This past week marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Perhaps you have seen photos of the notorious entry gate to that concentration camp, yawning like a medieval image of the gates of hell, with an opening large enough for the train carriages to pass through, carrying countless men, women and children toward their death.
Now from this conviction that we are made in the image of God, there flows another, which is that human beings are not just created equal in terms of rights and responsibilities—we are also endowed with an equal dignity. As Heschel put it, “each and every person must be treated with the honor due to a likeness representing [nothing less than] the king of kings.”
I can think of no other time of the year in which the liturgical calendar is more out of sync with the cultural calendar than Advent. While the church has already stepped into the next year—and into a penitential season at that—, the rest of the world is busily shopping, buying, consuming, making merry, and going to ugly sweater parties. While we inside these walls sing the slow, almost dirge-like hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, outside these walls we relish the ineffable joys of singing Christmas trees, inundating us with Frank Sinatra-esque jazzed up versions of Jingle Bells and Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.
As some of you know, I grew up in a fundamentalist church in small town Texas. For the first twelve years of my life, my family were members of the Pruett and Lobit Street Church of Christ. Churches of Christ often name themselves after the street they are on, that being about the plainest and least liturgical way they can conceive of naming themselves. South Main Church of Christ; Missouri Street Church of Christ.
It has not been a quiet week. Not in the nation or the world, and not in my own heart and mind—perhaps you have felt that way as well.
First there was the news on Monday that the grand jury in Missouri would not indict the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, and announcement that was predictably followed by riots, protests, and demonstrations.
Today marks the beginning of the season of nostalgia. This is not an official season, of course: you will not find it on any calendar, or in any table of liturgical observances. But it is a noticeable period that is characterized by a pervasive and unrelenting longing for things as they “used to be.”
Imagine, if you will, looking upon a married couple whose child has just died. To lose a child, they say, is one of the hardest things a human being can suffer, so your sympathy naturally goes out to the couple. You feel regret for their loss, a sympathy for their grief. But your sympathy is not the same as their grief: you can feel for them, but not entirely with them, for their loss is uniquely their own.
“Tell those who have been invited: ‘Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’”
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I don’t suppose I will be going out too far on a limb when I guess that for many of you our Gospel passage is your favorite Bible story. “Yes, Matthew, my mother used to tell me this story of the king killing the people and sacking their cities when I was a small child.” Or, “yes, Fr. Larsen, I too, like the king in the parable, have a highly developed sense of haberdashery and fashion propriety. Many times have I wanted to throw someone out of my party for improper attire. The courage of the king to do just that! Wow!”