The Last Sunday after Pentecost-Christ the King: November 25, 2018
Preacher: The Rev. David Rider, Assisting Priest, St. Michael’s Church
So how did it go?
Since our last gathering, all of us have been through some version of the uniquely American Thanksgiving holiday.
For some of us, we waft in the pleasing afterglow of family, loved ones and foodie paradise, indulging a wonderful karma before returning to school and work world.
For others of us, the long weekend is more business as usual, not too high expectations, perhaps a memorable meal, and a few more errands than usual amid a long weekend.
Yet for others, today’s worship represents an important time of solace after extended-family dysfunction or too much of crazy Uncle Harry in his cups and demanding to explain how to make America great again.
However we got here today, and recognizing that many continue trekking home while we worship, we come together for our weekly celebration of thanksgiving—remember, the word ‘Eucharist’ simply means thanksgiving—combining prayers for solace, strength and wisdom to meet the week ahead.
If that’s not enough, this weekend finds us in a weird cultural pivot to the ‘holiday season’.
Black Friday attempted to seduce us, and Cyber Monday beckons tomorrow.
Christmas trees seemingly fell from the sky overnight, and holiday invitations are flying over our digital transoms.
This year, 1 Advent does not fall on Thanksgiving weekend, giving us a happy extended transition time until next Sunday.
Just when we’ve maxed out on absorbing this zany brew of themes, Deacon Richard seemingly did a head fake and read us a Gospel lesson right out of Good Friday.
What was that all about?
Whatever else surrounds us this morning, today marks the Feast of Christ the King.
Today marks the end of a liturgical year of readings—poetically known as Year B—before we reboot and move into Advent.
So today, it’s a wrap on Year B and Mark’s Gospel.
As with all three annual cycles, today we end on that paradoxical image of Christ the King.
In our proclamation, we become boldly countercultural, ending the church year on a high note—literally a high note of Jesus reigning from the Cross as our final word and celebration.
As Americans, we find delicious irony in the whole idea of Christ the King.
After all, we just celebrated Thanksgiving, a time when our Puritan forebearers risked everything to denounce monarchy and its oppressive features of the 17th century.
One could lead an entire doctoral seminar on the corruptions of kingship and divine-right authority within European history and beyond.
Our American DNA is infused with authority issues around temporal power, and our Founding Fathers worked overtime to differentiate limited presidential authority from kingly power.
When George Washington was asked how to address him after his inauguration, he responded, “Mr. President”.
So what do we make of Jesus as Christ the King, and how might it matter for the ways that we live into the coming holiday season?
Remember that Jesus’ vocation is nothing if not paradoxical, from the wild parables of his earthly ministry to today’s spirited confrontation that John’s Gospel depicts between Jesus and Pilate.
All four gospels having Pilate ask Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
While the term ‘king’ had obvious political overtones to provoke the Romans of Jesus’ day, Jesus repeatedly offers a new kingship that is not of this world.
Of the four gospels, John clearly depicts Jesus as having the highest Christology, the boldest notion of his divine identity that exists from the first nanosecond of creation.
Yet Jesus radically reinterprets kingly power as servanthood and self-sacrifice for the transformation of others.
On a week after our parish conversation about identity as men and women in a MeToo world, we give thanks for Jesus’s spiritual kingship—from another world—that consistently treats men and women with equal respect because we are both born in the same image of God.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus never is victim—here, Jesus voluntarily stares down Pilate and forcefully reframes kingship as service and loving sacrifice, later empowering his disciples—including you and me today—to live out this identity as we navigate our earthly journey.
On one hand, this final day of the Christian liturgical year creates a bookend of sorts, a way to conclude an annual conversation before rebooting for the next.
But it also gives us a foretaste of Advent, that unique season of opportunity that begins next Sunday.
For all the brie, sherry and good cheer of the season, Advent taps into the existential and cosmological—even apocalyptic—anxiety of our lives.
Spoiler alert: next Sunday, we will hear about people fainting from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the earth (that was written in a time before Twitter).
So Advent will ask us if we truly need a transforming Messiah in our lives vs whether a soft buffing of our souls will suffice.
John the Baptist will get in our face regarding whether we will repent (read, turn around in fundamental ways) or simply stick with piano mood music.
At St. Michael’s Church, we’ll gather in prayer and conversation as an antidote to the seasonal neurosis that can wear us down.
In our work for charity and social justice, we’ll follow Christ the King whose sacrificial love upends the corruption of human power, even as we attempt concurrently to maintain the guardrails of American democracy.
In a world that threatens to teeter on chaos, Jesus next week will beckon us to stand tall before the Son of Man.
It’s a wrap on Year B and Mark’s Gospel before we transition to my favorite Gospel of Luke.
Also, it’s a wrap on our Thanksgiving 4-day weekend as we finish off those foodie leftovers.
For those of us who avoided the hectic travel day, I hope you indulge in a wonderful afternoon nap as your inalienable human right and preparation for the coming weeks.
Get some deserved rest, figure out what to do with that turkey wishbone, then stand tall for the coming joys and challenges of the season so that we may prepare with joy for the coming of the Prince of Peace..