20 November 2022
Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost/Reign of Christ
Homily preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
What sort of a king is this? Hanging naked and bleeding on a cross…among criminals, no less. No golden diadem, but crown of thorns pressed onto his head. And the ironic and mocking inscription, “This is the King of the Jews”nailed above it. The message from the Roman domination system is clear…this is what happens when you mess with the Empire.
Those gathered around still want a show of power…or maybe just a show…the cruel, dehumanizing death of others has long been a tool of the principalities and powers to perpetually retraumatize the populace into compliant behavior. Again…this is what happens when you mess with the Empire. So some are there acting out their traumas…laughing, mocking…trying to hold that pain at arms length…push it away…Others are there with a kind of desperate hope…”Save yourself…save yourself…save yourself…” The not-so-subtle subtext being, “if you can’t save yourself, how can you save me?”
But there he hangs…the root of Jesse, key of David, the wisdom from on high, the wonderful counselor, the mighty prince of peace…
What sort of king is this?
Not one born of nobility, that’s for sure. This king was born to a nobody from nowhere…some backwater berg from whence no good comes. Born to a family of migrants…fleeing back and forth across borders as the political realities shift. “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests but this king…this “true human being”* has no where to lay his head (Matt 8:20).
His education was completed not in some elite hub of learning, but in the church of the wild, where beasts, trees, and angelic beings (are they one in the same?) were his teachers…they comforted, and sustained…and challenged him. In the wilderness, he also apprenticed with a character named John, a liturgical innovator who tried to teach people practices that would soften their hearts and help them to build resilient communities. Cleansing rituals, generosity practices…share what you have, take no more than what you need, be satisfied with enough. That got him his head on a platter.
This king’s (our king’s) inaugural address was not a proclamation about making anything great again, or a 12 point plan to fight inflation…it was a piece of scripture about “bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and letting the oppressed go free,” (Luke 4:18-19). And for that, they ran him out of town. What kind of king is this?
An itinerant one…to be sure…In this travels, he spends time with all kinds, eating and chatting with outcasts, the disabled, ordinary laborers, fishermen, divorced people, rich young men, widows, Samaritan women, collaborators, and even a few leading families and spiritual elders, even a centurion or two. It’s a common trope for a king to go walkabout (in disguise) among the troops on the eve of a battle to learn what is really going on but this king spends his entire public life walking around with the hoi polloi…feeding them…healing them…teaching them.
The only parade he’s ever really been apart of is a brilliant piece of political theatre—arriving on a donkey, hailed as “The Son of God”—a send up of the Emperor’s similar but arrogant and idolatrous claim. He causes a disturbance in the Temple, and we know the rest…the trial…the forced march up the hill carrying the instrument of his own destruction.
And there he hangs…our king…our ruler…our judge. What kind of king is this?
For almost all of the centuries when people actually lived under monarchs…the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (which is the full title of this particular Sunday in the Roman Catholic tradition), wasn’t even a thing. Of course, Christ has long been hailed as sovereign, majesty, commander of heaven’s legions, ruler of all,…in other words a king…but setting aside one particular Sunday to highlight and celebrate these specific attributes of Christ is less than 100 years old. It was in 1925, as the world was experiencing the rise of fascism in Italy, and the hedonism of the “roaring twenties” that Pope Pius XI added the feast of Christ the King to the Roman Catholic calendar (it is not officially part of our Episcopal calendar, but many parishes recognize it). The reason Pope Pius did this, according to one author, was that he believed “that the only weapon against such military forces and human chaos was the acknowledgement of the sovereignty of Christ.” [Deacon Jim Knipper, Hungry and You Fed Me].
Now, it seems to me that there are many weapons to be used against the powers of Empire, and chaos, and destruction: prayer, collective action, transformative justice, developing resilience, building communities…but in the midst of all this we would do well to also remember the sovereignty of Christ.
I know many of us have a really hard time with the “king language.” It grates against our values of inclusion and equality. It conjures up images of far too many capricious, patriarchal, power-hungry autocrats who continue to haunt our world, and destroy and scatter the sheep of God’s pasture (Jeremiah 23:1). So, yes, “king” is an imperfect metaphor for the “truly human one,” the one in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” (Col 1:19). But let’s always remember the kind of king Jesus is…not one who rules by fiat and iron fisted control, but one who gives, who serves, who teaches, who heals, who walks and talks with outcasts and sinners, who seeks and saves the lost, who blesses, and forgives, and feeds with bread and wine, body and blood, …who always does what is just and right.
That is our king. The one hanging there, among his own kind…the people he loves…the people he forgives…the people he came to draw more deeply into his arms of love.
*A reference to both the Creed as it has been translated in Enriching Our Worship, and “the True Human Being” is how “Son of Man” is rendered in the First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament.”