Christ the King is not a popular festival. We even changed the name to the reign of Christ, I suspect in part because we don’t get the concept of King’s anymore. A whole bunch of churches don’t even observe this day. We don’t give Christ the King presents or treat it as a holiday. Kings have become irrelevant to the affairs of nations, and the so-called Second Coming grows more remote with every passing miscalculation. One Christian group calculated the precise day of his return, October 22, 1844. They quit their jobs and took to the high ground. The day has gone down in religious history as “the Great Disappointment.” Already in the New Testament the complaint is raised in the letter of Second Peter, “Where is the promise of his coming?” We have waited patiently for Christ our King. Our heads are up. Where is he?
Today’s Gospel reading, which recreates a small segment of a conversation between Jesus and the men he was crucified with. It’s a little disorienting to walk into church—maybe you were a few minutes late—just in time to hear a Holy Week reading in late November! Have we slept through Christmas? It’s not a misprint. Andrea did not
read the wrong passage. The fact is, the majority of references in the Gospels to Jesus as king do not refer to his celestial power but to his trial and crucifixion.
And the best reflection on that I ever read goes like this:
“What happens if we take the broken figure on the cross seriously? What if we say point blank that the impotent, dying Jesus is the disclosure of God? Then the attributes of God are up for grabs. Omniscience? Well, Omniscience can only mean to know through suffering and dying the full depth of the human condition. And Omnipotence? God’s power must be defined entirely by suffering, nonviolent, self-giving love; it can no longer be conceived of as unlimited domination.
If somehow the crucified Jesus is taken into the Godhead, our conceptions of God must be transformed. We have clung to a triumphant, masculine God, an almighty God of authority and power. And we have bowed in reverence before a triumphant, risen Christ, with every wound smoothed over. Like brash Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration we have cheered, “It’s great to be here! Let’s build!
But what are we to do with a God who, like a mother, constantly self-sacrifices for the sake of human children, whose only force is love, who accepts our rejection, inflicted pain, and outright disobedience in order to be faithful?
Does such an image call us to live quite differently in the world? Will we have to yield our bigger and better power games.; our competitiveness with one another and desire to be in charge of one another.
Of course we must.
“You must be holy as I am holy,” sings out the voice of God. And God’s holiness, is not what we expected, but instead is the modesty of humble faith, of self-giving love. So maybe we’re called to be people of compassion first. A church, a people, always willing to lay their own agenda’s aside for the benefit of someone else. I wonder could we be that kind of church, that kind of people here?
It’s hard to image. I’ll admit until I met Max and Vi I had no idea what that looked like. Max and Vi were parishioners back in the day when I sang in the choir, taught Sunday School, and chaired the property committee at a church those in know called St. Mike’s Bar and Grill. Max and Vi were devout, they knew Jesus, were not afraid to talk about knowing Jesus, and yes they intimidated lots of folks with their faith – but never on purpose. They were not wealthy – they couldn’t have been – they gave too much money away.
Don’t get me wrong; they weren’t foolish with money – Max was a retired accountant – he just knew that his money wasn’t his – it was Jesus’ – he and Vi just got to help decide where it would be spent.
Max was the treasurer of a street mission they tried to be open 24/7- 365 days a year, they never had enough money, the building was a dump. Every other social service agency was more glamorous, more professional, and better funded than Max’s – none did more for the wrong side of the tracks.
I will always remember the Sunday when Max came to church heart broken. The year before their building had been bought by a sympathetic member of the community, she was a Christian, wanted to help. But she had died. And for some reason she’d decided to leave the building in her will to a prominent fundamentalist, hour of power, sort of Christian ministry. I think she thought that they’d be, like her, sympathetic to this struggling ministry. How wrong she was.
They didn’t get it – all they saw was a rundown building, on the wrong side of the tracks, with all sorts of the wrong people hanging around it.
The Friday before Max and Vi came to church, the famous TV preacher had sold the building to a developer and they had gotten their eviction notice – the ministry it seemed was over.
Trouble was; the Jesus Max and Vi knew was a stranger to the TV preacher – they’d even met with him, got in their old junker of a car and drove here to Toronto and tried to introduce him to the nail cut, self-giving, humble Jesus they knew – the TV preacher didn’t want to know him. You can’t blame him. We all have trouble with the Jesus who reigns from the cross.
David Buttrick, was a great American preacher, he once used this image to try and inspire us:
“In another land there is a church with a painted ceiling. On the ceiling is a picture of the creation – the great God Jehovah with a sweeping arm flinging out the stars. Way down below in the main body of the church is a small cross on a table. That church is a symbol of how far we’ve gone astray. Sure we preach the cross on Good Friday; we’ve done that for centuries. But we’ve done that under the awesome image of Jehovah, a God of unlimited power – our Judge, our Author, our King.
Trouble is, for most folks in our age, the ceiling is whitewashed; the picture has faded. Most folks out there have little or no sense of the presence of God; in fact it’s very much the opposite, all they sense is absence. So perhaps our task is to repaint the heavens, projecting from the little cross a much larger one. We can tell, and we can live out of the astonishing cross shape of God’s all encompassing love.
I remember Max being heart-broken that Sunday in church, an old man telling his story at Coffee Hour with tears in his eyes – his loving wife watching him pour his heart out and just ever so gently touching his arm. There wasn’t anything that day to do but listen.
But a funny thing happened. The developer’s plans fell through, seemed no one wanted to back a development on the wrong side of the tracks. Another donor came forward – the street ministry got to buy it’s very own building. And I’m sure Jesus who reigns with nail cut hands and feet, whose throne is a cross, must have smiled – love won – he still had a place to hang his hat in East London.
I checked online on Friday, the Ark street mission is still in business, in a different building, but the ministry is still the same. Max and Vi would be thrilled; they died years ago. Two of the nicest Christians I’ve ever met – their Jesus is easy to love.
And I’ll be honest I didn’t know that then – I didn’t even know that after I’d gone to seminary – it took some years and my own fall from grace but I met their Jesus. One day in paradise I hope to thank Max and Vi – their Jesus saved me – the one who already knew the depths of human suffering – whose chosen to reign through self-giving love – and who knows full well the futility of our power games – Jesus who comes when we least deserve or expect to meet him.
I wonder have we faith in that Jesus? Are we just crazy enough to put our future in his hands? Could you trust in such a Saviour? And put his love into action through your lives? I wonder . . . . . could we. . . . . accept that Jesus as our Saviour – and not ourselves.