Here we are, at the end of the Christian year, and every year before we begin the year again, on this last Sunday we celebrate that Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the Omega of all, and here at the end of the year, Christ is King. Next week we will start again, and begin to prepare ourselves for that little baby “slouching towards Bethlehem” to invert our world and our lives, but today we proclaim what is true, despite all evidence to the contrary – Christ rules as King, now and always.
I say “all evidence to the contrary,” because that is the truth of the matter. In a world beset by war, violence, all manner of “-isms,” economic disparity and crisis, and genocide, it seems, most often as if Christ is not King. How could Christ possibly be King, and the world still looks like this? Indeed, isn't the state of the world the best evidence there is that Christ is not King?
At one of the darkest moments in my life, right after I had returned from the darkness and death of Ground Zero, someone was foolish enough assign me an Ash Wednesday sermon and what I preached that day has haunted me since: that Lent is the abiding reality of life, that although we go through liturgical seasons, and celebrate high feasts, our lives are lived in a kind of perpetual, everlasting Lent, in the dust and ashes of our lives.
Which is not untrue. We do live in a kind of perpetual slide into the dark, trapped in our own rather messy lives and heads, with our bodies and our loved ones aging and dying, and in a world filled with darkness, fear and suffering. But it is not the whole truth.
The message of the Gospel is that we live between the times. We live in times which look like everlasting lent, but the message of the Gospel, the unseen truth is that there is a glory waiting to be revealed to us: that Christ rules as King, and that however dark the world might be, however lost or hopeless we as people might be, yet still Christ reigns as King and that someday, God willing, we will get out to the place of the visible reign of God.
But Lord knows it is hard to live in that tension with one foot in lent and one foot in the reign of God already begun. It is hard to live in the messiness of the world, wondering why the reign of God isn’t manifest.
I also find it hard. I’ve been ruminating, for the past week on the past year. A year ago I knelt here, just inside the chancel gates and was ordained to the priesthood, and yet ordination didn't perfect me, or bring me up out of that place of lent, not knowing or feeling the reign of God.
Ordination has not removed my angst about my ability as a priest, or taken away the pain and suffering in others which priesthood brings one into constant and perpetual contact with. Not only is the world a dark place, and the life of the priest a constant vision and interaction with that darkness, but the lives of people are dark and messy, and I know this now, not just because I've interacted with people in dark and messy places for the past year, but because I know that I am a mess, that ordination doesn't make me anything other then the messy person that I was before, and yet still through it all Christ is King.
There is nothing quite like, day in, day out, going to the altar, dragging with you your own darkness and the darkness or pain of the conversation that you have just had. The liturgy takes on, at times, a decidedly ironic tone: “Lift up your hearts,” and try to keep the ironic smile off your face, or even more poignant, “The Peace of God which passes understanding…” Indeed it does, here in the Lenten twilight.
There was an old priest I knew who used to say that every time he went up to the altar an atheist and came down again a Christian, and there are days like that, when Lent takes hold.
But through it all, Christ is King.
Only when the grace of God is able to strike me hard enough to remind me of Christ’s Kingship, only then, when I can remember briefly that Christ is King do I know that somehow the messiness, both in the world and in all of us, and most of all in myself is not the eternal, everlasting Lent that it feels, but the moment of waiting for what is already true to be revealed.
Christ is King of my joys and sorrows, king of my failures and my successes, King of my good days, or more likely my bad ones, King no matter how much I fail to remember or just can't let him be. So I will go up unto the altar of God, as I have done for a year now. Despite feeling and knowing that I am a mess, unworthy.
Michael Ramsey, a great archbishop of Canterbury in a complex and wonderful phrase once described ordination as a “walking sacrament”. For priests journey through life, allowed into the lives of God’s people and as they go, they bless. They bless and offer up to God the brokenness, the sadness, the messiness of the world around them. And I wonder if part of that walking sacrament is the full knowledge that I too am broken, foolish, messy, one step from a train wreck. Through the broken things of earth, God works, through water, bread, wine and human beings, even this foolish human being standing before you today, because Christ is King.
Because the Ancient of Days, the Alpha and Omega is also the broken Jesus, scourged, whipped, mocked, standing before Pilate, soon to be hung on a tree, and cognizant of the irony of the question about his kingship. Because the crucified and dead Lord is King, because of that, the brokenness of the world and my own brokenness are as nothing.
Because Christ is King, I can go up to the altar and stumble through my pastoral work. Because Christ is King, I can go up to the altar and know that my brokenness and the brokenness of bread and wine, and the brokenness of the world are caught up, covered, restored, and redeemed, because Christ himself has been broken.
And through it all, Christ is King. Through all the births and deaths, the meetings and pastoral counseling, through the Offices and the masses, when I'm feeling thankful or Lenten, or atheistic, through it all Christ is King.
For some day, we will get out into the vision of his reign. Some day we will see no longer only in part, that glory which is yet hid from us. Our Lent will be over and our tears turned to songs of joy. And we will know that secret hid in the midst of our Lenten struggle: Christ is King and rules over all our times, Lenten or happy.
Until the day when we can see his kingdom, reign on our altars and in our hearts, O King of Glory.
Preached by Fr. Andrew Ashcroft
22 November 2009
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia