Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christ the King?

The Sunday past was The Feast of Jesus Christ the King, usually shortened to Christ the King Sunday. Unlike many major feast days of the Church, this one is not yet a century old. How did it come about? Concerned about the rise of secularism in the world, Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925. In the encyclical, or letter to the Church, in which he announced this new feast, he asserted that many Christians had begun to doubt Christ’s authority and even Christ’s existence. He also worried that the Church was having a diminished ability to continue to exert Christ’s authority in the world.

The religious world was being shaken. Darwin’s theories had made their mark. Geologists were asserting an age of the world far older than the Church had been teaching. Biblical scholars, especially in Germany, had begun to study the Bible in new ways. One of the results was a theory that the first five books of the Bible or Torah were written, not by Moses, but by a collection of four authors or schools over a period of hundreds of years. All this was flying in the face of traditional Christian thought. In the U.S., a movement that continues to today, Fundamentalism, was the reaction to these non-traditional ideas. Pius was right to be concerned.

The date of the feast was eventually set as the last Sunday or Ordinary Time, that is, the Sunday prior to Advent. Pius hoped the feast would result in three things. First, he hoped the nations of the world would see that the Church has the right to be free from State interference. Second, he hoped world leaders would see that, because Christ is King, they would give him the respect he deserves. Third, he hoped the faithful would be reminded that Christ is King of their hearts, minds and bodies and would gain strength from the celebration to live a Christian life.

Unfortunately, it seems as if Pius’ hopes have yet to be realized. The Church continues to do battle with secularism. In some parts of the world, Christians are still persecuted by the State; in others, like England, it has become all but irrelevant. But perhaps the greatest threat to Christ’s kingship is the growing emphasis on individuality and personal entitlement throughout many parts of the world, the western world in particular. Who wants to obey a King if it requires submission of one’s wishes and desires? Sadly, not many, apparently.

In some parts of the Church, there are those who want to stop identifying Christ as King or Lord because these titles have a history of oppression attached to them. Historically, kings and lords have, in fact, tended to care little for their subjects. But we need to remember what Jesus said in Mark’s Gospel:

“You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to become great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45, NAB).”

Clearly Christ’s lordship is not the ordinary kind.

Some things to think about.

Peace, Jerry

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Advent: What's It All About?

We’re closing in on the end of the Church or liturgical year. For liturgical purposes, the first Sunday in the new year is the first Sunday of Advent, which is 2 December this year. Sundays after Pentecost—the longest season of the year—was twenty-six weeks this year! The Sundays after Pentecost are also known as Ordinary Time. What this points to is the fact that between Pentecost and Christmas, there are no major feast days, so the time is…ordinary.

The word “Advent” derives from a Latin word that means “coming” or “arrival.” So the season of Advent, which is four Sundays ending on Christmas Eve, is a celebration of Jesus’ first Advent, that is, his birth. But the season also has another meaning: we anticipate Jesus’ Second Coming or Advent sometime in the future.

With the focus on the first Advent, we don’t just remember the birth story of Jesus—though it seems that way sometimes. The season is about celebrating something more; it’s about God’s breaking into history in order to reconcile all of creation. Our theology tells us that Jesus was the ultimate revelation of God’s love for each of us and for all creation. At the same time, we focus on a reality. That reality is that creation is not yet all God intends, and we are not yet all God intends. With Jesus’ second Advent, God’s ultimate will shall be realized and all will be made right.

We don’t know exactly when Advent began in the history of the Church. Christians until the fourth century didn’t have a universal feast for the birth of Jesus. In 380, a group of bishops required believers to be absent from church between 17 Dec and the Feast of the Epiphany in early January. There are a couple of sermons from the sixth century that mention a preparation for the birthday of Jesus.

For many centuries, Advent—even before it was called that—was viewed as a penitential season very much like Lent. Fasts and abstinence from 15 November, were the norm. The color purple, the Lenten color, was also the color of Advent. In more recent times, with the shift to the future, the emphasis is more on anticipation of God’s promise fulfilled. Some parishes, including St. Mary’s, have adopted Sarum Blue, or light blue, as the color rather than purple in order to move us toward anticipation and promise.

