Christ the King
On this feast of Christ the King, what does Jesus reveal about Himself as king? Jesus reveals that He does not reign as we typically envision kings reigning, i.e. powerful in the worldly sense. Humanly speaking, a weak king is not a good king. Jesus mysteriously reigns in human poverty. Jesus sits enthroned in human frailty. Jesus thus comes to lead us (the role of a king is to lead) where we least expect it. Jesus identifies himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the ill, the imprisoned-literally and figuratively-in us and in others and, from there, He leads us home, i.e. to the mystery of God.
This past week, I had the privilege of attending the opening of the new Museum of the Bible (https://www.museumofthebible.org). A special invitation was extended to local clergy by the Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in southern California (Rev. Warren is particularly known for his 2002 book "The Purpose-Driven Life", which has sold over 30 million copies; he also famously gave the Invocation Prayer at the 2009 Inauguration of Barack Obama). I sat at table for the opening presentation by Rev. Warren and lunch with one Methodist and two Baptist ministers. I listened with admiration as they described the involvement of their churches in issues of justice: affordable housing, human trafficking, education, and adoption of children in the foster care system. Although, I might have disagreed with them on certain points of theology (I surely found myself during the presentation wishing for some acknowledgment of the sacraments as foundational to the life of the Church), as they shared, I could not help but hear Jesus, our benevolent King, uttering these words from this Sunday's gospel:
Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Matthew 25:34-46
Together, we love and serve a gracious King, and we all can learn from one another in how better to do so.
Yours in Him,
Brother in Christ
(I Thessalonians 5:5)
This Sunday's second reading (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)exhorts us to wakefulness and eagerness for the Second Coming of Christ, the final event, the culminating mystery for which we pray at every Eucharist ("We await His coming in glory"-Eucharistic Prayer B). My guess, however, is that, although participating in and encouraged by such prayer of the Church, the Second Coming is not always on the horizon of our concerns or wishes. I mean, really. We have work, relationships - both joyous and complicated, bills to pay, health issues to address, and everything on our activity and shopping list. I must admit that such can be the case with me. I secretly yearn for Christ's coming, but my yearning is not prominent every day.
St. Paul does invite us daily to "keep awake and be sober", reminding us, however, that such yearning is super-natural. It does not automatically position itself alongside all of the above: "Hmm. Let's see. Today's to-do list: clean the basement, bake a cheesecake, exercise, call Mom, and yearn for the Second Coming". "Put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation", St. Paul tells us. We have been given these three gifts - faith, hope, and love - to enable us to be in relationship with the One for whose coming we long. Yearning for the Second Coming is thus a gift - a gift, however, that does require our freely chosen participation. What St. Augustine and St. Catherine of Siena teach us regarding salvation really applies to all aspects of our relationship with God, including the Second Coming, "God will not save us without us". Simply dare to believe and hope and love each day, as you call upon the Holy Spirit, "awaiting his coming in glory" (Eucharistic Prayer D). Doing so will ensure that you are a child of light and a child of the day.
Yours in Christ Who is coming,
"Hoping against hope", from St. Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 4, is a strange expression. The original is Greek to me! If I am not mistaken, it can be translated: "who, against expectation, believed in that for which he hoped".
Whatever it is that St. Paul specifically meant, he speaks a great deal of hope-for himself and for those to whom he ministers, for us. In the Letter to the Corinthians (4:16), he affirms that "we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day." In his letter to the Philippians (3:20-21), he reminds, "our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself." In today's second reading, from his letter to the Thessalonians (4:13), he says that he writes, "so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope."
We are beset by too many challenges in life, however, not to be discouraged-at least, occasionally. Lately, I have been struck by the number of my parents' friends who have become rather frail or have died. Life is fragile, and as optimistic as we may try to be, we are not in control of everything that occurs in/to our bodies and we cannot stop the aging process and all that it brings.
Well aware of all of this, St. Paul is full of hope nonetheless: divine hope which is based on God's promises, and upon experience of a love so powerful that it raised Jesus from the dead. How important it is to bear in mind the promises and how much we need to experience the love. Indeed, we all have an experience of this love. It may seem distant sometimes, but we do, "for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable". (Romans 11:29) And, "in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us", for nothing "in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord". (Romans 8:38)
With you in His love,
There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!
(First reading-Revelation 7:9)
All Saints Day. A great day. A day of multitude. A day when we celebrate special friends, the saints. I deliberately say friends.
In the Apostles Creed (390 AD), we profess belief in the "communion of saints". Now, some, of course, understand the "saints" to be all believers, and this can be held. I am of the school of theological thought, however, that understands the saints precisely to be those "standing before the throne". And, if we are in communion with them, then they journey with us-actively. The saints are not simply distant models of good Christian living (who serve as a constant reminder that we are falling short!). They are friends, who are instruments of God's love and light for us. Why would God not do this with these sisters and brothers? Do we not hope that all of our sisters and brothers in Christ are instruments of God's love and light for us (and we for them)?
St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) asks the question very deliberately:
Ought we to call upon the saints to pray for us?
Since the saints who are in heaven are nearest to God, the order of the Divine wisdom is such that we, who, while we remain in the body are pilgrims from the Lord, should be brought back to God by the saints who are nearest to Him: and this happens when the Divine goodness pours forth its effect into us through them.
We have so many more friends than we realize, assisting us on this incredible pilgrimage of faith.
Yours with them,
From the desk of the Rector