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The Better Way: Reign of Christ

Sunday, November 25, 2018
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

In 1972 Robert Redford starred in a political satire called The Candidate. A movie about a good-looking and idealistic young guy — Bill McKay, the son of a retired politician — who gets noticed by the Democratic Party in California. They convince him to run for the senate, something that has very little appeal to him, having seen the dark side of politics up close, watching his father. But the party gives him lots of leeway to do things the way that he would do them. They let him, as he says in the film, “say what he wants, do what he wants, go where he pleases.” The reason for this is that he has absolutely no chance of winning against the well-liked incumbent, who’s been in office for almost 20 years. And so, with nothing to lose (or win!), Bill McKay agrees. And then the movie gets interesting when, as the campaign progresses, it looks like McKay, to his horror, might actually win.

The movie was released a month before the Presidential primary in California. And the marketing department had put together an ad campaign designed to resemble political posters, with a photo of Redford, and the slogan: “McKay: The Better Way.” When the actual election came around a month after the film was released, numerous ballots came back with a write-in candidate named: McKay.

That was, well, before my time. But there’s been no shortage of political satire in recent years. Whether it’s Martin Sheen on The West Wing, or the 17 Emmys won by the Julia Louis-Dreyfus series Veep, or here in Canada, Terry Fallis’ novel from a few years ago, Best Laid Plans, it seems that there’s no shortage of interest in issues and controversies around civic leadership. Isn’t it scary, though, that all of these satires seem tame compared to our current reality? With each new day comes news of an unlikely victory; or scandals, or things that should be scandals, but somehow aren’t, fringe movements becoming mainstream, and, of course, disappointment and outrage at directed at leaders in our nation, continent (of course), and around the world. Here is an actual headline from Time magazine just a couple weeks ago: “A Dead Nevada Brothel Owner Won His Election Tuesday Night.”

And I guess all of this (mess) brings us to today. The Last Sunday of the Church year: Reign of Christ, or Christ the King Sunday. Or its full name, if translated from the Latin: “The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” (Or my favourite, until the early ‘80s to the Lutherans in Sweden: “Sunday of Doom.”) It’s a fairly new day, having been instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, and eventually adopted and adapted by other Churches. The Pope wanted to counter the rise of fascism and communism that was taking place; movements that were making god-like claims over people. And of course it wasn’t long before this wave began to take root in Germany, with its nefarious leader, or Fuhrer.

It was into this context that this Sunday observance was created. It was meant to underline how Christ is “the goal of human history, the focal point of the desires of history and civilization, the center of humankind, the joy of all hearts, and the fulfillment of all aspirations” (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 45). Pius spoke of “true liberty, calm order, harmony, and peace” coming from Christ, the giver of peace.

That is our hope: a world of peace. And it remains a hope, because it’s so far from our reality. And peace, true peace, doesn’t fit into the categories and rulebook of empires. That’s why Pilate, the Roman governor, is so confused by this man standing in front of him. “Are you the King of the Jews?” he says. Jesus’ answers, and the whole situation eludes Pilate. Because here is a supposed king whose followers don’t fight to keep him from being handed over. He’s a king interested not in ‘winning,’ in defeating a political opponent. But interested in the truth. “For this I was born,” he says, “and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

The gospel here echoes its prologue that we will become a focus of the Christmas season.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and TRUTH.

The Roman governor does not understand what he sees in front of him. He doesn’t look, or talk, or behave like a king. He doesn’t resemble any political hopefuls, or revolutionaries, or rival leaders that he’s ever known. He seems to be caught up in some internal Jewish squabble. He just seems to be the leader of some travelling group that goes from village to village.

But as obscure and inconsequential as that might seem to Pilate, Jesus and his movement represented that hope for peace. And health. And human connection. Those who travelled with him knew him as a teacher, and companion. Someone who spoke in riddles one moment, and quite openly and bluntly the next. Someone with great energy and zeal for God’s work. But who also became exhausted, and needed to get away from crowds from time to time. They ate, and walked, and talked, and prayed with him. But once in a while, they saw something more. They witnessed how he taught with authority. They experienced how he calmed the storm, on the sea; or walked on the waves, beside their boat. Some had scales fall from their eyes on the mountaintop, and saw him dressed in dazzling white robes, accompanied by Moses and Elijah. And most importantly, there was that experience of Easter triumph that came after they thought that all was lost, where God vindicated him, making him the firstborn of the dead. And our hope that one day, all things will be remade and restored in a way that the Pilates and Caesars of the world cannot.

In those moments of ordinary companionship through villages and wilderness, and through those glimpses into a deeper reality (a “kingdom not from this world”), the people who belonged to this way of truth and listened to his voice found that their hopes for peace were being realized in front of them. Bishop and scholar N.T. Wright describes this as an experience of “now, at last, YHWH is returning to Zion. He will do again what he did at the exodus, coming to dwell in the midst of his people.” The Hebrews escaping Egypt followed God’s pillar of cloud and fire through the wilderness. And in Jesus’s day, those who followed him found him to be a living symbol of that same pillar of cloud and fire.

This is an experience that confounds the rulers of the earth. It confounds Pilate, and all those who buy in to what Pilate represents. “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”

But those who yearn for truth will hear his voice, Jesus assures us. The world, and even the religiously-inclined, might only have eyes for a recurrence of that pillar of cloud and fire from the exodus story. But the Jesus that we know is different; our companion on the way. Still, leading and showing the way to freedom, but with a grace that Pilate can’t understand, and that the world can only nail to a Cross.

But we are followers of this foolish way of truth, that we might describe as peace, or compassion, or love of neighbour (and enemy). This hope cannot be forced, or stumbled into. But it’s what we’re called to represent, and look for, and reflect in our own lives. A foolish hope, in the best sense, that we aim to live out, as best we can, with God’s help, as we say in the baptismal liturgy.

And to pray for. Gerry will offer this in a few moments, in our Eucharistic prayer:

In the fullness of time, reconcile all things in Christ, and make them new, and bring us to that city of light where you dwell with all your sons and daughters; through Jesus Christ our Lord, the firstborn of all creation, the head of the Church, and the author of our salvation.

As you go up for communion, you might identify an area of life in which you seek peace and renewal.

May there be peace in the Church; peace among nations; peace in our homes; and peace in our hearts. Amen.

© 2018 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter