Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christ the King - Nov 25, 2012

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Brother James Michael Dowd, OHC
Christ the King - Year B- Sunday, November 25, 2012

Daniel 7:9-10,13-14

Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

Listen to my Voice

My paternal ancestors, who came to be known as the O'Dowd clan, ruled one-fifth of Ireland, that area then known as Connaught, from the early-300's in the Common Era and for the next, approximately 1,300 years.  These same ancestors were often elected the High King and crowned at Tara, and wielded great power throughout the land and especially in the western part of that country.  King Laoghaire, of this same line, having been converted by St. Patrick himself, united the power of the clan with the true faith and thus, they were unstoppable.

Now in the early middle ages, the O'Dowd's were challenged by the O'Donnell's and the Burke's and to hold them off, the O'Dowd's erected a circle of twenty-four castles known as the O'Dowd Castles, in their seat of power, which is, today, known as the Counties Mayo and Sligo.  The ruins of twenty of these castles can still be visited today in some of the most beautiful scenery in all Ireland.

This ring of castles held off invaders from both land and sea and those O'Donnell's and Burke's were handily defeated – pushed out of Mayo and Sligo, the Holy Land of Ireland, and allowed an O'Dowd reign for several hundred more years before that nasty Cromwell, and later, that even worse potato famine either killed off or drove off into the Irish Diaspora so many of the O'Dowd clan.

And inherent in that wee tale of my ancestors is the struggle that I have with this feast, the feast of Christ the King.  My struggle is perhaps semantic, but I really do wonder about putting so much emphasis on the idea of Christ the King because I believe that there are not one, but two dangers, in a spirituality that is centered on what is, lets face it, a human understanding of kingship.

O'Dowd Castle at Easkey Pier, County Sligo, Ireland
Picture by Stefan Schnebelt
The O'Dowd tale is ultimately the story of power lost, of crumbling castles left in ruins, of a people fleeing a hideous foreign dictator and the scourge of potato blight.  You see Kingdoms collapse – always.  Kings lose their power – sooner or later – and the people are left to fend for themselves, often unable to escape brutality, torture, starvation and death.  And so that is the first problem I see with celebrating the Kingship of Christ.  As I said, it might just be a matter of semantics - though I think it is something more – but kingdoms collapse in on themselves or fall at the hand of others.  It just does not seem enough to me to say that Christ's Kingdom is different from all the rest.

The second problem for me with the Kingship analogy is not when the king has lost power, but when he has it.  Go back to that ring of O'Dowd castles.  In order to hold on to power, a king must build a ring of castles, or an iron dome, or a missile defense system, in order to keep the O'Donnell's and the Burke's, or whomever, out.  The goal of such fortification is to keep others – lots of others – out.

And then we have Jesus before Pilate.  One who will not even claim kingship, though his disciples begged him to do so, though Jewish leadership accused him of doing so, though a Roman governor inquired of him whether it was so, he just stood there and told Pilate – and us – that it is we who need to think of him as a king, but that his kingdom is not something of this world, that it is not something we will easily understand, if at all.  Jesus tells us that he just did not come to be crowned king.  He did come, he makes quite clear, for truth.  And I sometimes wonder if this feast would better serve if entitled Christ the Truth.

You see, the Incarnation turns everything, even the truth, on its head.  And the first thing it turned on its head was the nature of revelation.  The people had long been expecting a Messiah that was a warrior-king.  Generation after generation, century after century, the Jews had longed for a king that would lead them into a battle that would ultimately defeat their enemies and act as a kind of war to end all wars.  The prophets told them that this was so, at least, that's what they believed the prophets told them; and the people interpreted these revelations as just what they needed to have peace, prosperity and to live in God's presence forever.

But when God decided to incarnate Godself and to become, in the being of Christ, both God and human, the very nature of revelation – and the particular revelations of what it means to have a God who is king is thrust upside down, shaken up and then turned inside out.  In fact, most all revelations before and since the Incarnation simply have to be interpreted in a different way, because God has called us to something very different: God has called us to become part of Godself.  And to become part of God, is to at least attempt to leave behind our human ways of understanding things, and to begin looking at a new reality.  A reality – the only actual reality – from the point of view of God.

And the first thing that this new reality teaches us, I think, as I struggle with this, is that we must strip ourselves of worldly power by not calling on our army of followers, whoever they may be, to defend our little kingdoms, our little ideas, our little selves, and simply listen to Christ's voice.

As a benedictine monk, it is that last verse of today's Gospel that so grabbed my attention: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  Benedictine spirituality is centered on the practice of listening.  Every time we pray the Office, or worship at the Eucharist, or practice Lectio Divina, or engage in meditative prayer, we are attempting to listen to Christ's voice, to belong to the truth.  It is that, and that alone, which enables us to stand before our own Pilate and reject the lure of power, of armies, of kingship – and to accept the idea of selfless love, a love that is willing to lay down our lives for our friends.

This practice of listening enables us to open the ear of our heart, in that famous Benedictine phrase, showing us that the revelation to Daniel was correct.  Listen again to part of that first reading:

I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
To give him dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all people, nations, and languages
should serve him.
This revelation was correct, that is, if interpreted through the lens of the Incarnation.  In many places throughout the Gospels, Christ tells us where we could find him.  He told us to find him in the poor, the sick, the lonely, the mourning, in those who seek peace, in those who are imprisoned, in those who are lost.  What he never told us was to find him on a throne, sitting up there in heaven.  Now, go ahead, look around this church – please, look around at each other.

Do not look up to the sky, waiting for some glory to be revealed.  Find that glory, find Christ, find your King; find him in the person in this room who is most broken, sickest, poorest, loneliest, the one who is so broken-hearted over the loss of a loved one.  Find Christ your King and understand that no army, no loyal band of followers, will come rescue that person unless you do it.  Tear down your ring of castles and welcome the stranger, love the enemy, forgive the sinner.

Know that a king worth fighting for is a king worth loving for.  Know that a King worth loving for is a king worth listening to.  Listen to the truth of the Incarnation.  When God joined Godself to humanity, God did not so much lower Godself as elevate humanity.  By this elevation, God makes us an intimate part of Godself and that act, changes the nature of humanity forever.  It changes us in such a way that allows us to rise above our own sinfulness, selfishness and narcissistic tendencies so that we can see Christ our King in the O'Donnell's and in the Burke's and stand before our own Pilate, our own Chief Priest, and say to them: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. I belong to Christ the King, and I have listened to his voice.”

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