sermon for the last sunday after pentecost: christ the king, year c, november 24, 2013

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Its hard to believe, but today is the last Sunday after Pentecost, also called the Solemnity of Christ the King. This Sunday is also the last of the Christian year. Next Sunday will be the first Sunday of Advent, and with the praying of Evening Prayer this coming Saturday, the new Christian year will commence. As I say: its hard to believe.

Although we are not there quite yet, the word “advent” comes from the Latin word (“adventus”) that means “arrival,” and it is used by the Church in connection with the “arrival” within the world of the divine Word, the Son of God, the Creator of the World.

Think about the multivalence of Christ’s “advent,” the many ways that he “arrives.” Jesus first “arrives” at the moment of his conception in the womb of Mary, the first moment of his incarnation, and the first moment at which God enters into his creation as “one of us.” He arrives too at his nativity – which we celebrate at Christmas – when he is born, and disclosed for the first time to the eyes of his fellow man, as well as to the gaze of the lowing cattle, and the bleating sheep which, together with the shepherds, the magi, and the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, herald the arrival of their Creator and Lord “on a cold winter’s night that was so deep.”

Another “advent,” significantly and apropos of today’s feast, is when Jesus arrives at Jerusalem, entering the city on Palm Sunday, and being heralded as the “Son of David,” and heir to the throne of Israel. And of course on Good Friday he arrives at Calvary, where he is crucified, with the title “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” nailed over his head. This is the mystery held before us in this morning’s Gospel, on the Solemnity of Christ the King, as we stand on the threshold of Advent.

The Calendarium Romanum says that through the choice of this date, the last Sunday before Advent, “the eschatological importance of this Sunday is made clearer.” (“Eschatological” is a word that refers to things pertaining to the end of the world.)

I’ve talked before about how, through our incorporation into Christ, through our being made “one body with him,” we share in his eternity, even now – and this is nowhere made more clear than in our quotidian celebration of the Eucharist. In Christ, time is all jumbled up; past, present, and future all overlap and are folded into one another. As such “the eschatological importance of [Christ the King] Sunday,” is manifested in the Gospel reading, where the Lord is shown to be the “King of the Jews,” even in the same moment that he is condemned and executed.

Michael Ramsey noted how it can be said that, because Jesus in a certain sense embodies the people of Israel, therefore on the cross Israel is rejecting Israel, and so stands condemned and desolate. “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree,” (Galatians 3.13). We see this too in the mystery of the Compassion of Mary, Chosen Daughter of Zion, and the Mother of Calvary, who speaks mystically in the book of Ruth and says: “Do not call me Na’omi [which means sweet], call me Mara [which means bitter], for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” And this total desolation of the cross would be recapitulated in 70 AD, as Jesus foretold, when the Roman army, under the general Titus, destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. The historian Josephus, who witnessed the destruction, said that the destruction was so complete “that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe [the city] had ever been inhabited.” Josephus said that during the destruction of the city, the Romans killed over a million people.

The slaughter within was even more dreadful than the spectacle from without. Men and women, old and young, insurgents and priests, those who fought and those who begged for mercy, were all hewn down in indiscriminate carnage. The number of the slain exceeded the number of the slayers. The legionaries had to clamber over heaps of the dead in order to carry on the work of extermination.

Lucius Flavius Philostratus says that the general, Titus, who would later become emperor, refused to accept a wreathe of victory after the siege, saying that he had merely been an instrument of God’s wrath.

When considering the apocalyptic prophecies of Jesus, especially in the Gospel of Luke, scholars sometimes have a hard time in telling whether he is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem or the end of the world – and its tempting to think that this ambiguity serves a purpose: to remind us that we are caught up into Christ’s eternity, and that in his one Body, through the cross, the dividing wall of hostility is broken down. That the sentence of condemnation appropriately belonging to the Jews and the Gentiles, falls on Jesus, and is carried out on the cross.

But the Gospel says that when Jesus was crucified, “There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews,’” (Luke 23.38). Pay attention to the mass readings during Advent, in the coming weeks, and allow yourself to be oriented by them toward the end of the world, the crucifixion of the cosmos – the event by which, as well, all things will be made new (cf. Rev. 21.5).

St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him,” (2 Tim. 2.11-12). Endurance unto death is the watchword of our fidelity to Jesus, and the assurance of our share in his kingship.

I turn every year on this day to one who exemplifies this dynamic to me: Blessed Miguel Pro, the Jesuit priest murdered by the forces of the Mexican tyrant Plutarco Calles in 1927. Falsely accused of plotting insurrection, Fr. Pro stood before a firing squad exactly 86 years ago, yesterday. He said to his executioners, “May God have mercy on you! May God bless you! Lord, you know that I am innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies!” He stretched out his arms, in imitation of the Crucified, and he shouted, “Viva Cristo Rey!” “Long live Christ the King!” And with that, he was shot to death.

At his beatification, Pope John Paul II said of Fr. Pro:

Neither suffering nor serious illness, neither the exhausting ministerial activity, frequently carried out in difficult and dangerous circumstances, could stifle the radiating and contagious joy which he brought to his life for Christ and which nothing could take away. Indeed, the deepest root of self-sacrificing surrender for the lowly was his passionate love for Jesus Christ and his ardent desire to be conformed to him, even unto death.

Indeed, “the saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him.” Viva Cristo Rey. Long live Christ the King.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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