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The Constitution of the Baptismal City: The Reign of Christ

Sunday, November 22, 2020
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

On this very day, at this very moment, the Churches of the Western side of the family of the Catholic Church — ours included — conclude the liturgical year, and get set to begin again on the First Sunday of Advent, next week. And we end off the year with the Feast of Christ the King.

What does it mean to acknowledge Christ as King and celebrate the Reign of Christ? Well, isn’t it interesting in itself that the year culminates with this grand affirmation of faith — “Christ is Lord” (and not “Lord” in some quaint, non-confrontational sense, but with a status unmatched by the lords, kings, gods, and idols of our own day), and then next week we reboot into Advent and we cry “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” (‘God, would you please stop delaying, and do something!’) From ‘everything’s in God’s hands’ to ‘Can’t you see everything’s gotten out of hand?’ We occupy this strange space holding together everything having been taken care of in the past, and looking ahead to a better and much-needed future.

This says something about the Christian life and the Christian view of the world: an acknowledgement that the war is won, but that there are still battles to be fought. In the late ‘60s William Stringfellow spoke at a rally in support of peace protestors that were being prosecuted by the State. And his message was basically this: “the worst they can do is kill us.” On first hearing it sounds like cold comfort. But he meant what he said, and he meant it as a word of hope: “There is nothing [this world] can do to you, or to me, which we need fear.” Because ultimately, we trust that Jesus beat death at its own game. Death and all the forces it controls — including the illnesses so pervasive in our society right now (from the coronavirus to terrorism to discrimination toward our neighbour) are not the ultimate, deciding forces and factors in the world. They still have sway, but this itself isn’t their reign, but their death throes.

And how we know this — or maybe I should say, why we TRUST this — is from the scriptures that we read and hear each week. It’s there where we read of Jesus standing up to the powers of death. It’s there we read of his ascension to heaven, to God’s right hand. And on the throne he sits, his hands and feet still scarred, his side pierced. This is a God and King who takes us up into himself, and embraces our woundedness.

There’s a theologian named Jamie Smith; he’s American but he’s studied and taught in Canada, including in KW. He describes the Bible as the “constitution of the Baptismal City;” of the people baptized into Christ’s death.* Like an ordinary constitution document it describes what the kingdom, what Christ’s reign looks like. And it does this by turning our imaginations to the past. But it also shows us who to be, and what will be. It orients us toward the future. It occupies that difficult space of ‘everything’s in God’s hands’ to ‘Can’t you see everything’s gotten out of hand? O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!’

And Jamie Smith, in his thought, and we, in our liturgy, move from the Word to the Sacrament — from the Bible to the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper. And he describes this as “a kind of sanctified letdown. For every week that we celebrate the Eucharist is another week that the kingdom and its feast have not yet fully arrived. And every week the words of institution remind us of this fact, for we do it ‘until he comes.’”** The meal sustains us, it keeps us going. Evoking the 23rd Psalm, it’s the table that God sets for us in the wilderness, in the presence of our enemies. It’s food for the journey, on our long walk into God’s future.

So on Sunday, we can say that what we do to recall and point to Christ’s Kingship is we hear the Word, and we celebrate the Eucharist. But we’re not all here on Sunday. We’re not even all tuned in online on Sunday. So what is it that we can do throughout the day and throughout the week to remind us that we’re citizens in Christ’s Kingdom? What practices or disciplines reflect this citizenship? Is this what prayer is? How about confession, and hospitality, and generosity? Mindfulness (a bit of a cliché, but not a bad thing). Saying the Daily Office, or sitting in silent meditation, or saying the Lord’s Prayer or Angelus. These are all ways of not just anticipating the Kingdom, but creating the space to let it come about. I don’t think we can force it into existence or build it ourselves, but we can work on the soil.

Hopefully there is something there, and in all of this, for us to remember. Stringfellow says to the peacemakers: ‘the worst they can do is kill us.’ Jamie Smith describes communion as a “sanctified letdown.” At first this sounds like cold comfort, but I think these statements reflect the reality of our situation as Christians, and also simply as people, in the world as it is. Things are not as they should be. The disconnect between what could be and what is is real. The disconnect between what we’ve read in scripture, and what we’ve tasted in the Eucharist, and what life is actually like is real. Our experience of church is not as it would be — in a more ideal situation. But as followers of Christ our affirmation is that “Jesus is Lord.” We hold to this as the ultimate reality that is making in-roads into our world, but isn’t yet experienced fully. We are honest about our anxieties, our fears, and our letdowns. But we hold to a hope of the Kingdom come, on earth as in heaven. The sanctification of time, of our world, and ourselves, in service to Christ our King. Amen.

© 2020 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter

* See Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009) 195ff.

** Ibid., 200.