Sermons

Rosemary Christmas.jpg

John 18:33-37

Last Pentecost (Christ the King)– 11/21/21

St. Aidan’s Alexandria

The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales

For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth

 

 

It was a Friday. I was 14 years old. And the president was dead.

We were in church, St. Aloysius down on North Capitol Street, as we were every Friday afternoon, when one of the sisters stepped up to the lectern. 

“…Has been shot” was all I heard, and as one body, the girls of Notre Dame Academy went down on our knees. It wasn’t till the second announcement, minutes later, that I understood WHO had been shot, and how, on November 22, 1963, the world had changed. 

 

Riding the city bus home, amid passengers stunned into silence, was just the beginning. 

The foundations of our world had been shaken, violently shaken, and the tremors have never stopped since. In truth, it has ever been thus; but for many of my generation, this tragedy was our awakening to violence. Now, each fresh catastrophe seems to bring less shock and more resignation. 

Never again would we believe in the “one brief shining moment” of President Kennedy’s Camelot. Fantasy though we now know it was, such an idealized vision of this nation – of any nation -- will never be TRUE.

 

Presidents are the closest we get to kings in these United States. Like kings, presidents have enormous power — and yet, it is never enough. Of course, it’s never enough for them, but in truth it is never enough for us. Because the power of kings is not enough to shake the world’s foundations. The power of kings can’t reach beyond the way things have always been; that kind of power can’t resist the endless cycle of violence, fear, and retribution that holds the people of Earth in its grip, over and over. No ruler, no king, has the power to overturn the old lie that divides people and to proclaim the liberating Truth that all humanity is one.

 

No king, except the king, Christ the King, we celebrate today.

 

Though it sounds like an ancient feast, Christ the King Sunday arose only in the last century after the rulers of this world had nearly annihilated the world. Created by the Roman church in 1925, the feast quickly spread to other denominations, because it speaks to a hunger people everywhere have: They want a leader who can answer the question “What is TRUTH”, who will lead them away from the tired and tragic way it’s always been and help them find a future that is true.

 

Seeking such Truth is why we come here, week after week. Yes, we come to be together, to raise our voices in song, to serve others as God’s hands in the world, to share in the bread of life. 

But deep down, isn’t it true, we come searching for some beautiful truth that gives purpose to our lives and meaning to our deaths. 

 

This week, the search leads us to contemplate kings. 

 

“Are you the king of the Jews?”

It’s the first question the Roman governor asks of Jesus in all four gospel accounts. It must have been the threat to which Pilate was always alert. He oversaw Judea as a puppet for the Roman Empire.

  Having come to power through military success, he was always prepared to defend it from misguided “liberators” of the Jewish people.

But it’s a different kind of liberation Jesus offers, and a different truth that he proclaims.

 Jesus challenges Pilate’s notions of kingship — and ours. 

 

“If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.” But no, he will not answer violence with violence, for “my kingdom is not from here.” We can only imagine Pilate’s puzzlement as he hears Jesus say, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”

Jesus has testified to that truth throughout his ministry, with words:  

        • the reign of God has come near; 

        • your faith has made you well; 

        • your sins are forgiven; 

        • but I say to you, Love your enemies . . .

        • whoever wants to be great among you must be a servant;

        • those who want to save their life will lose it;

        • Take, eat; this bread is my body, broken for you. . . . .

        • Love one another.

 

So many words -- wise, comforting, confounding, true words.

 

Now, it is not with words, but with his body that he will answer Pilate’s next question, the most celebrated question in the entire New Testament: “What is truth?” 

 

In his beaten and broken body, he will testify on the cross that he has taken humanity’s most terrible violence into himself, and will not return it in kind. 

In his glorious resurrection body he will testify that victory belongs not to the power of earthly kingdoms but to the reign of  Life and Light and Love. 

There is truth in the figure of Jesus as a suffering servant, as we see him in today’s gospel. And there is truth in Revelation’s vision of a magnificent end-time king.

 

You can see this vision, “Christ in Majesty,” if you venture into the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington, my old neighborhood. Towering over the main altar, a vast mosaic covers the wall and curves onto the ceiling. In 4,000 shades of color, the mosaic depicts an enthroned figure clad in red, with muscular bare arms and piercing eyes. 

 If you don’t study it closely, you could think it embodies the snarky pop-culture saying: “Jesus is coming and boy, is he p . . . upset.” Growing up and frequently visiting the Shrine, I didn’t take time to study the mosaic closely. In fact, I tried to avoid this terrifying Jesus. He looked so mean, so angry.

 

But now that I’ve seen, again and again and again, what truly mean, truly angry people do, I look at that image in a new way: “He looks so strong, so powerful.” 

 

He looks like a king, the only King, with the power to shake the foundations of our world, to turn things around, to make all that is wrong and askew  /  come right and true.

 

And there’s another, amazing feature of this mosaic I never would have discovered without a blogging priest who came to love an image he, too, once loathed. Monsignor

 Charles Pope suggests that we look at each side of Christ’s majestic face independently. Just as in classic icons of Christ Pantocrator [Pan to CRAH tor], Greek for “Ruler of All,” the difference is subtle. 

 

On the left, the eye looks out serenely, embracing the beholder in a compassionate gaze. To see this side, you have to block your view of the right side, because the gaze there is so intense. 

It penetrates the viewer with knowledge of long-buried secrets; with, yes, righteous wrath; but even more strongly, I think, with grief at what it beholds 

 

Both of these aspects of Christ the King are TRUE.

 

One day, with his piercing right eye of Justice, he will judge the truth of our world — that we have never stopped fighting each other — 

 

and with his compassionate left eye of Mercy, he will teach us his Truth — that all this time, we have only been fighting ourselves, for we are all one in God.

 

And that, my sisters and brothers, is the Truth.

 

Amen.