maria) Fantastic post and fabulous first paragraph consolidating what affliiation to Christ the King is all about! Great prayer by St. Ignatius, moving and spiritually invigorating, your second paragraph!! I'm saving your post for future prayerful reflections. Thanks!
Kang Dole
5 years 8 months ago
I hope that we are all pleasantly surprised by the parousia of Christ the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. We'd all learn valuable life lessons made more palatable by rhymes and hi-jinks.
David Smith
5 years 8 months ago
Scholars do whatever scholars do, like woodcarvers and computer programmers.  Specialists live in their own worlds, obsessed, properly, with their own ultimates.  Messiahs and their analogs float in their varied dimensions along with all the other transcendants and omniescients that may or may not exist as we may or may not imagine them.  The human mind needs to build buildings, and so it does, eternally, or for as long as human minds are around.

Skimming the NYT article, I see that cool New Yorkers regard the scholars as colorful kooks and the protesters as the real people, doing vital repair work in a flawed world.  Yep, to them the holy people are the protesters, and the scholars are the Pharisees, jabbering ad nauseam about religious trivia as they ignore the beggar on their doorstep.

It's a dilemma, Father. Which religion does one follow? Or is it perhaps best to ignore them both? After all, belief, in the end, is personal.
Thomas Farrell
5 years 8 months ago
Very fascinating reflections and comments, Fr. Clooney.

However, let me suggest that we could understand the imagery about the coming of Christ the King as being about an inner development in one's spiritual life.

If we were to do this, we could then use the work of Robert L. Moore of the Chicago Theological Seminary to understand the psychological developments that accompany this spiritual development, especially the psychological development that Moore refers to as optimal development of the Inner King within one's psyche. For further details, see the revised and expanded edition of the book that Moore co-authored with Douglas Gillette titled THE KING WITHIN: ACCESSING THE KING [ARCHETYPE] IN THE MALE PSYCHE (Chicago: Exploration Press, 2007).

Because the authors refer to the male psyche in the subtitle of their book, I should explain that Moore claims that the masculine archetypes of maturity that he discusses are also in the psyches of girls and women at the archetypal level of the psyche, just as the feminine archetypes of maturity that he discusses are also in the psyches of boys and men at the archetypal level of the psyche. However, he has published books only about the masculine archetypes of maturity.
5 years 8 months ago
I am re-posting the below so that I might inquire as to why the comment was deleted. Thank you so much.

To what enterprise does Jesus Christ call us? To the most
noble and most heroic that can be proposed. In this enterprise all is great.
Consider: The enemies to be combated;-the devil, the world and our own
hearts. The weapons;-faith, prayer, humility, patience, self-denial,
charity, zeal. Our companions in the battle;-the most illustrious that
the world ever saw; the apostles, the martyrs, the penitents; in one
word, all the saints. Our leader;-Jesus Christ Himself; but Jesus
Christ who combats in us by His grace, and who, already a conqueror in
so many saints, wishes to conquer in each one of us and in the hearts
of all mankind. Lastly, the motive and end of the combat;-to bestow on
all the captives of Jesus Christ liberty, glory, happiness, to restore
them to the way, the truth and the life…

“Let us consecrate ourselves generously to the service of so great and
magnificent a master, and say to him:  “Behold me at Thy feet, supreme
Monarch of the universe. Without doubt I am unworthy to march after
Thee; but full of confidence in Thy grace and protection, I consecrate
myself to Thee without reserve. All that I am and all that I possess I
submit to Thy holy will. I declare before thy infinite goodness, in
presence of the   Virgin Mother of my Saviour, and of all the heavenly
court, that my desire, my unalterable resolution, my determined will,
is to follow Thee as nearly as possible , detached in spirit from the
things of the earth, and, if Thou shouldst will it, really poor;
humble of heart, and, if that also is Thy will, partaking in all Thy
humiliation and all Thy ignominies; living and dying at the post where
the interests of Thy glory and my salvation and Thy divine call may
have placed me” “ As the Lord liveth, and as my lord and King liveth:
in what place soever thou shalt be, my lord king, either in death or
in life, there will thy servant be”.

~St. Ignatius

Craig McKee
5 years 8 months ago
For a delightfully irreverent PREADUMBRATION of just how UPSET everyone is going to be (especially the professionals!) try reading this one:
And I'd love to meet even one of the 12,000 or so members of either AAL or SBL who'd have the chutzpah to use it as a textbook for one of their lofty lectures! 
5 years 8 months ago
Ignatius... He's the man, Bruce ;) Ignatius led me to Christ the King. I made a general confession on the Feast of Christ the King four years ago after reading the Exercises. The Feast of Christ the King holds a special place in my heart. Non nobis domine non nobis sed nomini tuo da gloriam!


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