OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST THE KING – November 25, 2012

 

The Book of the Prophet Daniel 7:13-14

The Book of Revelation 1:5-8

The holy Gospel according to John 18:33b-37

Dear Jesus,

Let me repeat at the outset what you already know.  I love you.  All I desire is to be known as one who follows you.  That is the only reputation that matters to me.  I notice that we are finishing another liturgical year.  We are about to celebrate the Sunday that proclaims our kingship.  I hope I do not offend you when I say that I have long found this to be a strange feast.

Please do not misunderstand me.  From the day I began to believe and to experience your call to follow, your call to discipleship, I have wanted you to reign in my life so that I could be part of the church’s extension of your reign in the world.  But when I sift through various proclamations that you made to the crowds and how you always seemed to focus on the little ones, the poor and the disenfranchised, I don’t hear one who wants to be a king.  Kings aren’t popular in this country, as you know.  Our ancestors fought a long and bloody war to end a king’s rule of the original colonies.  A king implies domination.  Subjects must be subservient.  The people of this country take pride in being free participants in a democracy.

I’ve noticed lately that I always seem to be questioning apparent realities.  I have to rethink assumptions I have lived with for many years now.  I am not trying to be obstinate, much less impertinent.  We have journeyed together through another liturgical year.  A lot has been stripped away in the process and I wonder if I am any closer to knowing what it’s all about.  I just want to understand.

Sudden and unexpected deaths may be clouding my thinking.  My emotions are on the surface.  Within a week’s time I received two messages informing me that friends dear to me had died.  The first was a young friend that had drowned in a rushing river where he was trying to cool off following a hike taken during the heat of a summer’s day.  The second call was from a grieving son to tell me that his mother had died suddenly in the midst of an asthma attack. Neither deserved to die.  They were both faithful servants of yours and could have had many more years to journey with you.  Yes, I believe in the life after this one, but the separation that death brings weighs heavy and I find myself asking, “Why?”

Isn’t a king someone who rules over all his subjects?  If that is true, shouldn’t we have a better Gospel selection to proclaim on this day that would emphasize your reign instead of one that proclaims your kingship in spite of your standing before Pilate on trial for your life?

Daniel’s vision in the first reading is appropriate and is more in line with the revealing of a king.  There’s conflict in Daniel’s dream as he sees the worldly powers oppose the coming kingdom of God.  Then he sees one like a Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.  The church believes you are that Son of Man who receives from the Father dominion, glory, and kingship.  But that kingship, it seems will be exercised only at the end of time when all people, nations, and languages will serve you.  Would that that could begin now.  And while you appropriate Daniel’s vision to yourself in the Gospel, it will be your crucifixion that will follow.

Are you a king?  The question is apt.  The sign that will be tacked to the top of your cross will read: Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews.  What kind of king has no subjects?  Your Jewish brothers and sisters rejected you for welcoming sinners and eating with them.  Even your disciples fled in terror, except for your mother and the Beloved Disciple.  A resplendent reign is hard to reconcile with defeat.

My thoughts go back to the poor and to all those suffering atrocities in the war-torn lands.  I think of children abused and abandoned.  And I think of my two friends.  It’s here, isn’t it?  This is the lesson you want understood if we are to celebrate Christ the King.  You are the king of the desperate.  You reign in hearts that open to you and are otherwise empty.  You are the king of those who have no one else to whom they can turn.  You won’t be king for those who think they can save themselves.

So often you challenge me to remember.  I’ve come to understand that that means to remember with all that remembering entails.  To remember is to make all things present.  To be remembered by you is to be present to the whole mystery that is you.  When your disciples remember all your actions and your dying and rising become timeless.  Celebrating Eucharist is that kind of action.  Do this in my memory is your challenge to live the mystery, and living it, to make the whole Christ event present.  That is how you bring us to God.

We have to be empty and desperate in that emptiness. We have to have relinquished every other refuge, anyone else on whom we could rely.  We have to admit our sinfulness.  We have to know what helplessness and hopelessness mean if we are going to enter into your reign.  There is no other way to know other than to have lived the experience of being helpless and hopeless except for you.  That is what makes sense out of the Meal we share gathered around your table.

I think of my two friends in their dying.  To drown or to suffocate is to experience ultimate powerlessness.  That must be like a plunge into a deep and dark chasm.  And just when they thought their situations were hopeless and that they were helpless, you rushed in and lifted them up.  I believe that just as I pray that will be my experience on my last day.

Am I getting close to what you want me to learn as I celebrate the Feast of Christ the King?  I believe that you are supreme over the church and all creation.  But I have to need you and let you reign in my heart.  That is it, isn’t it?  I have to let you be king.

What a dolt I am.  I must be the epitome of the slow learner.  It just occurred to me now that because of our baptismal union with you we already share in your reign.  We celebrate that, too, on this feast.  If I share in your reign I had better reign the way you do.  I can do no better than imitating you in pouring out myself in service.  Yours is not a community of triumphalists, if there is such a word.  Yours is a community of servants who aspire to nothing loftier than being foot-washers.  I must recognize you in the poorest of the poor and serve you in them.  When I gather with my brothers and sisters in the faith, in that number there had better be representatives of all walks of life, especially the lowliest, and those who are known to be sinners, and the disabled physically and mentally had better be welcomed or ourgathering will not be the Body of Christ that you want the church to be.  I remember a quotation of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who understood what the kingdom that is the church should be like: It is much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer, a praying prostitue, than a vain person praying.  Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity.  If we are a people in whom you reign, we know what it means to be a sinner and to wonder if we would ever be free of the sin.  And then we come to know what it means to be surprised by grace.

Please, Jesus, as you enter your kingdom, don’t forget me.  And please let my friends, newly in the face to face vision of your glory, know that I look forward to seeing them again when that day comes.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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