Year C; Proper 29FB; Christ the King; 8:00 am
Today, is the final Sunday of the Church year. In liturgical churches, we mark the end of the Church year by celebrating the reign of Christ. We spend the year walking with him through his birth, baptism, life, death, resurrection and ascension. The Collect for today asks Christ to “…mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under Christ’s most gracious rule…” Unity, freedom and reconciliation are the marks of Christ’s reign for today.
On Christ the King Sunday, I often remember the Italian walnut Christ the King carvings affixed to each of the doors of Christ the King Chapel in Grace Church, Plainfield, New Jersey. That’s where the 8 am Sunday Eucharist was held. The nave was too cavernous for the little 10 person 8 am congregation.
Christ the King chapel was a cigar-box shaped, run-down-looking drab room where the cork floor was worn and the seat cushions were starting to fray. But the expensive “Italian” crosses hanging on the doors were ordered when money was no object in the 1950s. They depicted Christ hanging in full robes. The walnut carved robes had a red stain to them. Christ’s crown was wood-carved and stained gold. His image was regal, commanding and very European-looking. There was no sign that Christ on these crosses was suffering and dying. Those of us who believed in Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension could see that this was the ascended Christ the King who fills all things in heaven and earth under “…his most gracious rule.”
But those in the predominantly black congregation saw a very European looking Christ the King on the cross and wondered how these carvings made sense presiding over a chapel of an inner city, poor congregation. I often asked myself as I presided over the Eucharist in that space, “Were these carvings even inspiring to look at being so out of place, so inaccessible a Savior that looked nothing like the congregation?” And to this day, I regret that I never did anything to replace them with images more in line with our congregation.
Sometimes, art overdoes it with imagery. There are many images for Christ the King depicting him in majestic robes, an orb in hand, wearing a golden crown and sitting at God’s right hand. Sometimes his image looks like a pope or a bishop. This is when the murky waters of human divinity get mixed up with God’s divinity. Humans love to assign divinity to bishops and popes and kings. You know, the way King Henry the Eighth moved out from under the pope claiming his “divine right of kings.”
This is the opposite of God’s intent, of course. But humans love to assign a little bit more “special anointing” to some humans than God ever intended. Like the way Americans love the myth of millionaires and billionaires using their wealth for “charity” and good works. We think that they must have had SOME divine influence to be so set apart by wealth.
You may have read the essay in the New York Times last week entitled, “It Was a Bad Week for Billionaires With Delusions of Saving the World.” It was a guest essay by Anand Giridharadas, who writes on international power and wealth. He writes, and I quote, “One after another, four of our best-known billionaires laid waste [last week] to the image of benevolent saviors carefully cultivated by their class…not only vast political power of billionaires keeps us keeping them around, it’s also the popular embrace of certain myths-about the generosity, the genius, the renegade spirit, the above-it-ness of them…”
Never mind that to gain and amass that kind of wealth, elected officials and just plain citizens look the other way to allow them, for the most part, to take a pass on labor, tax, antitrust and regulatory policies. The myth of wealth in this country gives a kind of divinity to human beings.
But does this mean Christians should deny our belief in the kingship of Jesus, Christ the King? Brother James Koester, an Episcopal monk from the Order of Society of St. John the Evangelist, shared his reflection yesterday on the word, “King.”
He writes, “The world has never seen, except once, the kind of king we mean when we speak of Christ the King. Instead of a throne, our King reigns from a cross and rules on his knees. His crown is thorns. His orb and scepter, a basin and towel. His law is love. We are here to tell the tale of lives transformed by loving service, for this king has set an example for us all.”
At our vestry meeting on Thursday, we paired up and had a conversation about the gospel lesson from Luke; Luke’s version of the Crucifixion . My partner was Meghan Williams. She and I discussed the conversation between the dying criminals on each side of Jesus. One mocked him. The other acknowledged fully his own crime and embraced his punishment. This conversation appears only in Luke’s gospel, and it tells the followers of Jesus that, even as we die, there are no barriers to joining Christ in his reign. The criminal said as he hung there dying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And from the cross, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Stripped clean of everything, that criminal received the Promise of new life in Christ. Christ had no wealth. Christ had no earthly power. Christ was not a Twitter “blue Verified badge.” Christ was not a billionaire myth of charity.
Christ’s realm is with the prisoners, the people who are hungry, sick and blind. Christ’s realm is with those who are naked, bleeding, dying and displaced.
Rick and Mary Lee Wile introduced me to daily poems that retired Methodist pastor, Steve Garnaas-Holmes writes on Sunday lectionary passages. He shares his poems in his blog, “Unfolding Light.” Sometimes, I think our poets and writers are our “kings,” “our royalty” because they are so generous with their art, prophetic in their words and humble in sharing them.
This is the poem he wrote for Christ the King Sunday:
‘The mockers shouted, ‘He saved others; let him save himself!’
‘They meant it as a taunt, but it is the emblem of love: that one cares for others more than oneself.
‘It is Christ’s refutation of selfishness, of violence, of capitalism, of systems of privilege and exclusion.
‘Pray that the world may ridicule you because you are so loving.’”
And my prayer for us today is for our lives to reflect the love, unity, freedom, and reconciliation that Christ’s reign gives us each day.