Saturday, November 25, 2006

Christ is the King who reigns from the cross

About a week ago and a half ago two things happened for me. The bottom dropped out of what had been a very hectic semester. Most of the events I was planning came to an end and, as many of you now, I have to leave the students alone to be able to study and prepare for finals. Virtually simultaneous with that event came my first cold of the season, a cold that you can still hear in my lungs despite tons of rest, liquids, and even turkey noodle soup provided by some very caring students. So, with my extra time, I canceled every meeting that I felt I could and stayed at home doing what is my second love in life, reading history. I read over one of my favorite subjects in German history, a period that I believe to be the defining moment in the history of my ancestors. Now, you may think that I’m referring to the period immediately after World War 2 during the rebuilding project but you would be wrong. You may even think that I’m referring to the period after World War One and the failed Treaty of Versailles. But, alas, you would again be wrong.

No, the time period in German history I find fascinating is immediately after the Protestant Reformation. After all, arguably the most famous reformer, Martin Luther, was from Germany. And, unlike England and other countries that are far away from Rome, Germany is the Pope’s next-door neighbor. When Martin Luther nailed his theses up on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral, some were ecstatic and others less so. Literally, it made father turn against son and mother against daughter. Each European country dealt with the Reformation differently. England decided to make a wholesale switch to Anglicanism. Germany, on the other hand, decided that, basically, the local leader would decide which religion the county would be. So, to put it in modern terms, if the prince of Ames was Catholic, all his subjects would be Catholic too. If he were Protestant, all his people would be Protestant. And, of course, if there was a leadership change there may very well also be a religious change. If the Catholic prince came in and over threw his Protestant predecessor, everyone became Catholic. This marked a very confusing time in Germany history in which counties would fight against one another because of a difference in denominational leadership and secret groups of Christians would meet depending on who was in charge that week to overthrow the leadership.

I think there is an interesting parallel to this in today’s first and second reading, which sets the tone for this celebration of Christ the King. In the book of Daniel we hear that when the Son of Man comes, a title that Jesus used about himself, he would come from the clouds to destroy all the powerful armies of the world. The book of Revelation also shows this type of imagery, only they apply it to the second coming of Christ. Jesus will overcome the power of the enemy by his power. Both of these writings were done during persecutions not totally unlike post reformation Germany. The book of Daniel was written about 150 years before Jesus came when an evil Roman leader named Antiochus Epiphanes came to power. He sought to make all people follow the pagan religion of the Romans. Understandably, certain Jews had a problem with this. They stood up to this tyranny by continuing to practice the exclusive laws within Judaism, not the free flowing legislation of paganism. For their bravery, many died.

Similarly, after the death of Christ, Christianity became a forbidden religion. Many people died simply because they desired to follow the way of Christ. It is no surprise, therefore, that people needed to have hope during these persecutions. Think about our own time. I think all political pundits agree that the reason we had such a drastic change in leadership during the last election was because of dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq. We don’t know how to solve this problem that we caused and we are becoming increasingly distrustful of leaders that tell us we just need to keep trying. We hear no hope in that message.

In times of persecution, people need to hear that in the end the good guys will win. That’s what the books of Daniel and Revelation tell us. That even when we have corrupt leaders who make decisions that compromise human life, it will get better. Good will triumph over evil, God will triumph over sin and death and bring us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. But when you look closely at the gospel, you realize that it paints a wildly different image of Christ as King than that triumphal image from Revelation and Daniel. We hear from the Gospel of John, not from a victorious Son of Man who is coming in the clouds to topple the government of Rome. Not from the God who is the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, the great Oz behind the curtain. We hear from Jesus Christ who has been imprisoned and is entirely alone. He is being interrogated by the local leader, Pontius Pilate, knowing full well that, for himself, being lifted up as leader will mean that he will be lifted up on the cross to die. This is the Son of Man in reverse. He wasn’t there to take over Israel in a bloody coup. He was there to take over Israel by dying on the cross so that death’s power would be sucked dry and we might have the hope of eternal life. That’s why Pilate couldn’t understand that Jesus was a King unlike any King that he had known, certainly not a political threat to him.

We began this month with the feasts of All Saints and All Soul’s, a time to pray for those of our loved ones who have passed away and ask for the saints to pray for us. We have done this each time we gathered together by reading names from our Book of Remembrance at the beginning of mass. We end this month by remembering how it is that there are saints at all – that Christ our King took his throne on the cross to die for our sins. We don’t have a king that will fight a bloody war with countless casualties on each side in order to gain power for himself, we have a King that models for us what it means to freely serve our neighbors even to the point of shedding our life. In this world of power and authority, we Christians must be like Christ and see our real authority in weakness.

No comments: