Reign of Christ Sunday, November 21, 2010
Lessons designated by the Common Lectionary include: Jeremiah 23:1-6, Colossians 1:11-20 and Luke 23: 33-43
“As is appropriate for the celebration of Christ the King Sunday, each of the passages for this day concerns the nature of kingly power…The exercise of kingly power…is on behalf of God’s people rather than over against them.” (from “Texts for Preaching,” Cousar et al.)
Our lection from Jeremiah castigates those royal shepherds whose incompetence and neglect wounds and scatters the flock under their care. Jeremiah has God telling his hearers that a remnant will be gathered with other shepherds to protect them in a responsible way. Apparently the prophet was denouncing King Zedekiah (597-587 B.C.E.) whose policies Jeremiah feared would eventuate in weakening or destroying the nation by challenging the enormous power of Babylon, which at the time was the strongest and most ruthless of empires. Along with Jeremiah’s jeremiad or complaint, he offers the hope that a remaining remnant will be led by a new shepherd/leader who will guide in a more responsible way.
As the Church celebrates the reign of Christ over all creation, which is the liturgical meaning of this Sunday, our lection from Colossians is a hymn that proclaims Christ as the head, the origin and goal of creation and the only authentic power to bring peace and reconciliation to the world.
Our gospel lection from Luke tells the story of Christ’s crucifixion. Jesus is mocked as a King of the Jews who cannot save himself. We learn that while Jesus commits himself to a path that includes the powerlessness of the cross, he thereby demonstrates a power and authority that trusts the future and that enables forgiveness, even to his enemies. Ironically, it is the second crucified criminal beside him who begins to understand the authentic power and authority of Jesus, evidenced by his comment, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (23:42)
It is difficult for me to understand how these passages can be interpreted for life today without reference to our own contemporary world of politics. If Christ is King, as Christians why do we acquiesce to policies that lead us as a nation to engage in perpetual war? A recent book by Andrew Bacevich entitled, “Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War” challenges me at least to view the world through the lens of a Jeremiah or a Jesus. For example, he writes: “The folly and hubris of the policy makers who heedlessly thrust the nation into an ill-defined and open-ended ‘global war on terror’ without the foggiest notion of what victory would look like, how it would be won and what it might cost approached standards hitherto achieved only by slightly mad German warlords,” presumably he points to leaders like Kaiser Wilhelm II or Adolf Hitler. Like Jeremiah in our lection for this Sunday, Bacevich strongly castigates leaders whose lack of wisdom harms his people.
On Christ the King Sunday, our prayers should certainly include that tiny slice of Americans, mostly (but not solely) men between the ages of twenty and thirty, often driven to the military by an economy squeezing the middle class and who too often give their lives in the cauldron of “Washington Rules.” While they do our fighting for us, we’ve pretty much forgotten them as well as their families.
Bacevich also protests (and I’d wager Jeremiah and Jesus would as well) all of us who “have essentially forfeited any capacity to ask first-order questions about the fundamentals of national security policy.” Both mainstream Republicans and Democrats are at fault here. Let me conclude this little “jeremiad” with the closing paragraph of Andrew Bacevich’s book:
“Americans today must reckon with a contradiction of gaping proportions. Promising prosperity and peace, the Washington rules are propelling the United States toward insolvency and perpetual war. Over the horizon a shipwreck of epic proportions awaits. To acknowledge the danger we face is to make learning — and perhaps even a course change — possible. To willfully ignore the danger is to become complicit in the destruction of what most Americans profess to hold dear. We, too, must choose.”
Next Sunday marks the arrival of the season of Advent. It is a season of repentance partly fueled by our own sin and failure to follow Christ, but one that also remembers the loving intervention of God into human life. That now ancient arrival and birth points us to Christ’s imperatives of justice and peace. It anticipates the renewing presence of His rebirth among us and His presence in our lives. It is therefore a season when we light a candle of hope.
Never have we needed it more!