Sunday, November 20, 2016

Christ the King

In our Explorers Bible Study a few weeks ago right after the Wednesday mass, Peg Kringle brought in a new icon that she had gotten recently.  It’s a beautiful icon with a variety of scenes on it, and we together tried to make sure we knew what each scene was depicting.  It isn’t quite as easy at it seems, as in iconography there are sometimes several different things happening all at once, even if they occurred at different points in time.  It’s the same reason that people in icons have unusually shaped heads, thin fingers, and unusual proportions   This is because icons aren’t meant to be photographic depictions of what happened.  

There is a reason for that sort of amorphous dealing with time, and that is because Icons are intended to depict greater truths than a mere image could.  Icons are intended to be “windows to heaven;” they are something revelatory, through which God shows us something of the nature of the divine.  Icons reveal to us the deeper truth of the person or moment they depict.  They are intended to help us see things the way God sees them, to aid us in our prayer and spiritual growth, and they are wonderful tools for that.  

If any of you have ever kept vigil with the blessed sacrament following the Maundy Thursday service, you know how powerful icons can be; an hour spent with St. Augustine of Canterbury, the incredulity of Thomas, and the Blessed Virgin and Child can be transformative through its prayerful contemplation.  

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-- all things have been created through him and for him.” 

To fall into the trap into which oh-so-many rookie preachers fall, there is an interesting bit of Greek here.  We hear that Jesus is the image of the invisible God.  The word that St. Paul uses here for image is εἰκὼν.  Christ is not a picture of what God looks like sitting on the throne.  Christ is how God revealed to us the deeper reality of God’s innermost nature.  When we look at Christ we see an image not of what God looks like, but who God is.   

As we celebrate today the feast of Christ the King it is instructive, I think, to ponder the nature of the King to whom we are subject, and to whom we owe our allegiance and our lives.  We are after all, subject more to the laws of God than the laws of man and must, in the end, determine where our deepest loyalties lie.  After all, this feast was instituted in the church in the wake of the destruction of World War I, a war that took an entire generation of the best and brightest from across Christendom.  It was intended to serve as a reminder that true sovereignty rested with Christ and was created to stand in opposition to the nationalism, isolationism, and other forms of arrogance that leads us to believe that some people are better, more important, or more worthy than others.  

And how appropriate.  After all, if one hopes to one day find themselves in the kingdom of God, it will be a rather uncomfortable place if one also hopes not to encounter those of different races, nationalities, denominations, or beliefs. 

And we know this to be true, because we have seen the icon of the King to whom our knees bow and our tongues confess.  And what we see is a man who was a member of an ethnic and  religious minority within the empire.  A man who was a refugee, forced to take flight to escape the persecution of the state.  A man who was killed by agents and officers of the state in spite of his innocence, in no small part to inspire fear in those who shared his religion.  A man who was unjustly labeled a terrorist because he called not for violence, but for justice for those who were economically and culturally oppressed minorities, Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles alike.  

It is this outcast, this unwanted and unworthy soul, this subversive and radically inclusive and welcoming monarch whom we worship.  It is this seemingly hopeless victim that we follow.  It is this vision we must claim as our own. It is this crown to which we must offer our obeisance.

Christ the King is a reminder to us yearly that while the Kingdom of God is not of this world, it is very much in it.  It is a reminder that those who sow division and hate, who advocate for supremacy and subjugation, who seek hard power for its own sake do not reflect to us in any way the Kingdom to which we have been called and made subject.  

If our oath, if our allegiance, if our subjection to Christ is to mean anything it must mean that we ourselves, our souls and bodies, have Christ as our first loyalty, even when such a stance comes at a cost.   
There is, it seems, a widespread feeling that the world at this moment is a dry tinderbox that is simply awaiting a spark to turn it into the type of conflagration in which we found ourselves a century ago, and then again seventy years ago.  As the forces of division, aggression, separation, supremacy, and violence around the world seek power (as they always do), we will be asked as all generations have been asked at one time or another, which side we stand on.  

We have seen what happens when we forget who our true King is.  We have seen violence and intimidation.  We have seen the firehoses and dogs.  We have seen the crosses burned in yards.  We have seen the turning away of ships full of those who are fleeing the machinery of death in camps.  We have seen Flanders Field, Ypres, and the Somme.  We have seen our nation rise up against itself to preserve slavery.  We have seen what happens when we forget the message we have been given by our King. 

So let us not forget. 

Let us respond to injustice with justice.  Let us respond to racism, sexism, and all the other -isms and -phobias that plague by building bridges and encouraging diversity.  Let us respond to division with unity.  Let us respond to violence…  in fact, let us respond to all things with love.  

This year let us give particular thanks that Christ reigns over all the powers of the world, and that his supreme reign will, no matter how dire the situation is in which we may find ourselves, will always be triumphant.  

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