Christ the King The Rev’d Ann J. Broomell
Christ Church, New Haven
November 22, 2015
My first trip to the Holy Land came within months of my becoming a Cathedral Dean as the North American Deans traveled to the Holy Land for their annual meeting. I was excited to be going, to be meeting people who served in the type of ministry I had just joined, and to see the places I’d read about for so long.
I did have a chance to do all of those things. Yet, as you might imagine, there were a series of experiences where God broke into the midst of my sightseeing mode. Where through things I saw, sensed, touched, I felt deeply connected with Jesus.
One such event stands out in my memory. It took place one morning early in the trip. A group of about 20 of us began winding our way through the souk the ancient marketplace of Palestinian section of Old Jerusalem. We walked up and down cobble stone streets hardly wide enough for a car to pass. Shop doors were open. Goods were spilling out into the walkway and hung above our heads.
Our group wove through children going to school, shoppers, delivery men with carts piled high with goods for one shop or another. We stopped at a relatively deserted place to talk about the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and the tomb where his body was believed to have been laid. Ahead of us were the green cross-topped domes of the Church of the Resurrection. Since the 4th century Christians have traveled to this holy place. With crowds of people, we walked inside.
There were side altars and chapels everywhere—Coptic, Roman, Greek. Our group began to climb single file up a steep winding set of stone stairs. We stepped into an open space and passed three altars side by side. The third was incredibly ornate. Gleaming silver oil lanterns hanging from all over the ceiling threw their light onto a life sized crucifix of Jesus totally covered with silver except for his face and icons of Jesus and Mary encased in silver and gold. There was glittering silver, brass and gold everywhere—all of it reflecting the light of oil lamps and candles.
People lined up moving toward the ornate altar. I had no idea what we were going to see. As I drew closer realized that one by one people were actually kneeling under the altar, then bowing down. People in our group were crossing themselves and putting hand and forearm into a hole. Then standing and stepping aside to reflect on the experience.
I didn’t know what to expect. When it was my turn I knelt down. The hole before me was surrounded by a polished brass plate in the shape of a sunburst, I placed my hand into hole. Almost immediately it was resting on solid rock--smooth, very cold. I realized this church, especially this altar area we had climbed steps to see, built around the skull shaped rock, Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified.
I was moved to cross myself as well. The hardness of the rock immediately reminded me of the harsh Roman justice and the cold reality of Jesus’ pain and suffering, crucifixion and death. I, too, stood off to the side almost stunned, touched and moved, connected directly to the crucifixion in a way I had never expected my life would hold.
Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. Our understanding of Christ as the King is mediated by the story of Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate before his crucifixion. We can see icons, paintings, depictions of Jesus wearing jewel studded crowns. Yet we know that the kingdom, the realm of God isn’t about a distant ruler, head held tall and straight to bear the weight of that crown. The realm of God is signified by the one who bows down to touch, to heal. Who was and is light in the darkness of this world.
Today, to think of Jesus we might consider the glittering silver and gold of the Church of the Resurrection. But I remember more intensely that rock. The place of Jesus in our lives is not about trappings of royalty, but about simplicity, compassion and love—the solid rock where we will find our hope.
While our first two readings speak of throngs of people bowing down to heavenly beings seated on thrones, the Gospel reading is in stark juxtaposition to those images. Here a beat up, dirty man stands before the seat of political power in that world. Pilate has the power to crucify Jesus or set him free, yet Jesus controls the conversation from the beginning.
We see kingship manifest in crucifixion rather than political dominance. In humility, loving those crucified beside him, honoring those closest to him standing below him, rather than bowing down to earthly power. As you know, the irony we all see is that while Pilate places a sign over Jesus’ head that signifies that he is King of the Jews to mock him, the sign holds the truth for all who would see it. The realm of God, the Kingdom of Christ, is not destroyed by violence, cruelty and death. It shines forth in the darkest of times, the darkest night.
When we think of carnage being wrought in cities across the world by people who want to foster hate and fear, we may wonder when the Light seems absent. As Bishop Andrew Doyle of Dallas wrote: Who has not found herself …… in Pilate’s seat, seeking to understand?
As we search for understanding we can see the impact of those who view their religion with an imperialistic leaning. Far from leading us into God’s realm, the religion that sees itself as the exclusive holder truth and salvation, resorts to coercion and oppression of people on other paths. We see the dichotomy of the ruthless sovereign on one hand, and the radically hospitable healer Jesus of Nazareth on the other.
As we struggle with the response to Kenya, Lebanon, Paris, Mali and whatever is to come, many will say that all Muslims are evil and to be feared. We see the way fear leads to hate and a whole people are branded by the actions of a tiny minority. So many act with great cruelty in their panic and ignorance.
As we struggle, we need to consider the words of another champion for Christian non-violence, Martin Luther King, Jr. who wrote:
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. …Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.(1)
Where do we carry his words in the present state of the world—in actions between and among nations and peoples? We continue to struggle with solutions.
Yet there is no doubt in my mind that to respond to terrorism with hate and fear only deepens the darkness. The light of Christ within each of us shines forth when we both act and respond in love. God never causes the death and suffering we see today, and God is there in every moment of it in compassion, light and love.
Pilate looks at Jesus and sees no sign of power, no weapon, no angry mob calling for his release. He asks Jesus What is truth? As Nancy Rockwell writes: Truth, like God escapes definition, as, like God, truth also escapes our control. Job learns that truth is beyond human understanding, Jacob learns truth is a blessing that hurts. Mary learns truth emerges from the grave when her broken heart weeps. The disciples in Emmaus learn the power of truth when they have walked to the end of their despair. (2)
In our frantic busy, sometimes fearful, lives may we be open to truth. May we be aware when God is rushing in to overwhelm us—leaving us staggering as we take it all in. May we allow the Christ within us to draw us in to God’s kingdom, God’s realm, serving the One who give us life, that through us light will banish darkness and love supersede hate and fear.
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
(1) King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Where Do We Go From Here?” Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? New York: Harper & Row, 1967, p. 62.
(2) Rockwell, Nancy. “What is Truth?” Blog November 15, 2015 http://patheos.com/blogs/biteintheapple/what-is-truth/