In the same way many of us view the beginning of the secular year as a time for making resolutions for the year ahead, Advent can be seen as a similar time. As we anticipate the Second Advent, we remember we have some role in preparing for God’s coming Kingdom. We can examine our lives to find ways to be more faithful and more about the Kingdom to come. Our prayer during Advent can be less about our sinfulness and more about our devotion, our commitment, our renewed determination to be living examples of the Kingdom to come.

Enjoy Advent as it builds toward Christmas, but move well beyond shopping, cooking, travel, cards and carols and move toward our hope in Jesus.

Peace, Jerry

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A New Tradition

This time of the year, with Halloween behind us, we look forward to…Black Friday. Yes, Black Friday. We have barely finished remembering the saints until we’re busy searching the flyers for the bargains we must have as we shop for Christmas.

I understand the phenomenon, though personally I never, ever shop on or near Black Friday. I made myself a pledge long ago to celebrate one holiday at a time. That means with most of the Halloween candy eaten or handed out, I’m turning my mind to…yes, really…Thanksgiving.

I wrote recently how the meaning and purpose of All Hallows’ Eve had been taken over with witches and goblins—a pagan focus. As a country on the whole, we rarely give a moment to the actual meaning. I’m thankful for a Church that believes liturgy, ritual and tradition are important because we at least set aside a worship service to remember, even if briefly.

Thanksgiving may be the second least properly celebrated holiday on our calendar. As Thanksgiving approaches, we join in a frenzy of menu planning, Christmas shopping, gathering dead pine cones and leaves for decorating and…most important for many…the Big Games. Yes, many will over eat, over drink, and then plop down in front of a TV to watch football. Few will actually attend a worship service that day. I’m really not opposed to any of this. IF. There is a big IF. Since most expressions of thankfulness will be contained in a very short prayer over an abundant table, I think that’s not enough.

So, here’s why I’m writing about it early. I’d like you and your family to each pledge to begin today to list two things or people for whom you’re truly thankful and do that every day from now until Thanksgiving day. When the family gathers at the table, whether it’s only you, only you two, or a houseful, ask each person to read two or three things from their list. It won’t take long and the real purpose isn’t about sharing the items on the list anyway. The real purpose is about stopping to think about the many blessings all of us have. Yes. Even those ravaged by Sandy. Yes. Even those who will be eating donated turkey. We all have things for which to be thankful, if we’ll only stop and think.

BTW, the name Black Friday derives from retailers’ assertion that sales on and around this day, pull them out of the red ink of deficit, into the black ink of profit.  Something for which they can thank us.

Peace, Jerry

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sandy and Grace

Hurricane Sandy. I can’t even imagine the pain of those who lost some or all of their possessions, to say nothing of the loss of those they loved. Each night Brian Williams takes me to another scene of devastation and I flash on “what if that were our home—what if that were our city?” I can’t conjure an image.

Stories of loss are a part of the news cycle, but there are also stories of good people acting in good ways. A company that most days is pumping water from flooded customers basements after a water heater has leaked showed up. For days they have been going house to house to pump water from Sandy out into the streets to try to help people begin to recover. For free. For free.

Athletes who hoped to run in the marathon could have acted pretty ugly when it was cancelled on Friday—after they were already in town. The stories I’ve heard though are those of people who understand how Sandy became the priority. Disappointed? Sure. Griping and complaining? No. Or how about those athletes who volunteered to walk up twenty or thirty flights of stairs to take blankets and water to people trapped in their apartments with no power, no heat and no running water? Said one, “We thought we were in pretty good shape so let us to the climbing.”

These haven’t been isolated stories either. This kind of behavior has been commonplace, if not the norm. While I get “pitching in” or “we’re all in this together” kind of thinking, these acts of grace seem to be fueled by a different sort of attitude. I could be wrong, but I’ve sensed, “When you do this to the least of these, you have done it to me.” I’ve sensed, “Do for others what you would wish for yourself.”

I very much want to believe that many of these stories were of women and men who are motivated by their Christian faith. I want this to be a glimmer of light in an election season that has been extraordinarily rancorous. I want this to be a beacon in a world that reeks of an entitlement mentality. I want this to be a triumph of love. I want these stories to be a message to all who have ears to hear.

Peace, Jerry