A Patient Fall
St. Paul's Episcopal Church | Louisburg, NC | November 20, 2016
What are our celebrations and concerns as we find ourselves at this, the last Sun. in our annual church seasonal calendar? What have we learned from our annual journey, this carousel of time we have ridden this past year?
Let’s stop the spinning for just a moment and take a look at the Seasons of our Church year. Next Sunday, we begin anew as we celebrate Advent, the hopeful anticipation of God breaking into our world and our time. Christmas will follow with the birth of Jesus, God taking on the joy and suffering of the world in human form. Epiphany is the seeing of the light, first seen by the wise men, then by all of us as we witness the Baptism and the life of Jesus. Ash Wednesday, in the darkness of winter, marks 40 days of Lent in which we find ourselves in silence, as our faith, like the faith of Jesus is tested in whatever particular desert we are walking through. Lent always finds just a few people following Jesus and a lot of people feeling threatened. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday find us sharing the pain of Jesus, as we await God’s resolution. God’s deliverance of his Son and for us from the death and slavery of our mortal bodies is the Great Vigil of Easter morning. God’s will does not fall to the ground without bearing fruit. We react to God’s saving Grace in the longest season of Pentecost. The disciples huddled together literally 50 days after Jesus’s death and resurrection and realized that they had been given a power to live their lives differently, being guided by passion and love and vulnerability. We come to share in this same mission throughout the summer and fall of our year. That brings us to today which is called Christ the King. We stop and reflect that we are flawed people living in a far from perfect world.
(say) We’re captured
(sing) on a carousel of time.
But why is today called Christ the King Sunday? Your answer is in the devastation of Europe in 1925. The consequences of the first World War had left Europe in chaos. Many Christians, mostly Catholics, began to doubt both the authority of both Christ and the church, as Dictators were on the rise and began to assert their control over the masses. The Pope, Pope Pius XI had three reasons to create this Sunday for Christ the King:
He wanted the nations to see that the Church had both a right to freedom and immunity from the power of the state.
He wanted to show political leaders that they were bound to give respect to the Church.
The faithful would be reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and our bodies.
Almost 100 years later now, many of us balk at the term “King.” For me the term “King” seems antiquated, sexist, humorous at times, and at other times oppressive. My mind roams to King George and his tea tax, King Arthur and his round table, Elvis the King of the rip-off of Black Rhythm and Blues, Michael the King of Pop and his androgynous dance moves, King Tut and his gaudy gold coffin, King Kong and the beauty that killed him, the warrior Kings Hussein and Abdullah of Jordan, and the Burger King and his flame broiled offerings.
But, none of these Kings really stir my imagination. I would rather the Pope have named the day Christ the Mother Sunday, but I was not living in the bruised land of fear that was growing Mussolini and Hitler. I assume the Pope was fighting power with power. The true call of course is that the Kingship of Christ is born of humility and service, not judgment and oppression. This is indeed a Kingdom of a timeless world which we have not yet witnessed.
Jesus says it like this in Mark: Whoever wishes to become great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be a slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.
In John, Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And Jesus answers, “My Kingdom does not belong in this world. If it did, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. Then Pilate said, Then you are a King?” Jesus replies, You say that I am a King. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
This is unlike any King I have read of. This King is tied to suffering and death. If you count yourself as a Christian, you accept that this Christ the King offers a loving kindness which is a radically redefined Kingship, one we know little about. Hopefully , as we pass from this reality, we will walk upon it with a grace of having lived our lives as faithfully as possible.
If you still are having some issues with the word King, perhaps we may find more comfort in the term Trinity. Although the word “Trinity” is not even found in the Bible, it describes the Shape of God perhaps better than King for some of us. One cannot know God with their mind alone. Each of us conjures up a contemplative and mindful awareness of the “mind of Christ” often when we are at our most broken and vulnerable. We are aware of our brothers and sisters on this same journey, and it feels OK with me to call my fellow sojourners a Kingdom of followers. This prayer helps me edge closer:
God for us, we call “Father.”
God alongside of us, we call you “Jesus.”
God within us, we call you “Holy Spirit.”
It is interesting to note that today is called Christ the King Sunday, not Jesus the King Sunday. The name of “Jesus” focuses our imagination on a friend and teacher who walks beside us during our lives, while the name of “Christ” speaks of a guiding Grace which glows over all of eternity. But my words still seem to be inadequate in describing this Kingdom.
I am writing these remarks in mid Oct, yet delivering them to you several weeks after our Presidential Election. This is as close as we come to crowning a King. Fortunately for us a President has checks and balances in place in our Democracy which a King in his Monarchy do not. During the campaign, I found both of the candidates to act more like King than common man. I found myself disappointed in one and disgusted with the other. They each seem to be cut more from Kingly satin than the common cotton cloth of our Jesus, who lived his life as a metaphorical shepherd.
I could make an argument for celebrating Christ the King Sun on Labor Day. Labor Day is a day to celebrate trash men and check-out ladies, instead of bankers and administrators. We honor CNAs instead of pharmaceutical executives. Brick masons and plumbers, maids and child care providers would have caught the attention of Jesus if he walked in our lives today. Working folk reach out for Jesus’s attention while the wealthy have no need for him, and in fact resent his presence. Let’s all be reminded that 2/3s of what Jesus taught about concerned the seduction of wealth and power.
In the 13th century, Meister Eckert says it in a confrontational way, “God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.” When we each find our self at the door of our death, we will realize on the other side of that door is the Kingdom of Christ. As we wall through that door, we will shed the need to get and have and achieve and succeed and perform and win. The Kingdom of Christ will find us simply being aware without judgment of ourselves and others.
The Austrian Poet Rainer Rilke of the early 20th century says it in a soothing way:
Each thing, each stone, blossom, or child is held in place. Only we in our arrogance, push out beyond what we each belong to for the same empty freedom. If we surrendered to the earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees. Instead we entangle ourselves in knots of our own making and struggle lonely and confused. So, like children, we begin again to learn from the things, because they are in God’s heart. They have never left God. This is what the things can teach us; to fall patiently and to trust our heaviness. Even a bird has to do that before he can fly.
This is the language which is spoken in the Kingdom of Christ the King.
I would like to close with a return to the image of Jesus as a shepherd. In his book The Shepherd’s Life, James Rebanks says it in a humble way.
“There is no beginning, and there is no end. The sun rises and falls each day and the seasons come and they go. The passage of time alternates through sunshine, rain, hail, wind, snow, and frost. The leaves fall each autumn, and burst forth each spring. All this happens while our mother earth spins through the vastness of space. The grass comes and goes with the warmth of the sun. The flocks endure, bigger than the life of a single person. We are born and live our working lives and will die. We will pass like the olive leaves that blow across the land in winter. We are each small components of something enduring, something that feels solid, real, and true as we complete the circle of our lives.
Such was the life of Jesus. We see this authority in his life, death and resurrection to eternity. Who would believe that the life of a shepherd is sufficient training to become a King? Mending walls, chopping logs, treating lame sheep, birthing lambs and chasing the stray across roads and down paths, cutting hedges, and mending fences, trimming hooves and cutting wool seem like odd experiences to wouldn’t you say?
But a King that smells of sweat and sheep dung; you know I believe I would follow that King anywhere. Our Risen Christ the King will always be the wounded and dying Jesus hanging between two criminals at Golgotha. As we each cross this threshold of the loss of our life, we will not create; but instead we will simply wander into this Kingdom, and hear the call of these words read from the Gospel of Luke this morning, “Truly I tell you, today you will be in paradise with me.”