by Elle Dowd
When compared to other feast days in our liturgical calendar, Christ the King - sometimes known as Reign of Christ - is relatively young. This holy day was instituted less than 100 years ago by Pope Pius XI in response to the threat of rising fascism in Europe. In that way, this feast of resistance continues to be tragically relevant. In the United States this month, many of us spent the days surrounding our national election in fear that the fascist who occupied the White House would stage a coup to ensure his continued rule. Under his administration, in the past year alone, we saw obvious examples of fascist eugenics, from sterilization through the forced removal of uteruses in people on our southern border, to the mishandling of the pandemic, weaponized as biological warfare. The rhetoric surrounding COVID-19 and the president’s leadership decisions showed a blatant disregard for people who 45 considered to be “the least of these.” The elderly were lifted up as a sacrifice to the gods of Wall Street in order to appease the economy. Resources were so scarce at certain points that people who are disabled or fat were declared to be less worth saving. Black and Brown people in particular continue to face disproportionate rates of infection and death. The elected leader of these United States retweets chants of, “white power” as our nation experiences yet another wave of racial reckoning in the wake of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd, and so many others. In response to those protesting racial injustice, we saw, yet again, Empire empower the police state with millions of dollars in weapons against its own people while at the same time urging people to be, “peaceful.” This administration continues to support officers of the state using force against its own citizens under the guise of, “law and order,“ a white nationalist dog whistle, while many citizens cheer this on. Even though he is defeated, he continues to attempt to hold on to power, instinctively using the fascist playbook, while millions of Americans pay homage to him, genuflecting before his crumbling gold lamé throne.
It was only because of the heroic efforts of Indigenous, Black,and Brown organizers that this fascist was defeated in the voting booth (even if he does not recognize it yet).
Yet the defeat of one tyrant does not mean the defeat of fascism and white nationalism. White supremacy, cis-hetero patriarchy, and corporate greed know no political party. These characteristics may have been more obvious in Trump’s leadership, but they have been baked into the very office of the presidency from the inception of this nation. His removal is one step towards liberation, but there is much to be desired in his successor, and much work left to do. This is a perfect time for a Christian holiday that explicitly fights fascism. Lean into it.
The Gospel reading for Christ the King is a picture of judgement. This is Jesus’ final discourse in Matthew before his passion. Jesus has just spent time warning his followers that his death is coming and that they will face persecution. So, while it is true that this apocalyptic parable is incredibly stark, it also contains good news for its original hearers. The disciples know from Jesus’ warnings that they could count themselves among those who will be hungry, thirsty, naked, and imprisoned. This parable puts the King in solidarity with their suffering, as one who suffers alongside them and who demands justice for the harm against them. The good news for the disciples, and for all who suffer, is that Christ is with us in our pain. Christ does not rule as earthly leaders rule, Christ does not sit on a throne lording power over people while they suffer, and he certainly doesn't cause suffering. Our king suffers with us.
Suffering is a reality for a growing number of people right now. This pandemic has meant that many people have lost their jobs and feeling hunger is not a metaphor. Trump’s gutting of the Clean Water Act means that more and more people are being poisoned by their drinking water, and being thirsty is very real. Immigrant children separated from their families at our border, now unable to be tracked down and reunited, definitely do not feel welcomed as strangers. Hospitals are again reaching capacity as cases of COVID-19 rise, and the sick are not able to receive visitors; peoples’ loved ones are dying alone and the frontline healthcare workers who could not save them weep in supply closets. Mass incarceration continues to disrupt families and lives - and prisons and jails have become major COVID hot spots.
In the midst of such enormous suffering, the Reign of God can feel far off. Matthew tells us that Christ’s reign is among us, now, in the kindness and dignity we show to the people that the world deems disposable. The Reign of God is not a country with borders. There are no imaginary lines drawn by imperial powers declaring who is in or out based on arbitrary maps. The people who are citizens of the Reign of God are recognized by the way they treat each other. The Reign of God is not made up of one idealized white super-race, the fantasy of fascist white nationalists. The letter to the Ephesians tells us that it is made up of people of all nations, all races, all skin colors. There is no savior in this commonwealth except The Savior. We should not bow, then, to any system or person demanding our uncritical obedience. No bosses, no masters, no idols deserve our allegiance. We pledge only to the sacrificial love and solidarity exemplified by Christ.
This is the Revised Common Lectionary sermonizing archive.