Christ The King Sunday, Year C
The election…is over. Thanks be to God. Thanksgiving fast approaches, and the snowfall seems to bring Christmas close (although the commercial enterprises began the celebration weeks ago now). Liturgically, we stand at the cusp of the old year and the new – Ordinary time ends today. The waiting, watching, longing time of Advent begins next week. The altar is draped in white for this last Holy Feast of the year, The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, more commonly referred to as the Feast of Christ the King or the Feast of the Reign of Christ.
That magisterial, grandiose title invites images of all sorts of pomp and circumstance – Revelations, perhaps (5.13). “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!”
Except, of course, that is not what the Gospel described today at all…Luke plunges us instead into the dirty, gritty underbelly of Roman “justice” – sweaty and real and pathetic. Even one of the criminals nailed up next to the person we claim as king mocks and derides Him.
Into that setting, the power of this world against Him, naked, bleeding, tortured, deserted and dying Jesus introduces the Kingdom of God, His Kingdom of compassion, love and hope, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Anger. Fear. Distrust. Hate. Desperate clutching for wealth or power or status or station. These things did not begin in the 1st century. They did not die there either. Christ the King Sunday came into being in 1925, instituted by Pope Pius XI, essentially as a reaction against a perception that the attention of the world was turning increasingly to secular concerns. Pope Pius’ notion was to return the attention of his flock to God in Christ. Pope Pius died in 1939 with the end of his pontifical reign marked by vociferous opposition to Hitler and Mussolini.
Anger. Fear. Distrust. Hate. These things were not invented by the Nazis, nor did they die with Hitler. The U.S. election is over. Anger persists – anger by some at being figuratively dumped into a basket of ignorable deplorables, shoved to the side, disrespected and unrepresented. Fear persists – at the seeming normalization of hate and unchecked hostility.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has counted more than 700 cases of hateful harassment or intimidation in the United States since Election Day on November 8. Episcopal churches preaching inclusion have been defaced. Muslims, blacks, Latinos, political supporters of both sides have been threatened, harassed and physically attacked.
The phenomenon is not unique to the States. A Canadian clerical colleague shared this story of a family member’s friend named Janice. “…she was standing one day in a check-out line at a grocery store or drug store in Dundas. Beside her was the usual display of chocolate bars, mints and cough drops, tabloids and newspapers. Janice is black, and an older man just ahead of her – maybe in his 70’s and white, turned around to look at her, pointed to a newspaper in the display beside them showing a picture of the recently elected president of the United States, and said to her, “That’s why we elect people like that – to get rid of people like you.”
And the worst part of that story – to her who lived it, and to others who have heard it, is that no one in that line said anything.” (Brian Donst, Midrash.)
I don’t mean to suggest that the Donald Trump campaign or the bitter election process invented fear or anger or hatred or a sense of isolation in tumult – witness 1st century Roman Empire, 1930’s Europe. The unconventional campaign and unexpected victory did, however, expose those ugly realities in new breadth and depth.
On this, Reign of Christ Sunday, we are invited, in the face of a world torn apart along race lines, political lines, religious lines, gender lines, sexual orientation lines – an uncountable number of lines – we as Christians in God’s service are invited, nay, expected, not to contemplate the coming of the kingdom someday, but to usher it in today, now. “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” It’s not so impossible as it may seem.
Salma Hamadi of Toronto, an Iranian immigrant who has lived in Canada for approximately 12 years, shared this story (Facebook),
“This morning while waiting for the subway to leave Finch station, a Latino guy entered the train looking very angry and irritated. Sitting down in front of me, he was holding his head and kept saying “OH GOD”. The Russian guy sitting beside him asked if everything was ok, in a pretty heavy accent. He said he has a horrible headache and is running late for an interview. Overhearing the conversation, I offered him Advil… He took it and thanked me but said he doesn’t have water so he’ll have it later. The middle eastern woman sitting beside me wearing hijab, took out a juice box from her kid’s backpack and gave it to him telling him that if he takes it now he’ll feel better by the time he gets to the interview. He started thanking all of us for helping him out and said he’s nervous for the interview. The Russian told him to walk in confidently and to tie his hair back if he can. A Chinese teenager sitting on his other side, handed him a hair tie saying she has a million of them. I told him if he gets in late, to apologize but not bring excuses. Nobody likes excuses. The Muslim lady told him to smile a lot, people trust easier when you smile. We got to his station, wished him good luck and off he went. Now if THIS isn’t the ultimate Canadian experience short of a beaver walking into a bar holding a jar of maple syrup, I don’t know what is!”
It’s not just a Canadian experience – it is an in-breaking of the Kingdom.
Another clergyman tells of a story of a pastor he knew who had been chaplain in Vietnam. “One night he was in his tent when a young private came to see him. The private was newly arrived from the States and was scared, very scared, scared to death. The next day, he was going on patrol for the first time. And he was afraid to die. He cried, he moaned, he cursed, he prayed. He wanted the Chaplain to give him a saint’s medal, a New Testament, some charm or talisman that would keep him safe. He wanted the chaplain to tell him a prayer to pray, a good deed to do, anything to keep from dying. The chaplain said, “Look soldier, there’s nothing I can do to prevent you from getting killed on patrol tomorrow, there is no way I can promise you it won’t happen. There’s only one thing I can do. I’ll go with you.” (Personal story)
The chaplain walked into the jungle unarmed and unprotected to be with the soldier in his fearful world.” (Delmer Chilton, Lectionary Lab)
This is what Christ the King did. Does. Jesus walks with us unarmed, unprotected in a fearful world, teaching us how to walk, together, one step, and then another. Neighbor with neighbor. No pomp. No grandeur. This is how we are rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of Christ. This is the coming of Christ’s kingdom. One loving, vulnerable step at a time…. Amen