The Rev. W. W. (Tad) Meyer
Nov. 20, 2016
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
This morning we stand on the cusp of the liturgical year. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent which, as you all know, marks the beginning of the Christian year, the starting point of our annual cycle of seasons. This Sunday is the last of the church’s year, the final Sunday in the long season of Pentecost. We stand poised on a temporal watershed, a transitional time of endings and beginnings, and in its wit and wisdom the Church has designated this Sunday as the feast of Christ the King, the alpha and the omega, he who is before all things, and in whom all things hold together. At this climax of the church’s year, we are asked to focus our attention on the image of Christ the King; King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the first born of all creation and to aid us in this enterprise, we are given a wonderful passage from Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae, a passage worthy of a king, deserving of a setting by Handel. Paul’s words are indeed a royal anthem which presents us with a regal image of power and glory, a king who has delivered us from the realms of darkness and who now triumphantly reigns over all creation – the visible and the invisible, thrones, dominions, rulers and powers. He is the undisputed king of creation, all was created in and through him in whom the fullness of Almighty God was pleased to dwell.
Suddenly, however, as images of royalty dance in our heads like so many sugar plums, we are violently confronted with a very different image of Christ the King: a broken and bleeding man suspended from the cruel arms of an ancient instrument of torture. Betrayed, rejected and scourged, he endures the mockery of the crowd who taunt him with insults and jeers. A crude, roughly made sign dangles above his bleeding head, sarcastically proclaiming this pathetic creature the King of the Jews and those standing below hurl the title in his face with mouths twisted in derision and ridicule. It is a scene of treachery, contempt and humiliation, a scene of profound ugliness and malice and yet it too is an icon for this feast of Christ the King. We are asked to see within that wounded face the majesty of the one in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. With bitter irony, the mockery of that demented crowd proclaimed a majestic truth for there was no moment when this man was more a king, no scene from the drama of his earthly life when his royalty was more gloriously expressed. He wore their mockery like a crown, and their contempt like a royal mantle. In that broken human figure was the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation, about whom blessed Paul the apostle wrote: For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,… by making peace through the blood of his cross. This morning on this feast of Christ the King we are given these two conflicting images of divine majesty and human brutality and we are asked to hold them together in the imagination of our hearts, seeking to bring their tension to bear on our own life and faith. As I struggled with those discordant images in my own mind and heart, I was suddenly reminded of an old, rather odd bit of information.
Before we moved to the Boston area, my wife Ann and I lived in Philadelphia where I was the Rector of an old colonial church in downtown Philly named St. Peter’s. St. Peter’s was built in 1761 and in addition to being the burial place of a number of revolutionary notables, it also had one other noteworthy distinction. St. Peter’s was the first church in the nation to have a cross placed on the top of its tall five-storey steeple instead of the usual decorative weathervane. During my tenure as rector, we decided to have that seven-foot gold cross regilded which, as you can imagine, was quite the production involving a very large crane and an equally large amount of money. In the removal process, however, we discovered a very interesting thing. That gold cross had far more than a symbolic function for it was actually a lightening rod with a heavy wire attached to the bottom of the orb it rested upon that led down the side of the bell tower to the ground below. That cross stood atop that tall, graceful steeple protecting that handsome building from the ravages of jagged bolts of electrical energy. After the gilding work was finished, I couldn’t help but be struck by the deep irony of this dual role. Like Paul’s glowing words to the Colossians, that magnificent cross now glittered with an aura of majesty, regally perched on its royal orb, reigning over the skyline with a dazzling brilliance. And yet, ironically, it also stood ready to be struck by lightening, to receive through its glimmering metal frame one of the most brutal and destructive forces of creation. When it happens – as it inevitably will – it will take the full brunt of that force and it will transform it, removing its capacity for destruction by channeling its energy safely to the ground. With that cross, the royalty of gold is tempered with the destructive force of lightening and through its passive power and vulnerability that force is reconciled with natural and human creation.
In today’s Gospel, we watch with horror and fascination as our Lord is struck with an equally destructive natural force, the jagged barbs of human contempt and cruelty. As constant and common as a summer thunderstorm, such forces are regularly at work within creation, igniting acts of violence and brutality through bolts of hatred, greed, envy, jealousy and prejudice. The skies of our everyday lives are filled with knifelike streaks of senseless malignity and cruelty, the blasphemous thunder of racism, sexism, homophobia and political and economic injustice. Those destructive forces are seemingly omnipresent and omnipotent, ripping the fabric of our communities asunder with alarming regularity. How can we learn to live with their horrific and terrifying power without falling prey to the equally destructive powers of retaliation and vindictiveness, fuelled by a passionate sense of self-righteousness? How easy it would have been for our Lord to heed the challenge of the unrepentant thief, saving himself from the humiliation of the cross and hurling his own thunderbolts of righteous indignation against those who assaulted him. Instead, however, he accepted the wrenching blows of human cruelty and in doing so, he forever transformed them, grounding them within a kingdom ruled and defined by relentless, unconditional love.
On the cross of Calvary, the brutality of human nature was grounded in the rich soil of the kingdom of God. The massive destructive power of human sin was channeled through the blood of the cross to the ground of God’s love and through the power of that love, its destructive power was forever mollified. In Christ, God extended his arms of love, reaching out through hands brutally wounded by human violence and sin to embrace all of humanity, even those dark and jagged forces that had rent the folds of his breaking heart. God entered into the naked brokenness of our world, struck by bolts of betrayal, injustice and cruelty. On the cross, God accepted those frightening realities, absorbing them in and through Incarnate Love and in doing so, he forever deprived them of their destructive force, proclaiming for all time that the true value and beauty of a human spirit anchored in God’s love will not be damaged or denigrated by their fearsome power. Through the blood of the cross, God united our reality, our world, with God’s kingdom. All things, whether on earth or in heaven, were placed under the aegis of Christ’s love. There is now no force within reality, natural or human, no moment of created time, no matter how dark and foreboding, that is not subject to the rule of God’s graceful love. There is no pain that is too deep nor is there any joy too grand that it cannot become an instrument of redemption, a way in which we become grounded in God’s love. There is no bolt of lightening, whether it crashes from above or arises from the dark depths of our own souls that cannot be neutralized and transformed by the power of the cross of Christ. There is nothing in human experience that cannot become a vehicle of God’s graceful love, a moment when we are reconciled to God through faith in Christ’s pervasive love.
Such is God’s kingdom and such is God’s king – a king of kings and a lord of lords. It is a king who reigns through our humanity, who has made this earthy and earthly realm the kingdom of Almighty God. It is a kingdom that sometimes glitters with the polish of gilded gold and sometime stands before us with a sheen of blackened copper, scarred by the lightening and streaked with creases of rust and rain. It is that kingdom that we celebrate this morning, standing suspended between the beginning and the end, hovering above the wrecks of time and the din of our daily lives. He is before us and behind us, above us and below us, outside of us and within us, constantly empowering us to withstand the harsh and jagged edges of reality by grounding them through faith in the rich earth of incarnate love. He is Christ our King.