sermons, songs, etceteras
Good morning, church. Today is the Feast of Christ the King. The end of the church year, the culmination of Ordinary Time. Unlike many of our other feasts and holy days, today’s celebration was established less than a century ago, in 1925, by Pope Pius XI as a direct response to the rise in fascism and Christian nationalism throughout the world. We come to the Table today reminded that our belonging, belovedness, and allegiance are in the Crucified and risen Christ whose kin-dom is entirely other than those of this earth.
I've had days to ponder and pray, and I am still largely at a loss for what to say to you. Because I come to this day of celebration rejoicing that two Black men who were unjustly held on death row for decades were freed, one just hours before his execution, praise God! But I also come grieving that white supremacy was once more granted favor and permission to continue unabated, unaccountable, in one of the most publicized trials in recent history. I come in solidarity with my Black siblings who who’ve expressed tremendous fear as white nationalist groups - many of whom claim roots in Christianity - call for “stacking up Bodies like cord wood” in the wake of Friday’s verdict.
And I come deeply aware that the individuals in these stories could be swapped with any number of other individuals and we’d see similar results, not because we’re all the same but because that is how systems work. Individuals are props that keep us fighting one another about the veracity of each other’s claims rather than asking what’s wrong with this system that looks like it’s broken but is actually working as designed.
All this to say, I come to you this morning, the day we celebrate the upside-down UNkingdom of Christ, with deep awareness of how profoundly unjust the kingdoms of this earth are.
But I come with hope too, because Jesus knew injustice. He knew the Empire’s system was rigged, and what it would mean for him, and he went steadfastly in its direction anyway. And when standing before Pilate in today’s text, during his last chance to defend himself or call off the hounds, he didn’t. He let Pilate believe what Pilate wanted to believe, because he understood better than any of us that the kingdoms of this earth and their wheels of justice are like slot machines at a casino. The house always wins. Even when an individual here or there pulls a big pay-out…the house wins because that pay out by-design. It was a prescribed loss. What’s more, the House counts on everyone who plays to believe they are special and will bring the house down. But…the house makes the rules, and the rule is the house always wins.
Jesus knew this and so he opted out. Decided not to play. He knew Pilate wasn’t a neutral adjudicator but an agent of the Roman state whose entire job was to maintain the empire’s peace and power. He knew that all of Pilate’s questions were for show, and that regardless of his own thoughts about Jesus’s guilt or innocence, Pilate would hand him over.
And! it would be all the better for the Empire if Pilate could make it look like the decision to kill Jesus was made by the Jewish leaders who, it is important to remember, were an occupied people tending to an incredibly fragile peace. I say this to remind us all that the Roman State killed Jesus, not the Jews, and that keeping Christians and Jews fighting one another over who was responsible for Jesus’s execution is yet another example of how the House Wins.
But Jesus got it, and Knowing how this final confrontation, this faux-trial, would go, Jesus simply said this to the charges against him: My kingdom isn’t like yours. If it were, I’d have an army coming to save me but I don’t, because my kingdom is not like yours. I came for one thing, he says, and that is to bear witness to the truth. The truth that the kingdoms of his earth are rigged against everything and everyone who does not reinforce the kindom’s rule, and my kingdom isn’t that.
So what WAS his Kingdom?
To answer that we have to go back a few chapters in John and look at Jesus’s last hours with his disciples.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus has been telling his disciples how their time together would end in his death and resurrection. But the night of his betrayal and arrest, the night of the Last Supper, Jesus’s urgency grows and his teachings become unmistakably clear and pointed.
In John 13, He washes their feet and tells them that this is how to lead with Love. Next, He predicts Judas’s betrayal, and then — still! — feeds Judas the meal before sending him out to do what he must do, because even in betrayal Judas is loved and served.
