First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
November 25, 2018
“The End…. And the Beginning”
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
33Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.
Revelation 1:4b-8 (NRSV)
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. 8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
Today is Christ the King Sunday – the day that marks the end of the liturgical calendar and moves into the new year. It is the end.. and the beginning. This day, this festival had it’s beginning not too long ago. It is, as church festivals go, the youngest of them all. It all got started back in 1925.
When you explore the all-knowing, all-seeing depths of the internet (aka Google it) you can find out a lot of what was going on in 1925:
- F Scott Fitzgerald published “The Great Gatsby”
- The state of Tennessee found John Scopes guilty of violating the Butler Act which prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools
- The Chrysler Corporation was founded
- Sears and Robuck opened their first store in Chicago
- The first issue of The New Yorker magazine was published
- The state of Wyoming elected the nation’s first female governor – Nellie Tayloe Ross
- 40,000 members of the Klu Klux Klan staged a rally in Washington DC
- Adolph Hitler published his personal manifesto Mein Kampf
- Benito Mussolini declared he was taking over Italy and turning it into a dictatorship
What you don’t find right away when you Google “What happened in 1925” is anything about the inauguration of Christ the King Sunday. It was in 1925 that Pope Pius XI added the Feast of Christ the King to the church’s calendar. This designation was not done in a cultural or political vacuum. It was a time of growing secularism and nationalism. The impact of World War I was still hanging in the air. Kaisers and dictators and czars were active and claiming control and the church reminded the faithful that there is no human who can claim the power of King of the Universe. It was a theological proclamation addressing that era’s powerful who were fashioning their own unique version of the truth to shape the future.
Truth… it’s what Jesus claims, in front of Pilate, the embodiment of Rome’s power, that he was born and came into the world to testify to… truth. “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me,” Jesus claimed.
And Pilate’s response? “What is truth?” It’s the verse following what Karen just read. After Jesus has been arrested and brought before the governor who represented Rome, and faces questioning. Jesus professes that his kingdom is not of this world and his purpose is to testify to the truth. Pilate responds, “What is truth?”
And what did Jesus do? What did Jesus say? <<pause – play sound of crickets>>
Nothing. He just stands there. Stands there and says nothing… at least not with words. When asked to lay it all out in mere words to the Roman Emperor’s representative, the one that embodies the Way, the Truth and the Life just stands there. Truth is more than words.
Now I confess that my image of what went on that day is strongly influence by Hollywood so I see images of Pilate in either armor or in attire that clearly reflects wealth and power. Sometimes he’s seated on an elevated throne-like chair, interrogating a beaten, bloodied, and bound Jesus dressed in a tattered robe. With these images, the question “what is truth?” hangs in the air.
Apparently, Jesus’ answer to the question, “What is truth?” did not come in the form of words. I suppose he had said enough. The truth to which he would testify would be revealed as much in his actions as in words. The truth spoken that day took the form of the actions that were yet to take place as well as those that were behind him, those he had already performed. The kingdom that was his to reign over was both in the past as well as in the future. This encounter marked the end as well as the beginning of the truth of his reign and it was marked with the resounding silence.
The silence was the sound of the life of the King of the Universe catching up with him. We’re not sure if Pilate heard it but as readers of the gospel, it comes through loud and clear when you flip back through the earlier chapters of John’s gospel:
- It’s the sound of truth that speaks beyond the promises and threats of the powerful, whether they be religious, political or otherwise.
- It’s the sound of truth that dips deep into the well of mercy and offers living water to a Samaritan woman seeking acceptance and understanding.
- It’s the sound of truth that speaks above law and custom as it brings healing to the lame, the blind, the ailing – even on the Sabbath.
- It’s the sound of truth that sings a tune of justice to a woman caught in adultery and sends a convicting echo back to her accusers as the stones they hold in their hands fall to the ground.
- It’s the sound of truth that sobs a good friend back life.
- It’s the truth that sounds an awful lot like water pouring over the travel-weary feet of disciples and reveals that the nature of the reign of God is one of service and sacrifice and mercy and justice and love.
- It’s the sound of all that which gives life: the bread of heaven, the water of life, the light of the world that shines in the darkness and is not overcome.
In declaring a day to acknowledge the universal reign of Christ back in 1925, Pope Pius XI was saying to the rulers of the world, to the business leaders who influenced economies, to those who shaped the world through their writing, and to those who were drawn to, subject to and vulnerable to all that worldly power and influence that there is but one who reigns over all the earth. That reign is revealed, not only in spoken words but, more loudly, through actions that bring the word to life – the word made flesh. Flesh that embodies a truth that repeatedly and eternally rises above worldly power, especially when that power is more life-taking than life-nurturing. Truth that lives on after the flesh is gone. Truth that speaks most loudly where there is pain and suffering, oppression and injustice. Truth that heals, gives hope, empowers and disarms. Truth that cannot be silenced even in death.
Today is Christ the King Sunday, the newest church festival that was created by a Pope in a time when the world was in turmoil. The world outside of the church doesn’t celebrate this festival. You won’t find any “Happy Christ the King” greeting cards at the Hallmark store. It has not turned into another excuse for a shopping spree or parade. You won’t see it listed as a paid holiday in many employee manuals. For it is the festival that reminds us that what Christ brings to the world is not about worldly power or vacations or bargains but a divine influence in the world that reigns through and beyond whatever turmoil we face. Today’s festival points us once again towards the truth of God’s reign that will not come to an end no matter what challenges it faces. Today’s festival comes at the end of the church year and reminds us that the end is just the beginning.
Next week, we enter into the season of Advent and our journey towards Christmas, the celebration of the birth of that one who would bring the never-ending truth of God’s love to the world. As we prepare to enter into that season, let us embrace the reign of the one who was and is and is to be.