Reflection for November 20, 2022
Feast of Christ the King (Last Sunday of Pentecost)
Canticle 16 or Psalm 46
Before I talk about the Feast of Christ the King, I think I should mark a very special day at Saint Alban’s Church. Today is our last Sunday worship on Zoom. From now on we will move to in-person worship. We have been on Zoom for more than two years since, I believe, the spring of 2020. We — this congregation, this people of the church in Albany, California — created this worship and worship space on our own, out of ourselves. In my opinion, it has been an action of the Body of Christ here in Albany – hands and feet, lips and ears working together. I would like to say that my own reaction has been one of gratitude, but really it has been amazement.
There are many people who have stepped up to read the lessons, to give reflections, to lead and direct the prayers, to sing the psalms and more. And there have been many who in the urgency to worship have extended their familiarity with technology beyond what they would have dreamed before the pandemic.
While we are all the Body of Christ, I think there are two people who deserve praise for their leadership in creating the steady platform on which we worship. They are Becky Osborne Coolidge and Steve Hitchcock. Becky mastered Zoom – she would, I think, disagree with the word “mastered” – and hosted the Zoom platform every week so that we could all be online. She opened the doors of our digital church every Sunday. Steve guided the formation of the liturgy for each week and made sure – way ahead of time – that there was a lineup of people to offer reflections and otherwise to serve. If Becky opened the digital doors, Steve lit the digital candles.
I want to say “bravo” and “thank you” to them. I wish we had big silver engraved trophies for them, but we don’t and, what’s more, we can’t afford them! But we can offer a prayer for them and for all those who took part. I have modified Thanksgiving number 3 on page 838 of the Book of Common Prayer. Let us pray.
Almighty God, you sent your son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself: We praise and bless you for those whom you have sent in the power of the Spirit to assist your church in Albany, California. We thank you that here a community of love has been gathered together with the assistance of their prayers and labors, and that all your servants here in your church were thereby enabled to call upon your Name; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.
And now on to the Feast of Christ the King.
Perhaps you know that I really like to ride bikes a lot. There is nothing quite like it – the sense of flying, the beauty of the outdoors, the effort, the pleasure of riding alone and the pleasure of riding with companions. Very recently, I had a different kind of ride. The wife of an acquaintance and his good friend had both died in September. I didn’t really know this man, but I had seen him bike riding and had chatted with him up at Inspiration Point in Tilden Park. So, when I learned of his loss, I asked him if he’d like to go on a ride up from Marin Circle to Inspiration Point and back. What happened is that we talked a lot. I learned about his wife, his grief, his stress that sometimes made him unable to breathe freely, his inability to focus on a book, his difficulty getting out to do anything. Of course, as you can imagine, I talked a lot, too. But it is his gratitude for the contact with another person that was immense. There was a mixture of the goodness of the ride and the company and of the grief and sense of complete sorrow. There’s no question that love was present. But love did not bring back his wife or erase his grief.
Out of the experience of the mixture of good and not very good, I think about today’s Feast of Christ the King. This feast is a challenge. What exactly is Jesus the King of?
I think that, in his Gospel, Saint Luke ponders these questions too. I’m sure you remember the beautiful passage in chapter 4, where Jesus proclaims the Kingdom. In his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, he is handed the scroll of Isaiah to read from. And he reads, and I paraphrase: The Spirit has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim to the captives their release, to declare to the blind the return of their sight, to declare to the oppressed their freedom, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus then sits down, everyone is looking at him and he says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-29)
What happens next? Jesus is eventually mobbed and his fellow worshippers try to throw him off a cliff. Hey, what about the proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favor? What about the Kingdom of God? (Luke 4:16-29)
This Kingdom is a mixture. It’s paradoxical: It’s here and it’s not here. It’s not what we want it to be. Surely we can understand the Apostles when they looked forward to Jesus becoming a King and sitting on a throne and ruling supreme over Israel’s enemies whoever they might be.
So, how do we deal with this paradoxical Kingdom? How do we live in this world of mixture?
We are fortunate in that Christianity is a very down-to-earth way of life. And the New Testament is extremely down-to-earth too. We do not deny that we suffer grief and sorrow. We do not deny that we have to take up our cross. We do not deny that we have to endure.
But we also affirm. Saint Paul says that we are “citizens of heaven.” (Philippians 3:20) And we have the voters’ guide, as it were, to this citizenship because Saint Paul has to be one of the great list-makers in history and he gives us a list of the virtues that make up good citizenship. He says in the Letter to the Colossians (3:12-16):
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
And what is this word of Christ? It is to love your neighbor and to love your enemy. I have a sense that this statement is the whole key to Jesus’ presence on earth – that it is the key to his crown of thorns – because it shows what love is and what can happen these days when you do love. It forces us to an awareness of the mixture that is the present-day Kingdom. It gives us trust in the principle that the universe is made of love, and that, if we love one another, the whole world can come pretty close to the Kingdom that we wish it were now.
But if I were a King, I would also at some point want to claim your personal loyalty and not only to tell you to love. I would have to be personally courageous and to put myself in danger for you. And Jesus does do this. But I think I would also have to give you a goal, a vision, a passion. This is the function of the beautiful virtue of Hope. Saint Paul does say that Love is the greatest of “the three” – the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. (1 Corinthians, 13:13) But Hope is God’s love in our hearts; it is God speaking to us and pulling us to him; it is Jesus making us love him whether today in Albany or way back when like Zacchaeus climbing the sycamore tree (Luke 19:1-6). It is Jesus making us want to imitate him, making us want to be part of the Big Picture, In this way, not just our minds are convinced, but our hearts melt. I said that Christianity is down-to-earth, and this emotional component of Hope is very down-to-earth. Hope and Love so perfectly fit who we are.
We know how to love each other. Let’s also practice Hope. Let’s love our King, too. Let’s pray a little bit every day. And, remember, as Father Rocky says, there is no such thing as bad prayer. Connect with God’s own love and love him back. Then, call somebody up. Go out for coffee. Take someone on a bike ride.