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It’s November, and once again my eyes were drawn, as I pondered what Sunday I should write about this month, to the feast of Christ the King. I actually went back to see if I had written about it in other years, and I have—in fact, just last year!
But my eyes, mind, and heart were drawn there and there alone, and so it must be. I think it’s because… well, have you noticed that the world is a bit crazy right now? And… umm… has been for quite a long stretch? I’m pretty sure that’s why I wrote about this feast last year.
I don’t think I need go into any details—after all, we may disagree as to precisely wherein the craziness of our days lies, and I don’t want to further the acrimonious debates that rage around that very point.
No, let’s leave it at this: the world is kind of crazy, kind of unstable, kind of scary actually, if you are prone to get scared by unpredictable off-kilter twists and turns of events. I’m not inclined that way myself, but I fully understand and sympathize with any who are.
It may lead us to question just who exactly is in charge of this whole shebang, anyhow. There is a popular trope on social media making fun of a certain kind of obnoxious customer familiar to those who work in retail outlets, who in a pushy loud way continually insists on “speaking to the manager!”, usually about some trivial or nonsensical complaint.
These days, maybe more than a few of us would like to speak to the manager of our poor, disease-haunted, anxiety-driven, politically-volatile, fractious and frantic world.
What way is this to run a world? And we may seriously question who exactly is in charge.
I do a great deal of individual spiritual direction—it’s my main work in Madonna House when I am not in poustinia—and more than one of my directees, even people of serious and long-committed faith, have at times wondered if God is still running the store or not.
And so… Christ the King. Never was he more relevant, never more central to our concerns and cares. By this feast we affirm, and indeed celebrate, that there is only one Lord of heaven and earth, only One who is indeed in charge of the universe and all it holds, and it is Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
And so we turn to the Gospel for this feast this year, and find perhaps to our surprise that it is John 18: 33-37. This is Christ bound before Pilate, Christ the prisoner on trial, Christ facing injustice and evil, deprived of his liberty, confronting false accusations and diabolical schemes against his life and safety. Pilate is speaking to the manager, all right, and how does that interaction go?
“Are you the King of the Jews?” “My kingdom is not of this world… My kingdom is not from here.” … “So you are a King?”
“For this I was born … to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Christ is King, all right. But it seems that this kingship of Christ is just a little different from what our notions of king are.
We don’t think much of kingship in our world today, but we sure are obsessed with power. And the one thing we all know is that the person who has power uses it, and uses it to make the other person do whatever the power-wielder wants to happen.
Christ is King—the King, the King of Kings. He could well have used his power to wipe Pilate and in fact the entire Roman Empire off the face of the earth.
So often, isn’t this what we want to do—maybe not wish death on our enemies (or whoever) but whip them into shape, for sure. Make them do … well, whatever that thing is we want to make them do.
Christ did not do any of this. He instead “let it be done” to him. He took the hit for all of us, and in taking that hit, he refashioned the heavens and the earth and all therein into a new creation ordered to a new end. He refashioned every human heart who will allow it, to this new end, which is beautiful beyond telling and eternal in scope.
And this changes forever, for those who “belong to the truth,” our entire understanding of power and its use, of what it means to be king, of what the response of the kingly people we have been fashioned into by Christ must be to evil, disorder, “craziness,” to a world shaking (seemingly) on its foundations.
Most importantly, this changes our understanding of how we are to enter into and have a share in what indeed Christ was, is, and will always be doing to set things right in this world.
Suffering love, compassion and care, the willed choice to stand in the face of a broken world without violence, without domination, without using whatever power we may possess in any way except to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters, to bind up wounds and journey with mercy and profound reverence alongside every “crazy” person (which, if you haven’t figured it out, is all of us) God puts us next to on our way through this world.
So, talk to the Manager indeed! Have a good long talk with this King who is like no other king, this Lord whose lordship is exercised in poverty and meekness, the One-In-Charge who is in fact working all things out to the good of those who love him, even when that good is hidden indeed from us.
Have a good long talk with Him. This, in my view, is among our most pressing needs and urgent priorities in these unsettled and chaotic times.
Prayer—serious, sustained prayer, not only or even most importantly so as to pour out our troubles before God and ask his help, but even more urgently so that our hearts be opened to God—the God whose Kingship consists in refashioning us into that people of mercy and meekness, gentleness and non-violence, truth and love.
In that, we become servants and citizens in that kingdom, and indeed, we begin the building of that kingdom on our troubled, broken earth.