He gives them the New Commandment — to love one another because that is how they will be identified as belonging to him — and in the next breath predicts that Peter won’t even be able to love him through to the end of his night, but will deny him three times. Then, in love, he comforts them! Tells them not to be troubled, and promises them the Holy Spirit, because his death is just the beginning. He tells them “If you love me, obey me and LOVE one another! Take no lives, but be ready to lay yours down because THAT is love. He tells them you’ll be hated, you will be afraid, your peace will be disrupted at every turn, and the world will give you trouble on trouble but keep. on. loving. Don’t stop loving, because your grief will be turned to joy.
“This is my commandment, that you love…
“This is how they will know you are mine: by your love”
“Greater love has no one than this to give themself up for those they loves”
“The greatest commandment on which all and everything else hangs is that you Love.”
Over and over and over, especially as his death approaches, Jesus hammers this into their hearts in a hundred ways: Resist the pull of the kingdoms of this world and LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE.
Love is messy, y’all. It is a discipline. A practice of planting our hopes firmly in the future we are desperate for, even while our legs remain stuck knee deep in a reality that says that future is impossible. Love is defiant. It is rebellious. Love is determined that the kingdoms of this world SHALL all pass away, AND that every king whose ever fallen for its lies will be healed, and every orphan and pauper made in the grasping will be made whole, and they will feast together as siblings, at the Festival of Christ who reigns - in Love.
THIS is how we become the KIN-dom of God, in defiance and rebellion of earthly kingdoms: We love. Doggedly. Directly. We love Everyone, always, no matter what.
And if there comes a time when we cannot find in ourselves a way to love those with whom we most passionately disagree, and in whose politics, positions, or personalities we see nothing lovable, then we must dig deeper lest we wittingly or nit become warriors for the kingdoms of earth. Indeed as my friend Francisco Herrera reminded me earlier this week, it is easy to believe God is always on our side, but the instant we start having Jesus agree with us as opposed to STRUGGLING to follow him, we have lost the plot.
To be sure, Empire is everywhere. It was not defeated 100 years ago when the Pope Declared this day for Christ. No, the Kingdoms of this earth persist and have tentacles reaching into everything, every system, every institution - yes, even the church! There is work left to do. There is Love to be spent.
So on this holy day, this Festival of Christ our King, let us return to Love, and let us be especially intentional with those we find hardest to love, because love is our hope against the empires of the age. Being the resolute Kin-dom of Christ is how we not only oppose but ultimately upend the Kingdoms of earth.
That’s it, friends. That’s all I can say.
Love: Love is all and everything we feast on today.
And so, you who are Abundantly Beloved: Be loved. And be love.
This song was recorded in the sanctuary at Oak Grove Lutheran Church on November 4, 2021. The original facebook post may be viewed and shared here.
It’s so rare that I write songs anymore. They don’t come like they used to. But sometimes they do, and when they do I am grateful.
This week is All Saints Sunday. The day in the year when we remember and light candles for the dead. Grieve our losses together. The texts for the day are Isaiah 25:6-9 (“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow…Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”). The Gospel is the story of Lazarus raised from the dead, but for whom Jesus first wept.
Some other pastors and I lamented the collective grief we all have yet to feel. Over Covid, climate chaos, political and police violence… so much hurt and unspeakable pain. How to pastor in that?
Anyway, this is the song that started in my head as we talked, and came to fruition over about 20 minutes. Sometimes songs rise like that.
Welcome to the feast of all Saints
The table is set, the wine is well aged
And the God of the grieving, your tears will redeem
They await with a ribbon of peace
To welcome you to the feast
Oh come to the great lamenting
Here the Spirit of wisdom is interceding
She will take to the father
In groanings deep all the pain
That you cannot speak
When you come to great lamenting
Oh Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy
O Come to the grave and receive
The full count of your tears, the name of your griefs
And our Mother, O Giver of Life, She’ll weep
with you when you come to the grave
She will carry onward you in grace
Oh Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy
Oh, come to the Feast of All Saints
The table is set, the wine is well aged
The God of the Rising is still Raising us up today
Oh come now and celebrate
At the feast of all saints
Feast of All Saints (c) Amy Courts 2021